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Being Truly Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m writing from my home in Texas and yes Thanksgiving, at least the one I’m talking about is American.

In preparing this piece, I looked back at my annual Thanksgiving messages. I was struck by what I thought was simple prose at the time, but turned out to be more prophecy. (On my blog page, use the search box above and type Thanksgiving to see what I mean).

In the past I have written about social conditions, political conditions, the need for leadership, and of course family.

Somehow the events of 2020 make everything pale in comparison.

The Top 10 for 2020

If you will allow me, here is my Top 10 list of things to be thankful for in 2020.

10. We still live in a free country where opinions are able to be expressed despite growing tension about doing so. I fear we’re losing that ability to come together to discuss and honor opposing opinions. So I pray we change that soon.

9. We have a diverse economy that can sustain pandemics. It may take a hit, but we don’t sink the ship.

8. I have friends and colleagues to remind me to be humble.

7. I still have the ability to learn; learn to be a better coach, a better teacher, and a better person.

6. I have clients who seem to appreciate what we do together. I never take that for granted.

5. I have you to read and follow this blog and my podcasts. Your feedback keeps me on my edge and hungry to do more.

4. I have a valuable network of mentors who help me grow. You know who you are. You challenge me and keep me strong.

3. I have some very special friends who are loyal, supportive, caring, and honest. That’s the most important part, honesty.

2. I have a beautiful family; my wife Susan, my kids, and grands. You all keep me on my toes. I love you tremendously.

1. I thank my Lord and Savior for His unconditional love.

Some may take offense. I don’t intend to be offensive. I’m sharing my list. You can share yours in the comments below.

Giving thanks

The Leader’s Obligation

As I think about this list, the big question that emerges for me is this “How will I show up?” For all the things people do for me and with me, will it matter?

It better.

You see I believe I need to show up better each day. I need to do that for myself. But more importantly I need to do it for those who are counting on it.

If I roll out of bed and decide to ‘mail it in’ one day, who gets hurt? They do. The people who are counting on something from me.

That is what leadership is about. If you lead people, they are expecting something. You better show up and deliver.

If you’re not ready or willing to do that, you need to step away from your leadership role. If you’re just there for the payday, step away. If you only want the recognition, step away.

Step away and let someone who wants to serve others take the role. The people deserve that. We need those kinds of leaders, everywhere.

Will you show up? And be that kind of leader? I hope so. My pledge is to be there. Will you be alongside?

Leaders Should Track Accomplishments

Career transition is a big part of the leadership journey. Companies change direction, mergers and divestitures happen, Boards vote leaders out, markets shift, and new opportunities avail themselves. Great leaders are ready for those changes in their professional life.

Career transition is something I’ve known about and helped coach since 2008 when the last big recession hit the job market. I’ve coached hundreds of professionals in making solid, effective career moves.

Interestingly, there is one element often missing from an executive’s resume when time comes to tell their story to potential new companies.

That element is a statement or statements about key accomplishments. An accomplishment is different from a job responsibility. The ‘responsibility’ comes from a job description e.g. ‘I was responsible for…’

Well written accomplishments do much more. Kudos to my long time friend and workforce expert, Rick Gillis, for introducing me to this powerful concept many years ago.

As Rick says, “Accomplishments have a beginning, a middle, and an end.” An example is “I led a team of 100 certified professionals, managing a portfolio of assets valued at $150,000,000.” You have headcount, function, and, most importantly, dollar impact.

The impact is not limited to actual dollars, but can include percentages saved, gained, grown, or reduced. Metrics can include manhours, volume, inventory, price, scale, and market share.

By writing powerful accomplishments, your story as a leader gains value; value that can be significant in the eyes of a potential employer.

The Hunt for New Leadership

When my client companies look for new leadership, I always encourage them to hunt for people who have already performed at the new, higher level. If you want a company to grow from $3MM to $10MM, don’t hire a $3MM executive. Go for someone who has already performed at $10MM. Then they can help you get there.

How can you figure that out? Look for stated accomplishments that contain the $10MM indicators, not the $3MM level. If you’re the leader trying to get recognized as a good fit, sell your accomplishments before job duties. Beef up your resume or CV with accomplishment statements demonstrating value add via specific metrics of value.

In addition to functional accomplishments, think also about your leadership accomplishments. Decide on key competencies that can also be quantified as an accomplishment statement. Then be ready to share those too.

According to Sunnie Giles’ study published in HBR of leaders around the globe, leadership competencies can be divided into 5 categories:

  • Strong ethics and safety: having high ethical and moral standards, clearly communicating expectations
  • Self-organizing: setting goals/objectives without micromanaging the process
  • Efficient learning: flexible with changing opinions, openness to new ideas and approaches, creating a safe trial and error environment
  • Growth nurturing: commitment to ongoing training, dedication to creating the next generation of leaders
  • Connection and belonging: communicating openly, sharing wins, and failures.

While these are undeniably the ultimate leadership skills for any individual, the question here is how to put leadership skills on a resume, and prove the recruiter you are a team player who can lead?

The magic answer is to blend the accomplishment statement with the leadership competency. Describe your key leadership traits with corresponding measures of how that created value in your current or former role.

Use it to convey ways you can help the new company by bringing them that value.

The world is in desperate need of good leadership. Whether in government or the private sector, strong leadership is the key to solving cultural and social problems. If you know how to lead, I mean really lead, we need you stepping up wherever you have the opportunity.

Can You Guess the Weight of an Ox?

weight of an ox

Making Better Decisions

If you took a team of smart, capable people out to the wilderness and showed them an ox, could they accurately estimate the weight of that ox?

Working by themselves, ask each person to write down the weight they believe the ox to be, then seal it in an envelope. Collect the envelopes. As you start opening the envelopes, you’d find the guesses would be all over the place. Some too low, some too high.

But if you ask the same group to work as a team, they could share experiences and learning to come to a much better answer for the weight of the ox.

The same principle holds true with solving big problems at work. Any member of your team working alone can come to an answer. But is that answer the best it could be?

The Back Story for Business

I was told this story the first time by an investment advisor. He shared that his colleagues routinely gathered to analyze and explore optimum solutions for asset management of key accounts they held.

It was reassuring to know that the collective wisdom of his team was being used to make better choices and create the best possible advice for stakeholders.

Leaders need to open themselves up for similar group activities. While you might be the owner or CEO of your respective company, you can still leverage the wisdom of others to help you make better, more informed decisions.

networking with those around you

Ways to Help You Make Better Decisions

Here are some simple ways to get it done.

First, if you are truly alone at the top, you need an outside resource to help. A trusted advisor whether personal or professional can be that ear to hear what you are thinking. You can use them as a sounding board.

A trusted advisor can be there for you to explore options, vet decisions, and suggest other things to consider before making a final decision.

Or you might pursue a peer advisory group. In “Think and Grow Rich”, Napolean Hill introduced the idea of Mastermind Groups. This is a gathering of like-minded individuals to come together and share experiences, ideas, and wisdom so as to help others grow.

Another idea is to turn things over to your own leadership team. Depending on the size of your organization, you may have access to a team of direct reports who could be that group to review the details and evaluate ideas.

A Caution on ‘Group Think’

Allowing a group to do anything can have its risks. But with proper guidance and collaboration, leveraging the combined expertise of a workgroup can pay dividends.

When teams have not been built around solid core principles for trust and collaboration, then ‘group think’ can go wrong. If team members are uncertain of their standing in the group or people feel alienated, then they might ‘go along’ with the dominant voice at the table rather than speak their mind.

If that happens, you as a leader have a much bigger problem. It is for this reason I have been using the Team Trust Model.

The Team Trust Model explains six key steps for every team to use to build TRUST. Teams who operate with high levels of trust can achieve much greater results than those operating without trust. More on that here.

If you’ve never considered having an outside advisor to help you through your decision-making process, now may be the time to ask.

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Managers: 5 Key Questions About Grace

grace

 

2020 has been a dumpster fire. Pandemic, economic trials, election battles, remote working, killer hornets, hurricanes, and mandated lockouts. What else can go wrong, right?

2020 dumpster fire

And it’s hard to believe we’re poised to launch into 2021 just a few short weeks away. Can you say “Yippee”!

With year-end upon us and a new year right ahead, people start thinking about new year planning. This article is not another push for goal setting. It will not be about the next great program or self-help eBook. The topic I’d like to share seldom gets mentioned in any Top 10 list of attributes for managers. Yet, I feel obligated to bring it up. What am I talking about?

The topic is GRACE; not a person or a thing. Rather, in my humble opinion, grace is a state of mind. We can’t earn it. Many feel they don’t deserve it. So, I believe that is why I have yet to find the topic of grace being spoken about in any of the management and leadership books I follow.

Maybe you first heard about grace from a Pastor, Priest, or Rabbi. No, this will NOT be a Bible study article. I simply want to tell you about adding grace to several parts of your life as you close 2020 and enter the New Year.

What is Grace?

Please allow me to explain my thoughts about grace, then we will apply them to your situation.

First, I said grace is a mindset. It lives halfway between your head and your heart. You can over-think it, thus killing the spirit of it. Or, you can over-give it, thus defying the logic of what you might need to be doing with it. It is a delicate balance of thought, logic, emotion, and self-worth.

Next, it does include a dose of forgiveness. Forgiveness not just for a moment, then later to be revoked, but permanent. Wiped clean, wiped off, wiped out.

Then, in modern terms, grace gives us the break you need as in ‘give me a break’. It cuts you some slack. It soothes the hurt. It takes away the sting. It is the essence of ‘let it go’. My eldest son calls this ‘breathe’.

There is so much more to grace, but I will leave it at this for now. So with these ideas in mind, how should you and I apply grace? I have several recommendations.

Courtesy 123rf.com / racorn

Where Does Grace Need to Be Applied?

First and foremost, apply it to your own life. No one ever grades us harder than we grade ourselves. Grace allows you to add a curve to the grading. It gives you bonus points.

Giving yourself grace for the things that have not worked out helps to eliminate negative forces that can cripple our effort to move forward. When you look back at 2020 or beyond, are you haunted by things not done? Do you lament the decisions you made? Do you beat yourself up over relationships that went wrong or business deals that did not work out?

If you said YES to any of those, you, my friend, need some grace in your life. Decide when, where, and how you will give yourself some grace so that the New Year can get going without hurdles.

Next, if you manage people, what grace do you give them? We all know there are boundaries and standards that must be applied at work. But your co-workers are human. You need to extend some grace. It is a certainty that someone somewhere in your circle will fall short of a goal.

Once the required administration of the situation is complete, do you offer grace? You can demonstrate grace by establishing a work environment where the employee feels the slate is truly wiped clean once any offense is addressed.

Sidebar –  Yes, I know managers must deal with disciplinary matters that set up probationary periods. So there will be a cloud over the employee while that period is in force. While this is happening, will you treat all other aspects of the person’s work effort with grace?

The other area in your life where grace is vitally needed is family; starting with your spouse (if married), then your children. Have these people committed some offense for which you have yet to forgive? Have you thought about giving them grace?

Being a leader requires the ability to give grace.

 

Here are 5 key questions about grace.

  1. When was the last time you visited the topic of grace?
  2. Has grace been given to you lately?
  3. Do you owe yourself some grace?
  4. Who do you know that needs you to give them grace?
  5. Will you add grace to your leadership toolkit in 2021?

Thank you for your faithful following this past year. Here’s to a bright and prosperous 2021!

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PS – Here’s a little fun video for you to enjoy about 2020 by Penn Holderness; an amazing artist.

Leaders: Can You Get Too Focused?

The other day I was running errands and stopped at my bank. I went inside, did my business, and went back to my car. As I sat there checking emails, I was surprised by my passenger door opening with a young lady standing there.

She looked up at me, shrieked, and said “Oh my God!”

I looked at her then noticed that across the parking lot behind her was a vehicle exactly like mine with her husband sitting in it startled with a surprise too.

She apologized and gently closed my car door, exiting to her vehicle.

I shouted at her husband, asking him if he wanted to keep her. He said “Yes, I do.”

I said “Well, she’s all yours. Have a nice day!”

As we both drove away, I was thinking about FOCUS.

Clearly that young lady was very focused on something. So focused that she ignored the distance between her car and mine, simply letting the “impression” of a similar car influence her choice for opening the door.

I too was very focused on emails form my phone and ignored her approaching my car until it was too late and she had swung open the door.

It made for a good laugh, but could have been far worse.

Leader Focus

As leaders, we can get so laser-focused on an idea we lose sight of other opportunities or we ignore facts and circumstances that could impact our outcome.

When was the last time you got focused like that?

I have the odd opportunity to work with leaders on both ends of the business spectrum. I coach executives in some of the largest companies on the globe, like ExxonMobil and UPS. I also coach entrepreneurs and sole proprietors who are busy building new companies.

Yet the similarities I see are common to both. Running an organization requires thoughtful, dedicated leadership. Good management is not enough. You have to demonstrate real leadership. (I’ve written about the differences between management and leadership HERE).

Leaders can get blinded by ideas that create an intense focus on going one way or another. Once choices are made, nothing will persuade them to change direction. That can have a disasterous effect.

It’s one thing to be committed to a decision. Sure, the team wants you, their leader, to be certain on which way you want to go.

However, putting your head down once the decision is made can be problematic.

It’s a Tricky Balancing Act

I realize it can be tricky to be decisive yet open to other input. I do believe there are ways you can still make solid decisions and stay sensitive to things happening around you.

Here are some of the best ways I’ve seen work.

First, keep your team engaged. Just because you made the decision doesn’t mean your team should be shut off from reporting changes. For some reason I’m thinking about the submarine Captain and his crew. You’ve likely seen the war movies, you know what I mean. The Captain shouts an order but the crew is reporting back information they see on their monitors.

Next, have a reporting mechanism that works. In Six Sigma process improvement, there is a model known as DMAIC. It is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

DMAIC is the core of continuous imporvement of your process. By following these steps, you gain insights that you might not otherwise pay attentiion to.

Lastly, maintain communication with your team. Engage them for their valuable input. Even once the “ship” is underway, you have to allow course corrections to maintain a successful voyage. (Watch Greyhound with Tom Hanks to know what I mean here).

The Leader’s Challenge

The next time you make a big decision, don’t forget about keeping your eyes open for situation and circumstance around you changing. Don’t let your focus be so blinding that external factors get missed of overlooked.

The Naked Truth About LinkedIn Jail

Now I have a ‘record’. LinkedIn booked me in their user-jail for about two weeks. What it meant was, I could not send any connection requests to anyone unless I knew their personal email.

Now mind you I am not a spammer. I’ve been a faithful user on LinkedIn since 2005. Yes, I have over 17,000 connections, but that was built over 15 years of regular faithful and, I might add, compliant activity.

I’m careful with what I do there. I respect and honor the “code.” No junk posts, political or otherwise. All business. Yet for some reason, the algorithms kicked in and flagged my account. It took me three tries at appealing the decision. Here’s the storyline in summary.

I got flagged and shut down about 10 days ago. I was aware others have had this happen, so was alert to the steps needed to fix the problem. They say it is just temporary. LinkedIn will let you back in if you just fall on your sword.

First, I checked my pending invitations. The number was zero. I flush that queue every week, keeping nothing pending more than 7 days. Next, I stopped inviting anyone. Also, I turned off all my connected devices.

Mind you I am using the paid subscription to Sales Navigator, a platform that by definition is for sales prospecting. And it’s not cheap. You don’t prospect just those folks you know.

Finally I wrote my letter of contrition, begging forgiveness and reinstatement.

BANG! “No” they said. I was “an egregious violator and this sentence was for life.”

Wow, color me starting to get angry. How could they? After all I’ve done for them! Please allow me to elaborate.

The Back Story

In 2008, when I started Jobs Ministry Southwest, I was the first organization in the Greater Houston area to create a class for LinkedIn. I had met with the regional sales rep of LinkedIn. We collaborated and my effort was sanctioned.

I developed a presentation that when first launched had over 400 attendees at a 2 hour workshop. All of these folks were in career transition and needed help finding jobs. I was advocating they get busy on LinkedIn. My seminal effort was titled “12.5 Ways to Get Ahead Using LinkedIn”.

Later, it spawned a live, hands-on workshop series I led that was hosted by Belhaven University in their computer labs. Hundreds attended. The series caught the national attention of a tech writer at Fortune magazine. That was 2010.

I and my series appeared as part of a cover story on Fortune featuring the meteoric growth of LinkedIn. My organization made Linkedin a cornerstone teaching of ways to land a new job. Over a 5 year period, we coached over 4,500 professionals.

Today, I still evangelize the use of LinkedIn. I am an officer of Silver Fox Advisors, a regional association of business professionals whose main focus is helping small businesses grow. Working there, I coach the use of LinkedIn for my fellow members as well as many of the small business owners we serve.

I inlcuded all of this history in my third and final appeal to get released from jail.

Apparently, the gods found favor and sent me notice of the restriction being released. But there was a stern warning that any future violation would result in permanent restriction without the possibility of release or parole. God love Microsoft.

The Fix

If you want to stay on the straight and narrow path with LinkedIn, here are my tips (from an actual ‘Linkedin felon’ no less).

First, keep your invitation count low and reasonable. I’d say no more than 5-10 per day. NEVER reach out to a level 3 contact. Stay within your level 2 circle of connections so you can point to the actual name you have in common. Use that name as a reference. Thus you create a warm contact.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, LinkedIn still technically counts this a violation. If the person to whom you sent the invite hits the “do not know” button, you’re screwed. It takes a special, extra click of the mouse for someone to flag your invitation with “do not know” rather than merely rejecting it, but apparently, people are getting more hostile about doing just that.

Next, watch the build-up of stale unanswered invitation requests. You can delete old ones that have not been answered. Here’s how to fix that.

Per the letter I received from LinkedIn: Invite people from the “Add (member’s name) to your network” link OR click the “Connect” button on their profile. From there you can add a personal note to explain how you know them and why you’d like to connect. The personal note option isn’t available when you import your address book or add email addresses from the “Add Connections” feature.

Oh and be sure you are displaying a photo on your profile. People may not recognize your name, but they may remember a face. If you’ve uploaded your photo, be sure your settings allow it to display across all situations and platforms.

That’s it, plain and simple right? Don’t believe it. The mysterious algorithms have their ways. BWAH_HA_HA_HAAAAA Be watchful.

By the way, you can see my profile on LinkedIn here.

Cover illustration by Sally Thurer, NYTimes

What is Trust Anyway?

You and I share many different things. As leaders, we share common needs, goals, and attributes. Depending on who you talk to, you and I score at different levels depending on the topic we choose to ask about. However, there is one key area frequently cited as a critical factor in determining whether a leader is effective or not. That factor is TRUST.

Business leaders don’t consciously go about their day specifically trying to build trust. This would be like having ‘building trust’ on your to-do list. Let’s see, go to the bank, check; wash the car, check; build trust, wait, what? No, that’s silly.

They will let their decisions and their actions impact the level of trust bestowed on them by others. Age-old wisdom says trust is earned. Children are taught at an early age. Leaders know it too.

A Manager’s Challenge

Anyone who has ever assumed management duties understands how critical trust can be in persuading a team to perform. The collective efforts of the team can be hurt if individuals on that team have doubts about the boss.

There is usually some kind of default mindset at work between employees and the employer. Workers often start out not trusting the boss. Sadly, too many bosses start out not trusting their teams either. It truly is a two-way street.

Experts found that trust, social connectivity, and a general sense of well-being are all intertwined. There are scientific studies revealing that two sections of the brain involved in sensing trust.

Based on perceptions of trust, the participants (in the study) reported positive interactions with the “close friend” to be more rewarding than interactions with a stranger—and were more likely to interact with this player. This illustrates our innate human desire to connect with others and create close-knit bonds even if these ties are based on blind trust or lead to [other bad outcomes].

Brain imaging of the participants showed that two specific brain regions were actively engaged when someone thought they were trusting a close friend. Increased activity of the ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex were correlated with positive social value signals when participants made decisions based on a belief they were playing with a good friend.

But science aside, what makes trust so hard to build? Think about all of your own experiences with friends, co-workers, bosses, and leaders. You likely watched three levels of interaction that factored into how deeply you felt you could trust the other person.

Technical Ability

In a work setting, the team leader must demonstrate a certain level of technical ability to begin earning trust from the team. New, first-time managers struggle with this because they might have been promoted in recognition of their skills in one area, but they lack comprehensive knowledge of the whole team’s scope of responsibility.

Lacking that technical knowledge, they are deemed incapable of performing as team lead, so trust is denied.

New bosses moved in from outside the department suffer this same kind of gap. Until they can prove they know their stuff, the team will be reluctant to give the trust that might be needed for respecting the ‘new guy’.

I once was a department head of a large administrative group supporting a $5 billion asset portfolio at a large regional bank. I had several teams reporting to me, responsible for 5 different lines of business. One day, while walking through the department, one of the administrators stopped me and asked a fairly technical question. I paused and began coaching him on the topic, explaining the process and the calculations he needed for the problem he presented. He seemed shocked. I asked why? He said, “I didn’t think the Big Dog would know this stuff.” To which I grinned and replied, “How’d you think I got to be the Big Dog?”

Cultural

The next level is what I will call cultural trust. After technical trust is established there is still a void at the cultural or corporate level. The key question here is whether you demonstrate consistent, reliable actions and behaviors.

No one can trust someone or something that acts inconsistently. Roger Ferguson, founder of ISI HR Consulting and creator of “Big Five Performance” talks about this corporate trust as whether a leader is known to be trustworthy, delivers as promised, and is generally known to be a person of character.

Being consistent in the way you act and interact creates a level of trust that grows with each passing day. As soon as you make a serious deviation from the pattern you start, trust takes a step backward. This is why it is so critical for leaders to be mindful of the direction they want to go, centered on core principles, and committed to consistent behavior as a leader.

Personal

This is the most intimate of trust levels. This is the deep, one-on-one trust. This kind of trust with individual employees has people thinking “I don’t care what others say, I know what I believe about this boss, and I am very good with it.” Further “I will follow them wherever they want me to go.”

Why would someone be willing to say that? Because the other two levels have been satisfied and now opportunities to deal personally with the person have proven to be reliable and solid. The pattern is there, the details are there, and, even more importantly, the experience is there.

Complexity

This is why trust cannot be won overnight. It has to be earned. All three levels have to be engaged. You cannot make it to the gold ribbon level of personal trust without first achieving the other two levels.

Think about personal relationships. These same three levels are at work. Anyone who starts dating someone runs the same sequence of steps trying to test for trust. When you are the person wanting to earn someone’s trust, you have to be faithful to build these stages, carefully and thoughtfully.

More relationships crater over breakdowns in trust at one of these three levels. Repeated disappointment is the reason for the eventual failure of any relationship.

We just don’t want to be around people we cannot trust. Certainly not for any meaningful reason.

Leadership Lessons

For team leaders and executives at all levels, I teach a program called Team Trust. In it, we explore ways that teams and their leaders can use a proven, reliable, and repeatable process to build trust, eliminate unneeded distractions, and improve performance.

There are core disciplines that can be deployed to improve team performance by building trust at all levels of the organization.

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The Small Business Owner’s Worst Nightmare

Starting and running a small business can be a blessing and a curse. The dream can become a nightmare. Yet there can be great rewards too.

There are so many things that can get in the way of running and owning a successful business. You hear people talk about “cash is king” or growing the sales pipeline, closing more deals, making payroll, and creating satisfied customers.

While these are all very significant issues for a business owner there is one thing that is even bigger than all of these put together. Do you have any idea what it may be?

Wait for it…..

Your ego. Yep. Good old fashioned pride.

Let me get straight to the point.

Small Business Owner’s Fear

small business owner

Letting your pride or ego get in the way can be the exit ramp to disaster. On one hand, entrepreneurs must be fearless. They have to start with a whole lot of courage. For that, I applaud you.

Think about it. You hear stories of people quitting their day job to start a business. That takes guts and sheer willpower.

However, that same dogged determination can become the owner’s death sentence too.

The Paradox of Success

Many years ago I wrote a piece I call the “Paradox of Success.” I got this idea after watching dozens of my banking clients go through similar situations. It goes like this.

For those of you who have actually ventured out to start your own company, you understand the intense effort and tremendous satisfaction you achieve by watching the company grow.

Those first few profit dollars start to roll in. Real profit, free and clear. No debt, no more obligations to pay off, pure, real profit. For all the planning, sweat equity, real equity investment, and down-right hard work, you eventually arrive at the threshold of the very thing you set out to accomplish…. SUCCESS!

Ah, but beware. The very thing you strive so hard to achieve, that is your company’s success, can start the downward spiral to eventual destruction. Perhaps even the infamous “implosion” of the company. That is the phenomenon called the Paradox of Success. In other words, success brings failure. How can that be? Let’s explore the full timeline.

First the Beginnings

As was described, the founder sets out to open his or her own business. Perhaps it is a sole proprietor, maybe “Mom and Pop”. It can even be a couple of good friends who decide to start something together. The actual legal structure does not particularly matter at this point.

The focus is on getting going and having that first order come through the door. Days and weeks go by. The founder(s) perform all the daily chores….everything! Sales, marketing, bookkeeping, systems, purchasing, supplies, advertising, contracts, payables, receivables, answering phones, sweeping floors, cleaning the bathrooms…everything!

Next, business starts to grow. The word is out. Your business has something people want and need. Your service ideas are working very well. Customers like what you have. Word of mouth even starts to grow. You are getting business from sources you had not really thought about at the start.

Finally, the business becomes more than you and your partner can handle. You decide to hire your first employees. This becomes turning point number one. New employees do not bring the same levels of dedication, commitment, and energy you had when you started the business. Your ideas are not their ideas. You must start to train and coach to be sure the new guys on the bus are fully on board.

Moving Further Toward Success

The service levels you created and nurtured must be sustained. The principles on which you founded the business must be reinforced. There needs to be a feedback process and a monitoring mechanism to be sure your values and principles are being followed.

Almost daily you feel the tug of contention for your time. The time spent to make the direct business contacts you enjoyed making at the start must now be juggled with the effort to resolve internal issues. Perhaps you add a few more hours to the week. Certain tensions become more frequent.

With employees present, interpersonal matters start to creep in. Sally doesn’t like Susie. Bob and Ted argue over sports teams and their preference in cars they drive. None of this is contributing the business. The founders become referees. Hostilities can even boil over when customers are present. A lack of leadership or even a momentary lapse of leadership can become significant. Who can handle these things?

Phase Two Begins – Leadership

Then, mid-managers are hired or appointed. Surely the owners can rely upon other seasoned professionals to handle the staff issues and keep the ship sailing. Now a new layer is created.

For all the potential good that can be accomplished here, there comes a trade-off. Again, the founders’ values have to be enforced, promoted, espoused, heralded, and cheered about.

Can the mid-manages carry the same flag? All the while the growth in volume creates a strain on the original infrastructure. Are the same tools and equipment that were used to open the business still effective? Have systems started to suffer? This can include everything from the high end network servers to the staplers.

And more importantly, who is truly watching over these areas. Have the partners brought the right skills on their own to address all the issues? Accountability for all aspects of business growth becomes more meaningful. If cash and checks are being handled, controls must be implemented. Growth across state lines adds to the compliance and regulatory burden. Specialists have to be added to the mix like legal counsel, accountants, IT professionals, etc.

The False Security

The very essentials that can help grow and expand the business become challenges to the owners. Volumes and profits continue to rise. A false sense of security here can be deadly. A failure to admit the changes that are happening underneath and any inability to properly respond to those changes can, at any point hereafter, start the spin downward.

Really this stage represents the first major turning point for the founders. The biggest and most honest question that can be asked is “Am I capable of keeping this going or do I need senior management help?”

All too often ego may enter in and prevent the good hard look at the man (or woman) in the mirror. True Leaders with a solid track record behind them have been the first to ask this question and work with the right answer. And they do it with almost perfect timing.

Yet for the owner suffering a big ego, the right questions never get asked. The talk with the person in the mirror sounds more like this…

“Wow, things seem to be ramping up. You really did it.”

“Yes, I did.”

“It feels different now, but that’s nothing to worry about.”

“Just keep it going. We’ll be fine.”

Then one day the wheels fall off. The big accounts start to go elsewhere. Your pricing gets squeezed and you have no answer. The market shifts out from under you and you missed the warning signs.

Or worse yet, your team abandons you because they hate working with you. The few customers you have left eventually leave because the service is terrible.

It happens in all kinds of business. Every day. The tipping point is where the owner’s ego gets bigger than even the greatest of success.

A Cautionary Tale for Small Business?

Maybe so. But it doesn’t have to be. You can get help. You should get help. Is today the day? Business advisors or coaches can help you make sense of the new levels of growth and prosperity. They can help you see you way to even higher levels of success.

But you have to make the call. Don’t let ego stop you.

call a coach

Is Your Life a Happy Accident?

happy accident

You might be offended by that question. Yet if you think about it, so many of us are living just that way.

What do I mean? I mean going through your life and career without a purpose. You might be riding the wave of circumstances. Some things were great experiences, others not so much.

You might have built a successful career, but are you feeling fulfilled? Will your legacy matter to anyone?

I meet a lot of professionals who went the route of working for big corporate giants. They made it through 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years then something happens. A merger or a market crash causes the company to downsize. They land on the shortlist of people heading out the door.

As they face the uncertainty of job hunting, they are bewildered, even empty. They don’t know what they want to do.

But how did you let that happen? More importantly, how can you change it now or avoid it entirely?

That Sense of Purpose

It all starts with finding a sense of purpose. As Mark Twain so eloquently wrote:

The two most important days in your life are – famous American writer Mark Twain quote printed on vintage grunge paper

If you have never figured out the why question, then you have some work to do. The best advice I could ever give you is to figure out your why.

A good friend and fellow Silver Fox Advisor, Monte Pendleton introduced me to his work on finding personal purpose. He calls it the PPP, Personal Purpose Process. Monte allowed me to publish it in my book STRIVE for Job Search Success”.

The PPP guides you on a journey exploring key areas in your life. It challenges you to evaluate what is important and what is not. More importantly it makes you decide on outcomes you want to create in each of the important areas.

Having this sense of purpose will shape and mold the choices you make. Instead of living the usual life of wage, page, and sage, you could live a more rewarding and purposeful life.

Wage, Page, Sage Stages of Life

The wage, page, and sage version of life goes something like this. Your early years are all about the wage. What can I get paid? Yes, you might be choosing a specialty, but you still focus on getting the best pay for the work you do.

Then you start turning pages. Getting married, having kids, buying a house, etc. You’re flipping the pages of life.

Finally, you reach the sage role. Your years of experience naturally set you up for people to look to you because of your seniority. You can either share it freely or be bitter about life not turning the way you hoped (whatever that was).

Either way, the messages you share will influence those around you; bringing them closer because of your wisdom, or pushing them away because you’ve turned into a curmudgeon.

Intentionality

However, living ‘on purpose’ creates a certain intentionality in the things you do, the choices you make, and the people you hang out with.

Once you decide on a purpose, you won’t settle for less. You won’t take a job just to get a paycheck. Oh sure there may be desperate times due to outside forces, but in the long run, you will stay on course.

You will look for the right fit in a job and the right direction to move you on the journey to fulfill your purpose.

The people you choose to associate with will also change depending on the focus you create. I’m not saying all relationships are bad, but many are less than helpful for keeping you on track. It is easy to get distracted by friendships that don’t encourage you and keep you centered on your chosen path.

Finding your personal purpose is not as hard as some people make it out to be. There are simple yet profound ways you can discover exactly what your were meant to be doing.

If you need help uncovering and discovering your purpose, call a coach. Call me. Stop living your happy accident. Get intentional. Live ‘on purpose.’

call a coach

Moving Toward Something, Not Away From It

This season of COVID-19 in our lives has brought change at all levels of humanity. It is clear our interactions may never be the same again. There likely will never be a return to “normal” as we once knew it.

Is that OK?

For an organized unit of any kind (a family, a small business, a non-profit, a school, church, synagogue or even the Fortune 500), your survival as an entity requires you to embrace the change. Otherwise, your very existence may be in jeopardy.

Successful achievement of this kind of change takes vision and leadership. The ability to see the new horizon, then direct efforts to get there takes courage.

Leaders must help their people see the possibilities rather than the loss from the past. Move toward something not away from it.

Some Things Are Favorable

I for one, am encouraged as I travel (virtually) the landscape in my surroundings. My clients have shared with me their decisions on ways to plot a new course in the way they do business. The professional networks I belong to have, for the most part, gracefully yet firmly embraced the change and made serious decisions about ways to grow and prosper.

The delivery of goods and services have shifted for everyone, yet the desire to stay true to a brand identity has been strengthened. Smart companies have mobilized their leadership teams to think of new ways to work, ways to communicate, and ways to maintain a virtual workforce.

Are we there yet?

Heck no. We still have a long way to go to shape the future of our businesses.

There are some organizations who have suffered at the hands of weak, undecisive leaders. I know of one story locally, where the CEO announced his retirement one week before the lockdown was directed by government officials.

The organization erupted into chaos. People who were in direct line of succession stalled, abdicating their duties.

Junior staffers rose up to take control but were unequipped to manage the bigger issues. The final outcome is yet to be determined, but for now, the business’s financial condition and its following have deteriorated, possibly to the point of no return.

confused minds say NO

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Small business can survive this. But as I said earlier, it takes strong decisive leadership to do it. Pride and ego have no place here.

A leader’s metal must be tested and proven durable.

There are key actions that can help mitigate the sense of loss and set the stage for moving forward.

Pick List

Lead yourself first. As a leader, you must strengthen your own resolve to steer through the crisis. Reconnect with the vision for the organization. Adjust what needs to be adjusted, then lock in on core values; both your personal values and those of the business. Seek your own personal advisory help to shape the action you want to follow. If you’ve never had a coach, mentor, or advisor at your side, now is the time.

Work on your communication style and effectiveness. As the changes around us are happening, leadership communication is at a premium. Clear, concise messaging is critical. If you confuse, you lose. People no longer have the opportunity for those ‘quick moments in the hallway’ to seek clarity from the boss. You have to manage the messaging.

Conduct 30-minute discussions with staff daily. One on one meetings may not be doable but small group calls can be. Ask how are they doing at home. How’s the spouse and kids? Is there anything impeding their work that you could help with?

Proactively identify those at risk. If you already have a personality assessment on employees, dust them off. If not, consider getting one. Look for things like their Social Energy scores, or Restlessness, or Organizational needs. Tools like Hogan Assessments can reveal key strengths and areas of sensitivity.

Employee Surveys– Do a formal and confidential survey and get a pulse. Results may not be specific, but it can be a good starting point.

Professional Counseling – Many insurance companies offer some form of counseling for mental or emotional challenges. Inquire about eligibility through the Employment Assistance Option or consider purchasing an option for the employees. Whatever you do, make sure the employees know it is confidential.

If these are values and solutions you desire but are not sure how to do them or where to start, I can provide help. Set up a call or visit the rest of my site.