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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Crushing Business

Today we’re taking a look at a book Crushing It! by Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary’s a wine expert who was using social media to promote his wine expertise and that snowballed into becoming a well-known expert on social media, and this book, which is a follow up to his earlier book Crush It!, is a look into some of the insights and lessons on entrepreneurship, social media, influence and success.

One of the big parts of this book are the stories that Gary shares, stories from dozens of entrepreneurs who read his first edition of the book and applied what he taught. I don’t typically pick up books that are mostly stories like this, but what all the stories reminded me was that you can absolutely be successful in whatever venture you start. Not everyone will be successful, but there are enough stories from a wide variety of industries that prove you can do it.

The second lesson I want to reflect on today was that of doing your own thing. Yes, there are principles like selling a quality product or places/things to participate in like social media and newsletters, that you should be participating in, but you have to be true to you and your business and your brand (don’t just copy someone else).

As I mentioned in the last lesson, the next lessons is regarding those principles and places. One of the reasons Gary has been so successful is because he doesn’t just mass produce and blast the same exact stuff everywhere, and he also follows the rules (formal and informal). Gary calls it “developing quality micro-content,” where your content is specific to the audience and the platform/place you’re sharing it. This means taking time to know the rules before just diving into a platform.

Fourth, is the importance of having a why. Yes, you should absolutely have a ‘why’ regarding why you’re in business. The more personal and passionate, the easier others will connect with your brand on a personal level. But you should also have a why behind the content you’re sharing, the people/influencers you’re connecting with, and the marketing you’re doing.

Fifth, there are some foundation keys that every business owner should be considering in order to achieve success. They include serving, offering value, teaching, authenticity, passion, patience, speed, work ethic, content, tracking and applying data, mastering social media, and being conscious of the intent behind actions and decisions.

When it comes down to it, through this book Gary encourages business owners to use social media, collaborate, do your own thing and commit the investment to make it happen. What are you crushing in your business?

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?

Knowing When to Quit

I saw in the news that the Emperor of Japan has decided to step down.  He’s 85 and has had some health issues in recent years, and has decided that it’s in the best interest of the country to pass on the leadership to his son.  Here in the US we elect someone new every 4-8 years typically so we don’t experience anything like this type of life-long leadership, but Great Britain does, at least as of now, and the Catholic Church has historically had life-long leadership but the current pope has indicated he doesn’t want to be pope for the rest of his days.  All of this has gotten me thinking about quitting.

The word ‘quit’ is an interesting one.  It can be defined as “stop, cease, discontinue, depart, leave, give up, or relinquish.”  I think these definitions are interesting because we always see quitting as a really bad thing.  But these words don’t necessarily indicate any type of failure, like we typically think of when we talk about quitting.  Sometimes quitting is the best decision you can make.

Quitting isn’t necessarily about accepting defeat or failing at something, although sometimes that is the case, other times it’s about getting out while the getting is good, or thinking about win-win-wins for everyone, or knowing that you’ve done the very best job that you could do and now you need to pass it of to someone else or do something different going forward.

Sometimes it’s easy to say that you quit, but often it does take courage and some serious consideration to make sure that you’re really making the best decision for yourself and those that matter most to you.  Those in positions of power have extra responsibility to make sure they’re doing what’s best for everyone, but the fact is we all do as well.  The way you live affects others in various ways from the very obvious and significant to the negligible, but the fact remains that we each do have responsibility for how we live, and therefore knowing when to quit.

Change isn’t the enemy, in fact more often than not it’s not changing that’s the enemy.  This week I encourage you to consider if it’s time for a change, time to quit something so you can move onto something bigger and better.

In the Business of Love

This month I read Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders. It was written in 2002, almost 20 years ago, but so many leadership books contain what is called “evergreen content,” advice that’s good for maybe ever, things that can inspire and encourage leaders and business owners, so I decided to read it anyway.

The first lesson I got from reading the book was an encouragement. Much of what Tim Sanders suggests are things that more businesses and leaders are doing, are doing publicly and are doing as part of large corporations and well-known leaders. It’s definitely not universal, but it’s not odd, or something done by the “special” businesses, or something that people say “oh, that’s nice” about. More businesses than ever are focused more on creating relationships than just trying to get the financial transaction to happen. More businesses are working to create experiences for their customers. And more businesses are working to make both employees and customers happy. We’re not there yet, but more businesses are thinking about people and not just profits.

The second lesson was the focus on intangibles. Throughout the book Sanders focused on a couple of ways to make an impact, and they weren’t marketing or discounts. Instead, he suggested focusing on knowledge, networking, compassion, love, caring, and charity. We’re seeing that there’s only so many products and services that can be created that are different, and what ends up being the difference maker are these intangibles that help separate products and services from others that would otherwise appear to be identical.

The third lesson is right in line with that and well explained by a quote in the book “choice spells doom for villains.” I don’t love the competing aspect of competition, but I do love that there are many choices for people to choose from in just about every area of product and service today. This means that with a little research we’re able to find exactly what we want, or get very close to finding exactly what we want. It means we don’t have to buy from the company that has terrible customer service, the company with the rude employees, or the company that doesn’t have the freshest products. It means we can shop around and very easily pick and choose where our products and services come from and we don’t have to get everything from one company and just deal with something average. But with as much “competition” as there is, it’s more important than ever to differentiate yourself, your company and your products/services from the others on the market.

Are you using intangibles to build your business and support your people? If not it’s a great time to start.

Confident Leadership

All business owners need help with the tactics and how things work. We’re not all technologically intuitive, we’ve got lots on our plates, and things change all the time. We’re not machines, and even machines can’t get everything done without working with other machines and multiple softwares. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that every business owner could use the support of a marketing/sales expert at some or most parts of their business journey.

I certainly work with plenty of business owners on the tactic/tangible type stuff all the time. But this week I was reminded that a business, and a business owner, is so much more than just the tactics. Behind some of the best and most successful businesses are a confident, awesome, world-helping human. They’re people who the word ‘leader’ was meant to describe.

These people recognize that they’re working with and selling to people. They regularly apply compassion and empathy as well as have excellent listening skills. They’re quick to see situations that need their attention and do something about it. They step up for their employees, their business, their brand, their community and their customers. And most of all they believe in themselves and what they’re building.

No, not every day is a good day for business, but the wins should far outweigh the struggles. The sacrifices should be worth it at the victory line. You should see the positive impact of your business on your life, the lives of your employees, the lives of your customers and on your community. You should at the very least feel confident, if not comfortable, telling the world about your business because it helps add value to the world we all share, to our lives and to our communities.  Are you a confident leader?

Building a Bigger, Bolder Business

This month I took a look at Think Big, Act Bigger by Jeffrey Hayzlett. I’m not big on reality TV, so my first introduction to Jeffrey was through a telesummit several years ago. I don’t always connect with individuals or leaders who are big and bold and outspoken, but Jeffrey is so much more than that, it wasn’t as noticeable or unavoidable as it is with some other leaders, in other words it didn’t define him in a negative way. And that’s really how the entire book read for me. I really felt like it wasn’t about him sharing why he’s a great leader, it was him revealing in a very personable way why who he is and the decisions he makes work, and why they might/will work for others.

In the book Jeffrey talks about what may seem like a conflicting set of topics. On one side he makes it very clear that his business (any business) isn’t meant to appeal to or work with everyone. He shares an example of how they had a slogan on a website and the team removed that slogan during a website edit because the team said it offended some people. His answer was that it was that if someone can’t see past the slogan or is offended by it, the slogan has done its’ job in weeding out the not ideal clients.

But Jeffrey also talks about the importance of asking and finding out why someone didn’t buy a product or service. Maybe it is because they’re not a good fit (and that’s OK). Maybe it’s because they don’t understand (and that’s your fault and something you can fix). Maybe it’s because the product or service isn’t up to par with the competition (again, something that you can fix). Maybe it’s because your sales people were rude, ignorant, unknowledgeable or lazy (something you must do something about). Knowing why (and doing something about those answers you can and should do something about) can mean not only an increase in business and sales, but also you bringing a better business to the world.

One of the parts of the book I appreciated most was Jeffrey’s take on teams/employees and leaders. He is a believer in hiring people and giving them the tools and empowerment to make decisions based on systems they have set up in the business. The difference with some other businesses and leaders and their employees is that Jeffrey makes a point of doing everything and having knowledge and experience in everything, from cleaning bathrooms to marketing to finances, just for starters. This means he has the knowledge and experience to do it all so he can talk with his people about everything. He isn’t stepping away from or not leading or disconnected from the business, he simply has done it all and now focuses his time on the most important things, and lets other people do what they’re good at doing.

I alluded to it at the beginning of the post and you can guess it from the title of the book, but one of the big keys is the importance of having a positive attitude, thinking bigger, acting bigger, and being real. Yes, Jeffrey grows big businesses, but this isn’t just about the size of your business or your bank account, but about being a big leader that’s making a positive impact in the world through their business, regardless of how many customers they serve.

With that in mind, I wanted to end with a quote from the Introduction: “I can think bigger, act bigger, and do it my way-because I can.” How will you make a difference in your business, be a better leader for your business and make a difference with your business for your community, tribe, and the world?

The Leadership-Success Connection

I’ve been noticing quite a few empty storefronts in my area, some of which is natural turnover and some is because businesses aren’t getting enough foot traffic to stay open.  And while that may change as we get into better weather and people are out and about which often inspires people to take a go at running a physical store, retail definitely has challenges to overcome. It hasn’t adapted to the change of how people are shopping and all too often retail store owners see it as an us vs. them thing when it comes to retail and online shopping. One of the ways that retail can take back some of the ground it has lost, or even be more successful than it was in the past is by taking advantage of the online world. And while that’s a post for another day, I wanted to talk today about one of the other things that could be the key to whether a store stays open or closes down, and that’s leadership.

I was talking with a couple of employees at a company the other day and they were very honest about the fact that they’re staying where they are only because of the paycheck and if something better came along the would be very happy to leave. I think there’s room in the business world for all of us business owners, but I don’t believe that every business owner deserves a business. Some people aren’t equipped to lead or don’t have the right attitude to lead.

What does the dictionary say about leaders anyway? A leaders is “a person who guides or directs a group; an act or instance of leading; a guiding or directing head; a person who inspires others.” I believe true leadership takes skill, experience, passion, action and attitude. Sometimes you can get away with not having one aspect or another, but to really be able to claim the leadership title I think you need to be well rounded in all these areas.

So if you’ve got employees who are willing to stick around as long as the checks don’t bounce, maybe it’s time to take another look at your leadership. Are you showing up? Are you getting the work that only you can do done? Are you inspiring them to be a better person and make a contribution to the company? Are you recognizing their hard work? Do you take their concerns seriously? How do you talk to and treat them? If you’re not feeling so confident on some of these questions, your employees may not feel so confident in you, and that can easily trickle down to the customers as well.

What is one thing you’re going to do in the coming week to be a better leader?

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?

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?