Taught by Toni Morrison

This week the world lost a great thinker and writer, Toni Morrison. She won a Nobel Prize for her literary work and has received other awards and recognition as well, she’s been an editor and a professor, and was a mother. Her words and spirit have spoken to many generations and groups of people, so today I thought we’d take a look at what made her so well liked and successful (even if that may not have been her goal) and what we can learn from her life and success.

It all starts with words. Toni is known for her culturally relevant and forward thinking, and her words were always accurate but sensitive. She did it all when it came to writing, including editing the works of others, and many of the tributes that have been shared have echoed how her words have stuck with them, and that her words made them realize how important, valuable and powerful words can be. As a business owner one of the most powerful tools you have are words, and too many businesses today aren’t providing sufficient words, both written and audio. They aren’t speaking to their people, let alone speaking in a passionate, persuasive and informative manner.

She told a story. One of the things that we’re really been talking about in business over the past few years is the value of telling a story, and how our customers can relate better to us when we tell a story. As powerful as her stories were, the words she chose were words of truth, words that spoke to the situations, experiences and emotions of the African American culture she so often wrote about. Go ahead and tell stories in your business and to your customers, but don’t waste your time or theirs with false stories or tales that go nowhere. Keep it relevant and accurate to who you are, who your customers are and what you’re all about.

Finally, she knew what it was to nurture and love. In one interview she talked about some famous authors who had one breakout hit but ended their working years doing menial labor jobs. She questioned what happened that they weren’t able to continue to bring greatness to the literary world, and that’s something that we have to question in business as well. Why do some companies start out so well and peter out? One of the reasons is because they don’t take the time to nurture and care for their customers and provide an experience that customers want to come back to and want to tell others about.  No one has had a bad thing to say about Toni Morrison(although not everyone has loved her work), would people be equally positive about you?

Toni Morrison lived 88 wonderful, engaged and filled years, years in which she chose to make an impact one word and one relationship at a time.  Are the words and actions you’re taking in your business building a similar legacy that will last as long as she did and beyond or are you working on a one-hit-wonder?

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A Life of Making a Difference

I’m a big fan of animals, I support various animal organizations, including those that raise puppies to be service dogs. I was reading a post on a site or social media the other day about how 10 dogs were going to different organizations and eventually to different homes to support different veterans or others in need. It was an impressive reminder how big of a difference something as simple as a litter of puppies can make in the world.

Of course each dog ends up with only one individual who is their primary support target, but that individual has a circle of people including and beyond their immediate family who will benefit from that dog as well (not to mention all the social benefits the dog’s owner gets).  And then there are all the people who follow the puppies before they go to their forever home on the organization’s social accounts and email newsletters and even live cameras and interact with the others who love the organization, all of whom also get the positive boost of seeing the cuteness and knowing that any contribution they make to that organization (donations, sharing about them, volunteering time) will be part of a positive ripple effect.

I know sometimes we look around and wonder how we got into the mess we are in or how we could possibly make the difference in the world that we want to or if anything we’re doing is really making an impact.  But if you look at the life of a service dog who doesn’t live nearly as long as a human and doesn’t have all the skills or abilities of a human (even if they are more loving and cute than most humans), it’s amazing how big of an impact they’re able to have on the world.  If a dog can make that big of an impact during their short life, why can’t we do the same through our posts, our words, our gifts, our careers, our relationships and our generosity?

Leadership Lessons from Lee Iacocca

This week the world lost a great leader: Lee Iaccoca.  He died at a ripe old age of 94, after having an incredible career in the auto industry, and many years with family.  He’s someone that I’ve shared about in past blog posts because while he may not have been a current leader (i.e. running a business and being the topic of many news stories each month) he’s certainly someone that we can learn from and admire, and apply many of the things that made him so successful to our businesses today.

One of the reasons that his story is so incredible is because he did what he did in an industry that is known for distrust; it’s always been said that you shouldn’t trust a car salesman.  Yet what he did was sell cars, and he not only helped run several car businesses well (Ford and Chrysler), he appeared in their ads because he was so well trusted and admired.

In one of his books he shared a list of what makes up a good leader, a list that shows why he was so successful as a leader.  This list includes: curiosity, creativity, communication, character, courage, conviction, charisma, competence and common sense.  Being a leader that lived that list, he was able to connect with people on a level that too many leaders aren’t able to do, and therefore aren’t able to be as successful, or bring as much of their vision to fruition as they could if they were better at connecting with people.  Iaccoca believed strongly in picking good people, and treating those people as a priority.

From two of the vehicles that Iaccoca helped create, the Mustang and the minivan, we’re reminded of the value of having good ideas, and a good team to help bring those ideas to life. Not every idea will work out well, as Iaccoca found out and I’m sure you have too, but you can’t get anywhere if you aren’t willing to put those ideas out into the world and try to make them a reality.

With the number of people who have been great leaders, who have helped this world become a better place passing on, it’s up to us to pick up the mantle and grow into leaders who would make them proud.  Some leaders are born, but the large majority of them are made through long days, hard work and sweat-equity.  Will you be one of those leaders the world needs?

In Pursuit of Independence

This week in the US we’re celebrating Independence Day, the day we honor and remember the signing of the Declaration of Independence declaring our independence from Great Britain. So today I thought we’d talk a little about the word ‘independence’ and what it means.

The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.” We truly do best when we find a balance of dependence and independence, because most of us can’t live truly independent from others (you depend on others to grow your food, build your buildings and means of transportation, keep the internet running etc.). But as you know, sometimes there can be too much dependence, or the wrong type of dependency (too much to allow for individuality), which is where Independence Day and the separation from Great Britain came from.

What about our independence? It means that we’re individuals, able to make our own decisions about what’s best for us, being brave enough to live our own lives and make decisions for ourselves, and strong enough to take actions that protect ourselves and those we love and create a life we enjoy living.

Right in line with this is something that’s very evident with Independence Day celebrations, and that’s pride. Truly being independent is something to celebrate, to be proud of, which means it’s also a responsibility we have to uphold and care for.  It’s something we have to tell the next generation about so that they understand why we do parades and fly flags, or why we’re so careful about our finances and going to school (or whatever your independence is connected to), so that they understand our pride and continue to celebrate it and uphold that independence.

So this week how are you going to work on your independence?  Maybe you’re just thrilled how much independence you have this year and just want to celebrate.  Or maybe it’s time for you to take a step in the direction of a new independence.  If a bunch of men and women can find the strength and courage to separate one nation from another, you too have the ability to move in the direction of independence in your life.

What’s In Your Future?

Abraham Lincoln, a very wise man and great leader, once said: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Abraham Lincoln is one person who unknowingly can speak to how few years we can have, he was assassinated when he was only 56 years old.  Like many other people we’ve lost before they’re able to live out the full potential of their life we have to wonder what they would have done with those additional years and opportunities.

What is in your years? Are you spending all your time on things that won’t bring you to where you really want to go, living a life with no real future, spending time with people who depress you or drain you, working a job you hate and eating things you don’t like? All of these things make years really seem small and insignificant. I love filling my days with things that will help others, that will bring benefits and blessings to many people, and even things that will help me learn more about and improve myself!

Neither you nor I know what the future really holds. But I do know how I will get there- by living my life in a way that will bring me to an amazing future, not put me where I don’t want to be. By reading inspiring books, choosing my friends wisely, starting my own business and making good decisions about what I fill my body and time with, I know I’ll be a whole lot closer to a future I actually want to live in, than one that I can’t stand.

How about you? If you continue living your life as it is right now, what does your future look like? Is it a life with filled and blessed years? Or is it a life with many empty years? I encourage you to make decisions this week that will help you get to the future you want.

Together We Stand

Today being Memorial Day has me thinking about others. Yes, I’m thinking about the men and women of the military, but I’m also thinking about the bigger picture of everyone else that we share this world with. This got me thinking about what does military vs. everyone else in the US look like?

Well, a 2016 article states that less than 10% of the US population was a veteran (approximately 20 million people) and another article shared that approximately 1.3 million people were in active duty in 2016. Those numbers don’t sound very big, but what they don’t talk about are the men, women and children who are immediately related to someone in the military (by blood, adoption or marriage). Data from 2015 says that over 5 million people were considered immediate family to active service people, so doing very generous math, that means that possibly one third of the US is related to someone who was or is in the military. And if you go beyond the immediate family circle that number grows again.  And beyond that, even if you don’t have anyone in your family who is or was in the military, there’s a strong likelihood that you know someone who is or was in the military or someone related to someone in the military.

Since the draft ended in 1973, these men, women and their families have volunteered to stand up for each of us throughout the world.  Representing us, protecting us, and standing in for those who can’t stand up for themselves.  Just like we make choices each day, they chose to join the military, not knowing how they’ll make an impact or if they’ll be required to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Today as you honor and remember the men and women who have sacrificed for our country I encourage you to think about how respectful you are of that sacrifice. Are you working to build relationships with others and a future we can all be proud of or are you helping create a world that will require more men, women and families to make sacrifices for the rest of us?

Taking Action for Earth Day

Today has been Earth Day.  It’s the day that people around the world take time to remember the planet that we all live on and share, and to do something to help make sure that planet is here for many years to come.  Given that our success, and our lives even, depend on the health and continued life of the earth I thought today we’d talk about some things we can do to help the Earth be around for many more years to come.

Today plenty of companies sent out emails and posted on social media asking for donations.  I saw many more emails today with double and triple matches (meaning a gift you give is doubled or tripled) than I did for Giving Tuesday back in November, so the simplest way you can give to the future of our world is to donate to companies who are going to plant trees, protect the (endangered) animals, and fight for the health of our planet.

Another way you can give back is to recycle and pick up, even if it’s not your garbage.  Sometimes the wind gets the best of the garbage/recycling days or the animals get into the cans and as a result trash and recyclables go everywhere. While it’s not something I recommend doing unless you’re able to glove up or protect yourself in some other way, taking action to pick up that stuff goes a long way to making sure that those things don’t end up in our waterways and stay away from animals who could be killed by them.

A third way to help the earth is eating less meat.  Protein is important to our diets, but meat is also one of the bigger contributors of what’s hurting our earth. That doesn’t mean we eliminate meat from our diets, but rather make smarter choices about how much we’re consuming.  Try to eat meat fewer days per week, substituting with other proteins like eggs, quinoa and almond/peanut butter whether at dinner or during other meals of the day.

Fourth, if you’re able to get out there and plant trees or other plants to help our animals and the bees who are crucial to the health of our food system, that’s a great way to give back to the earth.  I saw an article recently that suggested the way to fix climate change was to plant tons of trees.  With a little bit of effort and adjustment I think we can come to an agreement between us and mother nature and learn how to share the space we all live on together.

Finally, another very easy way to give back is signing petitions.  Many of the suggestions I’ve given are things that you can do all year long and not just on Earth Day, and this is no exception.  Every day I get at least a dozen emails about petitions I could sign on all kinds of topics, including those that have to do with animals and nature.  It’s a very small way to contribute, but seeing how many people have already signed the petitions goes to show that I may be just one person, but my individual voice along with the voices of thousands of others really ads up.

What will you do to care for the world you live on?

Women of the Future

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, today I thought I’d share a few thoughts on raising a women in 2019 and beyond, and what that might look like, and how we can support the future generation of women in being the best they can be.

Encourage them to explore their passions, but not be completely ignorant. So if your girls want to play with dolls, they should. If they want to build with Legos, they should. If they want to cook, they should. So while you should let them choose their passion, that doesn’t mean you should skip teaching them the skills of cleaning, planning, organizing, finances, healing, using tools, cooking and anything else that will help them with the things they need to be adults. I grew up at a time when Home EC wasn’t really a thing, that we were leaving some of those shop-type classes that taught people skills that everyone should really have some awareness of that helps us become more rounded individuals culturally. It’s about helping them be as educated and well-rounded as they can be.

Encourage them to have friends, teachers and role models of both genders. I think it’s important that we’re all able to have healthy relationships with all types of people, that we’re able to start up and have polite conversation with just about anyone we meet, for girls to see what healthy romantic relationships look like, how to be successful in all areas of life, and how to protect themselves whether we’re talking a violent guy/girl on the street or a cutthroat boardroom executive. Girls/women can’t learn that from just women alone, it has to be a team effort.

Finally, I would encourage you to teach them to love. Men are capable of love, but there’s something that’s inherently female about love. We’re able to add that softness and vulnerability that men often have trouble reaching and sharing. Women have been taught through experiences and from others that maybe love isn’t a great thing, but I’d argue that it’s one of the most important things in the world. So along with all the skills, experiences, abilities and opportunities, I would encourage you to expose your girl to love and the amazing impact and benefit that love can have on an individual and on the world we share.

Women can and should be celebrated every day, we play a big part in contributing to the future of the world, and with happier, healthier, more courageous, more educated women, the future will be a better place for all of us. What are you celebrating about women today?

Advice from Edison

This month is the birthday of Thomas Edison. He was an incredible inventor and businessman, and was involved in power generation, communication, sound and motion pictures. He’s famous for his work with the lightbulb and in the US alone he holds over 1,000 patents. He also kept some pretty important company in the business world of the time: Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. Today I thought we’d take a look at a few things Edison said and how they apply to our businesses and leadership today.

Reinvention, reworking, tweaking and trial and error are key throughout the life of your business:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Consistently work with a good head on your shoulders:
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.”

Perspective and community/teamwork may be the answer:
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

Don’t just accept things as they are, keep growing:
“There’s a way to do it better – find it.”

Most people are more capable of doing great things than they (or others) may believe they are (are you restricting yourself or your team?):
“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

Imagination and creativity are useful for many aspects of business, not just product development:
“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Business does have a serious side, but laughter and fun are important too, no one is serious all the time:
“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.”

It’s unlikely that AI or anything else will truly make people obsolete:
“There is far more opportunity than there is ability.”

There’s nothing wrong with taking an idea and developing it beyond where it currently is or giving something your own twist:
“I start where the last man left off.”

There’s getting stuff done and then there’s productivity:
“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”

Consistent action and follow through are key:
“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”

Giving up means you’ve failed, trying something different means you can win:
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

I encourage you to do a little creative inventing in your business this week, don’t just accept things as they have always been.  You never know what value a little brainstorming can reveal.

Taking Steps to Create a Legacy

Today in the US we’ve honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. I had quite a few emails in my inboxes sharing some of his wisdom and honoring him and his life and the dreams he had and brought to pass for many. Often we hear his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, which is very motivating and contains words that are a great reminder to all of us, but this year in addition to reminding people about the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others, some people shared some of the other wise words he had to say, and I thought I’d share them with you:

“So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called ‘big jobs.’ But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”

“I believe that the unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

I recently read a non-fiction book that acknowledged the power of big changes or moves, but spoke of the even greater power of small things compounded. Yes, you can take a weekend healthy living seminar and it may teach you some things to help improve your health in some way, but having 3-5 vegetable servings and taking a walk every day will do more in the long run than one seminar likely will. Eating a serving of vegetables (half cup cooked vegetable or 1 cup raw leafy green/salad) isn’t a big deal or a lot to manage, especially if you keep the variety fresh, and it’s not a big commitment to walk for a mile (20 minutes maximum).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy could be established on the March on Washington and ‘I Have a Dream’ speech alone, but the fact is he did a lot more than just that. He worked for much of his life through many avenues to make a difference in the world. He took his passion and dream from just words he spoke to a movement of action after action, starting small but snowballing into more than 200,000 people attending the March on Washington who heard him speak, not to mention the generations who have heard his words since then.

Your legacy will also likely be built on many little things you’ve done, not just one or two big things.  There’s no time like the present to start building that legacy and taking the little steps that will help you create a future you’re proud of sharing with future generations.