Wisdom from Washington

Today is President’s Day in the US, it’s also George Washington’s birthday, so today as both the first president and his birthday, I thought we’d take a look at some insights and wisdom from Washington’s life.

One of the first things that people think of when they think of Washington is that he was the first president of the US. Whether he was the best ever or the most innovative doesn’t really matter, it matters that he was brave enough to step up and take on that responsibility and opportunity.  Firsts aren’t always the best, but someone has to be willing to step up and take on that chance if we ever want to get to something great.

One of the other things people think about with regard to Washington is the story of the cherry tree. In the story Washington is asked if he cut down a cherry tree and it’s said that he says that he can’t tell a lie and subsequently he admits that he did chop down the cherry tree. While no one ever tells the truth all of the time, and whether or not that story is true, it is a theme for Washington, because he said “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.”

In line with being truthful, I want to end by talking about the topic of the day which is ultimately leadership. Washington said: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” President or not each of us have a choice with how we lead our lives, and the character with which we live and interact with others. If Washington is as upstanding of a man as most believe him to be, what statement would he make about your character?

Which president or leader are you considering on this President’s Day?

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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.

Holiday Leadership Lessons

One of the things that stands out about the December holidays are the individuals who are primarily talked about at this time. During the other holidays we don’t really have one person or figure that we focus on, but in December we’ve got Santa and Jesus for Christmas, and Judah the Maccabee as the leading figure of the Hanukkah story. Santa and Jesus are seen everywhere throughout stores and TV and churches and homes, on gifts and in songs and stories. Are there supporting characters? Of course, but the stories are based around these 3 figures and their work.

They do more than just look good, these figures guide us in our celebrations during December and offer up some special and important lessons for people to learn on multiple spiritual, human and cultural levels. They’re inspirational and fun yes, and they’re also leaders that people have learned from for hundreds and even thousands of years. They teach us the importance of giving, of working together, and of being a compassionate yet focused leader.

This holiday season, as with other holiday seasons, we are beginning with a loss of a leader, the death of the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. If you’ve been around my blog(s) for a while you know that I’m not big into politics, but even I can’t deny that he was a great leader, one deserving of respect and remembrance. Born in 1924 he lived through some of the most challenging times in US history, led through some of them as well as both Vice President and President of the United States, and continued to be a cultural and political leader until his death.

There are many components of a business, but one of the deciding factors of the success or failure of a business is the leadership. Especially in recent years there has been a lot of turnover in business leadership because of ethical failings or poor decision making. No leader (with the exception of Jesus) is ever perfect, but for leaders to stand the test of time like Santa and Jesus have, like Abraham Lincoln and George H.W. Bush have, they have to show that they’re wise, good communicators, capable of making hard decisions well, and that they have an eye for the people.

So as you take in the funeral proceedings for President Bush Sr. and listen to all the holiday stories, think about how the leadership shown in this special season can impact you as a leader, supporter and inspiration for the people who look to you for products, services and guidance. And I encourage you to choose goodwill and good leadership this holiday season.

The Choice of Success or Competition?

One of the keys we consistently talk about when it comes to business is people. If you don’t have customers you can’t run a business. If you run a business that uses employees but you don’t have any (or can’t keep any) you can’t service your customers. If your suppliers or partners don’t hold up their end of the arrangement, you can’t serve your customers. Sounds simple enough, right? Yes, but there are lots of layers to just simply having customers and employees and working with suppliers/partners.

There is competition in every town, every state, and every industry, so on top of the local competition you’ve got the internet competition to face as well. It’s almost impossible to find (or create) an industry that doesn’t have competition, either direct competition (i.e. other health food stores) or competition within the same field (i.e. other supermarkets). There will always be a question of whether you’re truly offering the same thing or not, the experience you have in offering/creating that item (how do you back up the value you offer) and what the difference is with price.

I believe that there are more than enough customers for everyone, so I don’t believe that you have a right to be angry at customers or employees who choose to move on. If they choose to move on they do it for a whole variety of personal reasons including moving locations, relationship changes, or health changes. Unless you’re going to make some significant changes to your business (unlikely) there’s not much you can do about keeping their business.

But they may also choose to move on because you’re not providing what they need or want. For example, if they feel like the service isn’t up to their standards (or has recently changed), if they feel disrespected or unappreciated, if they see more growth (career and knowledge) opportunities, if they don’t feel that you’re offering a quality product (or has recently changed), or if they’re not getting properly compensated for the work they do. If any of these are true then you can’t blame the other companies out there, you can only blame yourself for pushing them away.

If this is a reality check for you and you’re realizing that you’re chasing away potential life-long customers and employees your customers have always appreciated, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate how you’re leading and running the business. Learn from what the successful businesses in your world (online and local) are doing, don’t berate or antagonize your customers and employees for patronizing them or choosing to work with them when you aren’t being the great business you could be. Most businesses can be turned around from a downward spiral if they’re willing to be open to hearing the truth and make the necessary changes.

Competition isn’t the enemy of success, competition is normal and healthy. It’s up to each business to differentiate themselves, market themselves and provide 5 star service to customers whether you’re selling inexpensive toys or pricey homes.  Are you so focused on the competition that your business, customers and employees are suffering?

Thank You Kofi Annan

Last week the world lost another great leader, someone who worked with some of the most difficult situations around the world during his 80 years on earth: Kofi Annan. He wasn’t a perfect man, he didn’t solve all the issues he was presented with, but he led through them and left a legacy of peace and leadership for us to learn from and thank him for.

I don’t think it’s possible for most of us to live a perfect life. Everyone struggles with something at some point, some of us do it on a very public stage, and some of us do it more quietly. So I don’t think the goal should be to achieve a perfect life, but to live a life that helps others and that we’re more proud of how we lived, than regretful or shameful. I’d be pretty happy if people remembered me as a leader and someone who stood for peace for many. You also don’t need to know how to do everything, or try to be everything to everyone, just be yourself and open to learning new things.

You get out of life what you put into it, and Kofi Annan is a great example of really putting a lot of effort into life with many good things to show for it. The world needs more people like him who are willing to step up and be aware of what’s going on around them and work towards peace for all people.

“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

“I have always believed that on important issues, the leaders must lead. Where the leaders fail to lead, and people are really concerned about it, the people will take the lead and make the leaders follow.”

“In the 21st century, I believe the mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion.”

A Question of Leadership

This month I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. We’ve seen the continuing drama with the US president and with business, sports and other leaders, and we’ve seen play out on a very global scale the search and rescue of a soccer team of 13 people from a cave. Naturally leaders get put on a pedestal and are called to a higher standard of living. We don’t give them all the allowance that may be necessary as humans, but in some ways that’s acceptable because they (and we) are supposed to be more responsible.

Much of the discussion about the soccer team was regarding how they with their coach ended up where they did in the first place. Supposedly they were aware of how dangerous the caves could be and that the location was one that seasonally floods, and yet they entered anyway. I’m sure if they haven’t happened already, in the coming weeks there will be discussions with the coach about how things went down as they did and why he allowed the kids to go into the caves.

But from what we’ve already heard and know there are two things to take note of: first and foremost he kept the boys alive and in good spirits for more than 2 weeks. I can’t imagine how challenging that was, for himself as an individual and then to have 12 young lives to care for on top of that. And yet he did.

The second thing we know is that he’s taken responsibility for what happened. It’s been reported that the boys wanted to go exploring, together they went into the caves and when he realized that it was flooding and there was no escape he did what he had to to protect them and keep them alive.

We can’t change the past as leaders, we can only choose to accept our failures and shortcomings and move forward. I think a large part of them regrets being trapped, but in some ways their situation was a gift because so many people were able to come and work together, people from around the world and different continents. It’s a great reminder that for even as few as 13 people in a world of over 7 billion we can put aside our differences (even if they’re as small as speaking different languages) and work together for good.

This week I encourage you to take time to evaluate your leadership. Are you being the best leader you can? Are you showing your customers and employees the respect they deserve? Are you taking responsibility when things are your fault and doing your very best to resolve them? What kind of leader are you?

The Future of Your Business

Lately I’ve been coming back to a topic that isn’t one that we really like to think about, but is something that affects us personally and professionally: death. At some point in time all of us will die, and just about every business will go out of business at some point in time. Very few businesses stand the test of time, often because the world changes and either they can’t keep up with the changes, or there’s no one to continue on after the current owners are done with the business. So today I thought we’d take a minute to talk about next steps with your business, whether you’re hoping to sell, planning to pass it on or some day going to close up shop.

Whether you’re planning to sell or planning to pass it on one of the most important things you can do to not only make your business appealing to the next person, but to ensure that you pass along the best version of your business that you can, is to keep good records. This means that not only is everything recorded in a way that people can easily figure out what you’re sharing, but the information can be used to make important decisions in the future and the information shows that you’ve got a great concept and the customer base to support the business.

If you’re planning to close up shop some day one of the most important things you can do now and when that time comes is have good resources that you can pass your people off to. I’ve been connected with several individuals and companies who decided to close their doors and left absolutely no way for people to keep in touch with them or suggestions about who they can connect with that offers the same heart, quality and services that they did to now replace them. I understand if you want to be done with your business (or need to be), but you’ve spent a lot of time building trust with people and they’ve gotten to know you and see you as a valuable resource, so to just toss them out like garbage just because you’re done is inconsiderate. You’ve got a new future you’re moving on to, but they were relying on you for parts of their future.

But the fact is that paying attention to detail, keeping good records, building a network of reliable customers, having data to consider, and having a network of people you can recommend people to are things that can be invaluable now while your business is being built, growing or thriving, not just when you’re closing that chapter of your life.

The one last thing I would encourage you to keep in mind is that everything does come to an end at some time. It’s always better if you’ve got the control to finish things out as you want them to go, rather than working through a mess or leaving the mess for someone else. What plans do you have for the future of your business?

Don’t Lose Faith in Your Business

In thinking about all of the challenges and changes that the business world has been going through, from physical businesses needing to innovate or close to the big changes with GDPR being active this week, there are days when business owners think about just throwing in the towel.  I get it, it’s not fun to come up with this cool idea, do lots of development and have positive feedback from people only to find it’s not selling or the sales aren’t enough to cover the debts.  So today I thought I would share a bit of encouragement and an opportunity for reflection with you.

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” Steve Jobs

When I read this quote I thought it could be about a good thing and/or a bad thing.   It can be good if all of a sudden you realize the little or big thing that you’ve been missing, the tweak that could make a big difference or you finally get that break you’ve been looking for.  Or it could be one of those no good, very horrible, terrible, bad days (or weeks) where everything seems to go wrong or be wrong or seemingly conspire against you.

Sometimes life does go wrong, sometimes the business goes through a rough patch.  Steve Jobs didn’t have a perfect life and the business wasn’t all sunshine and roses (it still isn’t).  There are lots of people who really don’t like Apple or their products, even if they can respect Steve and the business he (and many others) built.

The question is what you’re going to do after, what comes next.  Steve encourages you to not give up faith and not stop trying.  In many cases a few tweaks and some support can help you get back on track, and even to the point of thriving.  If you’ve been struggling lately I encourage you to look for an open door or ask for help, and don’t give up faith in a better tomorrow for you or your business.

Next Generation Business Success Support

Mother’s Day is just a few days away in the US and today I’m thinking about one of the important jobs that moms (and dads) have, and that’s raising up the next generation. As business owners it’s important to not only help your employees and team members grow personally and professionally, and to offer something of value to the world through your products and services, but I believe we’ve got a very important duty to help the next generation of business owners get started, whether they’re 18 or 80, and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes we made in starting our businesses. So let’s take a look at a few ways we can all work together to ensure that the next group of business owners is just as or more successful than we are.

One way to help the next generation is talking with them. I answer probably a hundred emails and messages a week from people asking for business advice. Many leaders are willing to have you buy them a cup of coffee in exchange for picking their brain for a bit. I think this is a great way to give a little bit of your insight to help others get started. If you’re in this position of wanting to ask someone for some business knowledge, make sure that you’ve got your questions ready and you’ve read up on this person before approaching/talking with them (show them you’re not going to waste their time).

Another way to support new and considering business owners is donations to organizations that help people do more than work simple jobs, like teaching farm or computer skills, or providing the actual seeds and computers (or a donation for that purpose). I was reminded in an email this week that what seems like a very small amount of money to some of us can be a huge amount of money in other parts of the world. $75 to you or I may be a bottle of wine, a nice dinner or part of a month’s cell phone bill, but to someone in another country it means knowledge and seeds to set up a lucrative farming venture that not only feeds their family but brings in a decent income. If you’re got old computers, nice dress clothes that don’t fit, office furniture, or other resources (including money), there are tons of great charities and organizations that will take them and help them get into the hands of those who need a bit of a helping hand to get started in business.

Third, a mentorship program is a great way to help those interested in starting a business like yours, or in the same industry. It can be a way for those interested in starting a business like yours to make some money and learn the ropes from a seasoned leader. They earn at least minimum wage working for you in your business, learning all the different jobs, you teach them and answer questions as you go along, and you get a motivated and focused employee for 6 months to a year. It’s not something everyone can offer, but it’s another way to help the next generation learn how to run a business from the inside.

So how do you contribute to the next generation of business leaders? What do you think is most important for the next generation to know?