Category Archives: Young Professionals

Use Books to Catalyse Conversations That Matter®

It was late 1996 and my boss presented me with a gift. It was a book. And it wasn’t my birthday.

“Read this,” he said. “I think it will help you to understand what we are trying to do here. Don’t worry if it takes you a while to get through it. Let’s touch base regularly to talk about how you’re making sense of it.”

He had previously given me a couple of relatively easy books to read and I had consumed them like a hungry tiger. So he ‘knew’ I was up to the task.

The book was The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. It was a tough read and took me six months to get through it. True to his word, however, it was okay for me to take my time to get through it.

For me, taking time to ‘make sense’ of the book worked really well. Having the opportunity to talk through what I was reading and relate it to what was happening in the organisation was extremely powerful. It allowed me to truly understand from a practical perspective what the book was saying.

At the time my boss was very busy. As was I. But these conversations were invaluable. Both to my development and my capacity to contribute to what we were trying to achieve at the organisation.

Too often I hear leaders say that they have given books to their direct reports but they don’t follow up on whether they have read anything. From my experience, it is the conversations that make this form of education invaluable.

If you have never used this developmental tactic, then start with short, simple books. As staff indicate their appreciation of this type of education introduce more complex books. But the most important aspect of this process is that you create conversations about the book and how the staff member is making sense of it. As much as possible your conversations should focus on your current and future work situation to provide a practical element for your conversations.

How have you used books to help educate your people, or what are your experiences of wise bosses using this tactic with you?

Gary Ryan works with successful senior and developing leaders who understand the true value of being challenged, tested and educated through focusing on real world issues,  challenges and problems.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Understanding employability skills

In this webinar recording Gary Ryan explains the research that underpins employability skills, what each employability skill actually means, and how to capture your own stories for each of the skills.
Duration 45 minutes.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Free ebook – What Really Matters! Volume 2, Number 2, 2010

My 6th ebook, What Really Matters! Volume 2, Number 2, 2010 has just been released.

The focus of this ebook is personal and professional development.

Lessons include:

  • Why maintaining your integrity in business is important
  • Why service excellence is important and how to provide it
  • How to motivate your team members
  • Identifying and understanding service gaps
  • How team talk aids in performance
  • and much more!

Developing the skills outlined in this book will enhance your employability.

You can access the ebook and other free resources here.

Please share any thoughts that you have regarding the topics that should be included in the next ebook in this series, due for release on October 2010.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

Is the word ‘customer’ right for you?

Many people get hung up on the word ‘customer’. This is the challenge with the concept of ‘customer service’ because many people don’t think that they have customers. And maybe they don’t. Maybe they have clients, colleagues, administrators, staff, stakeholders, lawyers, doctors, labourers, community members, students, guests and any other label that you can think about. The issue is not the label; the issue is the ethic behind how you treat people.

This is why we prefer the term, “service excellence” over “customer service”. Unfortunately because many people don’t think that they have customers (because they use a different term) they think that service has nothing to do with them. But it has everything thing to do with them. Everyone is your customer. Everyone.

Quote from a research participant
“You know that I can’t stand the word ‘customer’. The people I serve are staff, not customers. I find out what they want and I do my best to exceed their expectations every time. So I wish people would stop saying that I have to be ‘customer’ oriented. I’m staff oriented and that is what is important!”

What words do you use to describe your ‘customers’?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Powerful questions for mentors

Mentoring is experiencing a resurgence as more and more people are recognising its benefits, from both mentor and protege perspectives.

Recently I facilitated a mentoring workshop for one of Australia’s largest universities. Part of the workshop included a Strategic Conversation. The purpose of which was to generate some resources for the 60 mentors present.

One of the most powerful resources for a mentor is to be able to access questions that can be used within a mentoring session. In this context, the Strategic Conversation that I hosted included the following question:

“As mentors or proteges, the most powerful and effective questions that we have asked or have been asked are…?”.

I have received permission to be able to share the output of the Strategic Conversation with you. Please click here to download the file.

I would like to be able to continually add to this list. In this context, please share the most powerful questions that you have been asked or have asked in the context of a mentoring relationship.

PS My first book What Really Matters For Young Professionals! is due for release on July 30th, 2010. In this context I have a pre-release Special Offer available. Over my journey a number of mentors provided me with books as gifts to assist me with my development. If you are a mentor then this may be the perfect gift for your proteges, especially if they are in the first ten years of their career. You might like to consider an even more powerful gift which is the Online Course that supports the book.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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How ‘5 Stars’ and ‘2 Stars’ can both provide examples of great service, or not!

Many people think that good service is only provided ‘at the top end’ of the service star scale. In other words, if I’m running a 2 star motel then only a low level of service should be provided. In the context of WHAT is provided and WHAT is paid, this is true. But the service experience can still be above expectations. For example, the person greeting me may be genuinely happy to check me into my room. When provided directions to my room I am asked if I am interested in knowing where some cheap but good quality food can be found. In responding yes to that question I am provided with the appropriate information, which includes a range of discounts should I choose to eat at those places. (Later, when I do choose to eat at the place, my discount is honoured and the food is reasonable for what I have paid for it).

I go to my room, the key works and my room is fresh and clean. I have asked for a non-smoking room and there is no evidence that the last person who used it smoked like a chimney. The information booklet is up to date and includes relevant information about public transport, taxis, health clubs and eateries. When I check out the staff member is courteous, quickly processes my payment and bids me farewell. If you wish to consider a poor ‘2 Star’ experience, simply go back over this story and reverse each experience that has been described.

It would not be very difficult to translate this ‘2 Star’ story into a ‘5 Star’ story. The differences in the experience will relate to what we have paid and what we then expect to receive in return. The room may be bigger. The location may be more convenient. The bed may be bigger with higher quality linen. Internet access may be available. The fixtures and fittings may be of higher quality. An on-site restaurant and 24 hour in room service may be available. Laundry services may be available and a concierge service may be available to assist us with any needs or enquiries that we may have regarding the hotel of surrounding area.

Each ‘Moment of Truth’ (MoM) can contribute to our expectations not being met if the experience of the MoM is not up to our expectations. In this way, 2 Star service can be great service and 5 Star service can be poor service. It all depends on the perceived experience of the customer.

“Visits are not limited to the public areas. I head for the heart of the house, too. There’s method to my madness. If I see smiling faces and well-scrubbed surfaces behind the scenes, I know that the rest of the hotel more than likely is doing just fine.” (J.W.Marriott Jr from his book, ‘The Spirit to Serve’)

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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How the power of team talk can help the Australian Socceroos

Major international sporting events like the World Cup create a terrific opportunity to focus on the elements that enable high performance. These elements are applicable not only to elite and social sport, but also organisational teams.

Specifically the Australian Socceroos Round One loss to Germany by a record breaking four goals to nil score line highlights the power of team talk. The Australian media have gone into a frenzy debating whether this current Socceroos team has what it takes to create success at the World Cup. Success, in the media’s eyes and re-enforced by the Australian Socceroos themselves is reaching the competitions quarterfinals.

Imagine the possible team talk in the Socceroos change rooms regarding next Monday’s game against Ghana. “If we lose this game it is all over. Our World Cup Campaign will be finished. Our reputations will be equal to mud if we get thrashed again.”

Such team talk creates a focus on the outcome rather than the moment, and also creates a strong and vivid image of failure. Humans have a remarkable capacity to focus on what they don’t want and then go ahead and create it. When I ride my motorbike I have to be aware of the truck that is coming toward me. But if I focus on the truck I will ride my motorbike straight into the truck (the same is true for bicycles – you travel where you look). Clearly I don’t want to ride my motorcycle into a truck, so I have to become disciplined at focussing on where I do want to go, while being aware of the truck at the same time.

The same is true for teams and team talk. Your team talk reflects what you are focussing on. As the image highlights, team talk leads to team image which then affects performance. Negative team talk leads to a negative team image which, like a magnet, draws the team’s performance in that direction. Of course the performance then re-enforces that the team talk was accurate and a vicious cycle is created.

Team talk by itself does not guarantee success. Nothing does. But positive team talk that focuses on what the team can control, such as its systems and processes when balanced with the right work or training increases the chances that success will be achieved. When negative team talk is present it significantly increases the probablility that failure will occur.

In this context teams must focus on what they can control and the team talk that relates to success. If the Australian Socceroos are to achieve the success they desire then focussing on their team talk is a powerful approach to adopt.

I believe Henry Ford was right when he said, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right either way!”.

What is the team talk present in your teams? Is it positive? Is it negative? Is it focussed on what you can control?

Please feel free to comment on this article.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

Do you listen ‘…with your answer running’?

Last night I was facilitating a workshop for mentors for Monash University, Australia’s largest university. Throughout the workshop the participants had been holding a conversation regarding the importance of listening. One participant suggested that if you listen, “…while your answer is running in your head, then you are not listening at all.”

I had never heard this description for not listening and it struck me a s a clear example of what really does go on when people are supposed to be listening.

Often people are simply waiting for the other person to stop speaking so that they can ‘take their turn’ and now say what they have been preparing to say. Recently I facilitated a development half day for an executive team and one of the activities that I facilitated was called Turning Points. In that activity participants share significant events in their lives that, if they had not occurred the person believes that they would not be in the physical room on that day; they would be somewhere else in the world because their life would have travelled a different path.

Due to the personal nature of the stories I ask the participants to, “Do whatever it takes to listen with one hundred percent attention”. After people have shared their stories we then talk about the quality of listening that was occurring throughout the conversation.

Participants commonly report that they couldn’t believe how much they ‘heard’. When asked why they heard so much, the regular reply is, “I wanted to hear what they had to say. I wanted to give them my full attention. I didn’t have any opinions about what they were saying so it made it easier to listen”.

I then ask team members if the quality of listening that they just experienced is regularly present in their team meetings. “Rarely, if ever” is the normal response.

Listening is regularly listed as one of the most important characteristics of effective leaders. So how do you listen with 100 percent attention when you do have an opinion about what the other person is saying?

A couple of techniques to consider are to consciously make the choice to listen to someone. You might even say to yourself, “I am going to listen to this person with one hundred percent attention.” Choosing to listen to someone from the perspective of trying to understand fully what they are saying is a powerful way to enhance your listening. It re-enforces that your own opinion is not worth saying of even fully formulating until you have understood the other person to the best of your ability.

Statements such as, “What I think you just said was…” are ways of checking your understanding.

Listening is not easy. In fact my view is that it is the most difficult of all the skills of effective leadership. yet it is also a critical skill to master. So it is worth making the effort to:

  1. Make the conscious choice to listen; and
  2. Listen first to understand.

What practical tactics to you use to enhance the quality of your listening, particularly when you are in team meetings and you do have strong views about the topic?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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What sayings guide you on a day to day basis?

Sayings can be very powerful and act as a guide for our lives. Two Australian sayings that I find very powerful and very useful for helping me to live my life are:

  1. ‘Get fair dinkum’; and
  2. ‘Have a crack!’.

‘Get fair dinkum’ means that you need to be honest with yourself. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that everything is okay if it isn’t, and don’t go thinking everything is terrible if it isn’t. Appraise both the good and the bad and most of all, be honest!

This enables you to be honest with others, an important trait for building relationships.

‘Have a crack’ means, ‘to have a go’ or ‘to take action.’ People often miss out on achieving what they want in life because they are afraid of what might go wrong. The saying, ‘have a crack!’ reminds me to focus on what I want to achieve, and to go for it! Usually the worst thing that could happen from having a crack is nowhere near as bad as not being prepared to give yourself a chance of creating whatever it is that you want.

So, get fair dinkum and have a crack!

What sayings guide your life?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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