Learning from today’s thought leaders and authors.
August 5, 2016
An exclusive interview with Robert Stevenson by Daniel R. Murphy-
Dan Murphy: Welcome Rob to my Books2Wealth author interviews and thank you so much for taking this time to talk to our readers.
Dan Murphy: Before we get to your latest book, Raise Your Line, I’d like to ask you a question about who Robert Stevenson is. I know you are a busy public speaker, consultant and coach, can you tell us a bit about the road you took to get where you are today?
Robert Stevenson: I started my first business when I was 24 years old and since then, I have owned and operated five companies, sold internationally in over 20 countries, along with holding positions from Salesman to Chief Executive Officer. So, the suggestions I share in my books are not only from what I have studied and learned from other companies I have worked with, but also from living the experiences in the companies I have owned. I started speaking professionally over 25 years ago and have worked with over 2,500 companies throughout the world; over 2 million people have attended one of my programs.
Dan Murphy: Your website talks about your approach to helping businesses and about how you are research-oriented. When you are working with clients how much of your material is pretty much universally applicable and how much of it is uniquely developed based on your research into the client?
Robert Stevenson: There are a lot of similarities in business, no matter what industry you are in, so I am able to use the things I have learned from the companies I work with, with other organizations. I think it is extremely important to get an understanding of the problems, issues, concerns and objectives of the company you are working with, so you can tailor a program that will best meet their needs. Sometimes I spend several days putting together a program; interviewing numerous people within their company or industry so the material I present will be specific and useful to them. I find when I deliver my speech, the audience is more receptive to my program when they see I have taken the time to learn about their company and industry.
Dan Murphy: OK, let’s talk about your book, Raise Your Line today. This is a great book and I am delighted to feature it as our Book of the Month for May, 2016. What was the primary reason you wrote this book?
Robert Stevenson: I wanted to share all the information I have learned over the years so I could help others. Raise Your Line offers guidelines and practical to-do’s to help any company or person succeed in business. I wanted to walk readers step-by-step, through how to improve their business performance, leadership skills, and reach their career goals and do it in a format that is easy to understand and implement. I have highlighted points which I think are particularly important to success, (there are over 100 of them in the book). So, by simply scanning through the pages, anyone will easily find countless ways to improve. So many business books today require the reader to dig deep to find the nuggets of knowledge that will help them succeed; I wanted to write a book that required no digging. I wanted it to be an action-oriented manual with specific steps to take that are relevant to high performing winners.
Dan Murphy: In your book you begin talking about defining moments and critical choices we all have to make, as individuals and as organizations. How important are these moments and choices in terms of achievement and success?
Robert Stevenson: In one simple word, I think these moments are “CRITICAL” in terms of achievement and success. As I stated in my book, “There are certain times in our business and personal lives that we have to make important decisions that will have a huge impact on our future. These ‘defining moments’ or ‘critical choices’ are the difference between clarity or confusion, misery or joy, success or failure.” So, if we are to be successful, we must choose wisely.
Dan Murphy: I have to ask you about your apparent fascination with words and how they work. You spend some time writing about all the English words that contain the word “Line” in them. Are those words all related in some critical way or is this just an interesting observation?
Robert Stevenson: You are correct in your observation that I do have a fascination with words and how they work. Our English language can serve as a wonderful platform to help develop any point we want to make. That is exactly what I did when researching the use of the word “line.” I was looking for a connection and found that were some interesting words containing the word “line” that have a lot to do with success; ex.: guideline, streamline, discipline, and deadline, to name a few.
Dan Murphy: Your first chapter talks about having the right mindset. You discuss being a realistic optimist. Many books on success talk about the importance of being an optimist or a positive thinker. You see a more balanced version of that. How can someone really be an optimist and a realist at the same time?
Robert Stevenson: As I stated in my book … “A “Realist” is a person who views things as they really are. An “Optimist” is a person who expects a favorable outcome. I think to be successful on both a personal and professional level you need to be a REALISTIC OPTIMIST: a person who takes in full account the reality of any situation and then using the THE POWER OF OPTIMISM, creates the energy and commitment necessary to achieve higher levels of performance or strives to find an effective solution. I believe everything we do and every decision we make, both personally and professionally, need to be approached as a Realistic Optimist.
Dan Murphy: When discussing change you mention the old saw, “that is the way we’ve always done it”. I appreciate that because I’ve had to struggle against that mindset throughout my career. As the world changes ever more rapidly why do you think people still hold onto this idea? Is it just being lazy? Or do people really fail to realize that things can be done better?
Robert Stevenson: Dan, I believe humans are creatures of habit; it is in our nature, our DNA to find something that works and then stick with it. Computer software companies are constantly upgrading their software always striving to make it better, faster, more efficient … trying to accommodate our wishes and suggestions. The only problem is if we download their new software, many times their will be a learning curve attached to it. We are going to have to take the time out of our busy schedule to learn the “NEW” bells and whistles they have developed. Our first impulse is “We don’t have enough time” to do it. But, the new software will save us time in the long run … so we have to force ourselves to take the time to learn the new software. If you want to advance your career, never let it be said you were too lazy to change, adjust, or adapt to new ways of doing something.
Dan Murphy: In Chapter 2 you talk about the constant change and improvement that is essential to thrive in a competitive world. I like your idea that success is never final. Do you sometimes find that exhausting though, that we need to be always finding ways to improve and adapt?
Robert Stevenson: Absolutely, it can be exhausting! Being successful and achieving greatness is no easy task. Sometimes maintaining your success is even harder, because now everyone is trying to knock you down. One of the programs I deliver to my clients is entitled … “If You Don’t Like Change – You Are Going to Hate Extinction.” The alternative to not changing, improving, striving to be better is not pretty: YOU LOSE! Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel once said, “Only the paranoids survive. Paranoids believe someone or some force is out to get them.” That “force” is your competition; the competitor can be in the form of a company trying to take business away from you, an associate trying to take your job, or a fellow team mate trying to take your position and put you on the bench. I am not fond of extinction and that fact alone should drive us all to keep improving.
Dan Murphy: You talk about changing yourself before asking others to change. How important is this?
Robert Stevenson: I think it is of critical importance. I know of no one who is respectful of a manager who lives by the mantra …”Do as I say, not as I do.” The best way to get anyone to change is for you to set the example. If you want them to be early, then you need to ALWAYS be early. If you want them in a better mood, then you need to strive to always be happy and easy to deal with. Telling other to change but not doing it yourself is a sure formula for disaster.
Dan Murphy: You talk about bad decisions leading to mistakes and then to good judgment. That is not automatic though, is it? What must people do to learn from mistakes and genuinely develop better judgment in the process?
Robert Stevenson: First and foremost, access the reason why the mistake was made. If you don’t know why something happened, you will never be able to fix it. This is not to assign blame, but rather to help make sure it never happens again. Did the mistake occur because of lack of knowledge, poor training, equipment failure, communication issues, or what? Always remember, a problem (mistake) identified is a blessing … because you can now set out to fix it. Once a full assessment has been made to why it happened, then steps need to be developed and written down to show how it should be properly handled the next time. The final step is to make sure EVERYONE is made aware of any new changes in procedures and they have been properly trained to handle it next time. Better judgement only occurs when there is a complete understanding of the mistake and how it should be handled the next time.
Dan Murphy: You suggest that we think in terms of making adjustments instead of change because people are often fearful of that word change. Does the use of the word adjust really make a big difference?
Robert Stevenson: In my humble opinion, yes it does. Telling someone that they need to change is usually not well received. I personally know I am not excited when someone tells me I need to change. Sometimes the word can be perceived as an attack on your abilities. But, by just softening the term to adjust, tweak or slightly modify something, you can have a great deal more success in getting people to accept the “Change” you are really asking them to make.
Dan Murphy: You teach it is OK to change your mind when there is good reason to do so. In politics people are often highly criticized when they change their mind and that can happen in business too. How do we overcome that bias against changing one’s mind?
Robert Stevenson: Be honest. Tell people what has caused you to change your mind. Share with them your reasoning behind your change of heart. People will be more accepting if your reasoning is sound and makes good sense. With technology changing so rapidly today, the way we did things yesterday that made us successful could be obsolete to tomorrow. Stubbornness and inflexibility can kill a company or career, so being able to learn, adjust and/or change your mind is critical to your success.
Dan Murphy: What is the difference between telling someone you believe in them as opposed to saying you believe them?
Robert Stevenson: Believing in them has to do with their ability and desire to accomplish the task at hand. Believing them has to do with their character; the fact that you trust them and have no doubt to believe anything they say. Both are extremely important if they plan on being truly successful, but the two statements mean very different things.
Dan Murphy: You talk about having an ownership attitude. How does a low level employee in an organization develop this ownership mentality? How does it affect the way they perform?
Robert Stevenson: This has a lot to do with the leadership of the company and how they strive to develop the right kind of “Corporate Culture.” If an organization is set up correctly, everyone will have a feeling that what they do on a daily basis is important to the overall success of the company. This feeling has to start from the day they are hired and needs to be constantly reinforced. When people feel that what they do matters, they will want to help the company succeed. When employees are complimented, rewarded and sometimes even compensated monetarily for ideas and suggestions on how to better improve polices, processes and procedures … they will start to take ownership of not only their tasks and duties, but also start looking out for problems that could occur that could cost money to resolve or cause customers to take their business elsewhere. To me, it is all about an attitude of respect for your employees along with a continual education as of the importance of everyone.
The second part of your question, “How does this affect the way they perform,” is where so many companies make a huge mistake. According to Gallup’s latest poll, only 32% of employees are fully engaged in their job. When you show employees respect and gratitude for a job well done, and keep them involved in the company by asking their opinion, you have greatly enhanced your potential for success.
Dan Murphy: In Chapter 17 you discuss fear of failure and how that holds so many people back. That is so true. How do we overcome that natural fear?
Robert Stevenson: By showing them how many great accomplishments came from learning what didn’t work. Everyone needs to know, understand and appreciate that failure is a major part of the learning curve. But you also need to eliminate fear of retribution for making the mistakes. As I said in my book, “We aren’t born with good judgment. Some good judgment slowly evolves from the knowledge our parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, and mentors try to share with us. Some good judgment evolves from doing something so many times that we figure out what works best. But often, we unfortunately have to live through a bad experience to gain the knowledge and wisdom.” I personally feel that few people make mistakes on purpose; to attack someone for making a mistake makes no sense. In fact, it will actually hurt the situation. We have to remember that the mistake has occurred … the damage has been done. You can’t turn back the clock and make the mistake go away. When you finally realize that every failure is just another stepping stone towards achieving success, you will lose your fear of failure and start progressing.
Dan Murphy: You talk about the importance of focus to success. We are typically inundated by too much information and too many demands on our attention and time – how do people develop that habit of focus in light of all these distractions? What are the 2 or 3 critical habits or approaches people can use?
Robert Stevenson: The first thing I would address is you need to focus on what needs to be fixed. Determine what is causing you the most problems, delays or frustrations? On a business basis, I would start with customer complaints. Gather up all the complaints and then categorize them as to complaint type, then go fix the category that has the most complaints. You also need to identify your core competencies … those things you do that have made your company successful and make sure your employees are fully aware of this and are doing them every day. Many companies just assume everyone is aware of what it is they need to be doing and how they need to do it. My book goes into several other things you should address that will help to eliminate distractions and get you more focused on what really needs to be done.
Dan Murphy: Since I am asking you a lot of questions I have to ask you about your chapter on the value of asking questions. Why don’t people ask more questions? How powerful is this habit?
Robert Stevenson: As I stated in my book, “The problem with a lot of companies or managers is that they have created an environment where challenges by subordinates are not looked upon in a positive manner. In fact, they are considered as challenges to authority rather than an effort to try and make the company stronger. Some managers / bosses / CEOs have instilled such an environment of fear that they seldom, if ever, have anyone question their ideas, policies, procedures, or methods. If no one is disagreeing, adding their two cents, or giving any ‘real’ input at your meetings, you are just wasting time and don’t need to have a meeting. You probably won’t be in business long either, if that’s the way you run a company.” You have got to create an environment where everyone in your company sees questions as opportunities to
streamline operations, improve efficiencies, and increase profitability. If you have managers who are defensive when questions are asked, you’ve got the wrong manager. I truly believe that asking “WHY” is a powerful tool to make any organization or person better. People need to understand the “WHY” behind anything they do and if you can’t answer it, you really have a problem!
Dan Murphy: You talk about fairness in business. The news seems full of examples where business ignores fairness in so many ways. Is fairness just a good old fashioned value or is it critical to business success?
Robert Stevenson: As Sam Walton once said, “There is only one boss, the customer,
and they can fire everybody in the company … from the Chairman on down …simply by spending their money somewhere else.” I don’t care what kind of business you are in, if you don’t treat customers fairly, you won’t be in business long. I think this fact is even more important today than it was 20 years ago. In the “Viral” world we live in, where everything is shared on the internet, companies need to be even more cautious how they treat customers, or the next thing they will find is a “tweet” or Facebook message that has been shared over 100,000 times. The day you forget you are in business for the customer, is the day you start going out of business. I think fairness is critical to the success of any company.
Dan Murphy: You discuss so many important qualities that we should develop in our personal development we cannot touch on them all here. What are the three most important habits we should develop to achieve more?
Robert Stevenson: That is a really tough question, because there is so much I would like to share on this subject. I even wrote a book on the subject entitled, “52 Essential Habits for Success,” so I definitely believe there are more than three you need to follow to be successful. But, if you are going to pin me down to only three, I would choose: 1) Accept criticism for the benefits it brings you. 2) Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated. 3) Shorten your learning curve by reading something to improve yourself every day.
Dan Murphy: Your book is chock full of so many great ideas about how organizations and individuals can raise their line – that is raise their level of achievement and success. Are they any we have not discussed here that you consider super critical?
Robert Stevenson: Yes! Protect your integrity and become disciplined. Once you give up your integrity you can seldom, if ever, get it back. When your life is based on integrity, you will never have anything to fear because you will have nothing to hide. Without self-discipline, all of the things I have mentioned up to this point are really meaningless unless you have the self-discipline to do them. Your persistence to make things happen, your resolve, and your willpower will determine just how successful you will be in life. You need to live by one mantra when it comes to your personal success: “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”
Dan Murphy: You have also written three other books, can you mention them and what they are about?
Robert Stevenson: My first book (and a Best-Seller), How to Soar Like an Eagle in a World Full of Turkeys, I wrote for one purpose …I wanted to write a book that discuss things I wish I had known when I first started out in my career. So, I put together 47 chapters as a practical guide to becoming the extraordinary person you want to be. My second book, 52 Essential Habits for Success, I wanted to address why is it that some people succeed while others fail or lead lives of mediocrity? I wanted to specially address what you need to do to be successful, but more importantly, design a simple way to condition your mind with powerful success habits. This book has a simple methodology of how to not only learn the habits, but permanently condition your mind to remember and use them. My third book was a short quote book entitled, Pocketful of Tweets for Success. I have found that sometimes it just takes one quote, one thought, one phrase that will serve as a spark to get you on your path to success. I have also found in this fast paced world, people want all the clutter removed when it comes to getting the answer. So, I put together 100 practical principles that are short and to-the-point, in a format that you can actually put the book in your pocket. In fact, they are so short that they fit the Twitter requirement of only 140 characters. These principles are sure ways to help you succeed in this ever-changing, highly competitive world we live in.
Dan Murphy: Are there more books coming? What might we expect?
Robert Stevenson: Yes, I have one on the back burner right now that will be a sequel to my first book, How to Soar Like an Eagle in a World Full of Turkeys. We are keeping the title under wraps, because we think the title will be as attention getting as my first book.
Dan Murphy: Any last thoughts Rob? Anything else our readers should give some thought to?
Robert Stevenson: My book, Raise Your Line, is based on twenty-five years of research from over 10,000 interviews I have personally conducted with employees, managers and senior executives in over 250 industries. I want your readers to know that I have highlighted points which are particularly important to success, (there are over 100 of them in the book); I call these highlights “Line Raisers.” So, by simply scanning through the pages, anyone will easily find countless ways to improve.
Dan Murphy: Thank you so much for taking this time to answer these questions and give our readers a glimpse into what you have learned form all your research and work with organizations and individuals.
Robert Stevenson: It was my pleasure, Dan.
Learn more about Robert Stevenson at www.robertstevenson.org.
This interview is copyright protected by Daniel R. Murphy 2016 For permission to reproduce this article or any part thereof contact the publisher at email@example.com