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.

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Taking Time To Remember

Today in the USA is one of the days during the year that we take time to remember. Today 9/11, we take time to remember the 4 attacks on September 11, 2001, 2 in NYC, one in Pennsylvania, and one at the Pentagon in Washington DC. We stop to remember the 2,977 people who died as a result of the actions of men and women who hated us. Although it’s been 17 years, for many of us it feels like just yesterday. Most of us can remember exactly where we were when it happened. For countless people around the world we have a personal connection to someone who died that day.

We hear the stories from those who were in and around NYC or the Pentagon and helped rescue countless others. We also hear the stories of the people they knew intimately who died while saving lives or just living their lives. We don’t hear the stories from the people in Pennsylvania because they didn’t survive but instead gave their lives to save many others, in some ways making them the biggest heroes of that tragedy.

It’s not fun to remember 9/11 or the days that followed as we came to understand the seriousness of what happened, but it is important. The US was forever changed by the actions of those who hated us that day, in ways that it hadn’t been touched previously. We remember those 2,977 people because they made a sacrifice that day most didn’t plan on or agree to make. We remember their families so they know they aren’t forgotten. We remember in hopes of creating a tomorrow someday that doesn’t include the fear of similar events happening and families don’t have to go through similar pain.

I encourage you to take time to remember today. Remember those you’ve lost and remember those who have touched your life but aren’t part of it anymore, and take time to give thanks for them and the life you have today.

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?

Live Your Life Your Way

One of the questions that is asked from time to time is along the lines of “do we really need another blogger in the world?” Of course that same question could be easily asked about countless things from authors to web designers to chefs to baseball players. I get it, I mean there are tons of people who share similar things or seem to do the same thing.

But with the incredible loss of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade last week I got to thinking about this question again, especially in response to some of the things people posted about Anthony Bourdain following his death. We could watch any of a dozen or so news channels on TV, but each of us has our own preference about which we watch as well as which news site we typically visit on the internet. They often share the same exact news (a baseball score isn’t going to change depending on who you hear it from), yet we think they share the news better or we have some other affinity with them.

So I say go for it. Share your story, write your blog, investigate the world from your perspective, listen to others, get to know the world around you and you live in, and do your part to take care of it and all who share it. No one can ever tell your story like you can, no one can make the difference in the world that you can. We all have a role to play in this world, what statement will you make with the way you live your life?

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?

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?

Creative Earth Day Celebrations

Sunday is Earth Day, and while I’m not quite ready to get out there and enjoy spring, with today being an unseasonably cold 42 degree day, I’m still looking forward to doing some earth-friendly things this week and weekend. If you’re looking for some creative ways to honor the earth and still do things you enjoy, here are a few things to add to your list.

Garage sales and estate sales are a great way to buy new things that you want and need while still helping the earth. Many people sell gently used items or even brand new ones that they haven’t used or don’t want but are still in great condition. These types of sales are also a great place to find stuff that just isn’t made anymore, or isn’t made in the same way or with the same quality that it used to be made with.

Farmer’s markets and roadside stands are a great way to support the local farming community. Eating vegetables and fruits is a great way to care for our planet in the first place, making the extra effort to do it locally not only gives you the opportunity to support the local growers, but also to know exactly where your food came from. Also, you typically have the chance to talk with the people who grow the food, which means you can find out exactly how they were grown and what, if any, chemicals were used.

Giving the gift of a potted plant is another great way to think more about the earth while still giving flowers or a plant that will make someone smile. Even if the person you’re gifting to doesn’t have the greenest thumb, most people can still keep a potted plant alive for far longer than cut flowers, and the potted plant often can go outdoors and last for months or years depending on the type of plant. And if you’re gifting to someone who has a home, things they can plant outdoors are almost always a blessing, including small trees and shrubs.

What ways are you planning to celebrate Earth Day this weekend?

A St. Patrick’s Day Legacy

Today is St. Patrick’s Day! I’m excited as always, it’s one of my favorite holidays each year. Over the last day or so I’ve been checking out some Irish companies and looking at products made in Ireland and was struck by the care, consideration and effort that’s put into each product. No, no company is perfect, but when you think about truly Irish products and companies many of them have stood the test of time and consistently offer fantastic products. I’m not one to spend tons of money on things like jewelry or clothing, but I’m willing to spend those extra dollars to get such a quality product and support the families who are behind them.

No, this post isn’t really about running a business or offering a quality product, it’s about the quality and character of the people behind them. As parents and those in charge of the next generation we have a choice in what we want to teach the next generation, and hopefully what they’ll learn from us. Do we want to teach them to value the world, put their best foot forward, take pride in their work, leave a legacy that can be appreciated for a long time, and make a positive impact on the world? I know that’s what I want to teach the next generation and encourage them to value life and their talents.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with buying a sweater or piece of jewelry from your local big box store, I’ve got some of them that I absolutely enjoy very much and were on low clearance prices even (prices that couldn’t get me anywhere near something from Ireland). So there’s nothing wrong with finding shortcuts and doing a quick job of something (as long as it gets the job done), but there’s value to be found in being a person who does more than just meets the status quo.

No one else can be who you are, no one else can be who your kids are or will grow up to be, no one else can be the neighborhood kids or who they will grow up to be, each and every one of us are unique and have the ability to bring something awesome to the table. In the case of the many families in Ireland who craft gorgeous products those families are teaching their next generations about leaving a legacy, honoring your heritage and sharing who they are with the world. What are you teaching your kids?

Presidential Leadership

In thinking about President’s Day on Monday here in the US, I got to thinking about what it takes to be a great president, and if we business owners can learn anything from them. But then I turned the question around and asked myself what advice the presidents would give us as leaders.

“Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.” George Washington

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.” Andrew Jackson

“We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.” Teddy Roosevelt

“Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.” William Taft

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb … Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge

Franklin D. Roosevelt “…knew what people wanted from the highest office in the land: action, words and optimism.”

Truman’s motto was “A leader needed a true heart, a strong mind, and a great deal of courage.”

“If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.” Bill Clinton

All presidents left a legacy of one kind or another. All presidents had successes and failures. All presidents had good days and bad days. All presidents left office after they were done and continued on with their lives. The choice we all have is to do the best we can with what we’re given for as long as we’re there, and when life hands us a new direction to then do the best we can on that path. What are you learning from your business and being a leader right now?