A fascinating aspect of our human existence is that despite what happens to us, in most cases life simply goes on. The world stops for no one regardless of the challenge or tragedy they are confronting. Of course, we all know how the journey ultimately ends but until that point we are forced to be resilient and navigate whatever twists and turns come our way. No matter how far you climb the ladder of life there will always be some things beyond your capacity to control. Sometimes all we can do is accept our circumstances and react in the best way we can.
I was talking to my son the other day about his schoolwork and some frustrations he was having. He is a good kid and is in all honors classes. I have noticed though, as the years go on, that school which was once relatively easy and fun for him has become much more of a chore. While not commenting on the varying degrees of teacher quality we have encountered along the way (which is troubling), I believe he is going through something we all go through in life. Rarely is our individual curve always upward sloping and everything comes easy for us. Sure, some people are seemingly blessed in certain aspects of life, but for the most part we all hit periods of frustration, disappointment, and/or low motivation. When you have a passion or care about something it is much easier to marshal the energy required to work through the rough patches. When it is something you have to do rather than want to do, it isn’t always so easy.
During the conversation with my son, we discussed four things that help you get through these difficult periods: Ability, Humility, Effort and Attitude:
There is a fine line between being good at what you do for a period of time and achieving sustained success. If you are not careful short-term success can lead to long-term complacency. Once you scale the mountain, start looking for the next peak/challenge. Don’t spend too long enjoying the view from the top. I see it all the time: leaders who once had really high standards and big dreams start lowering their expectations and/or getting distracted by other things. They start to spend more time enjoying the fruits of their success than planting the next crop to harvest. Of course, you should bask in the glow of your accomplishments and take some time to appreciate what winning feels like. However, never forget what it took to get you there.
Here are a few basic truths to help ensure your success: It all starts with simple math. The formula is actually pretty straightforward: Revenue – Expenses = Profit. You need to sell enough of something and price it properly so that it exceeds your costs of doing business. Knowingly taking work at a loss is […]
Avoid being put on a pedestal by yourself or by others. I’ve seen good people get too full of themselves when they begin to view themselves as extra special and different from everyone else. In happens in all industries and in all sectors. Nonprofit leaders certainly aren’t excluded. It is never good for any of us to be surrounded by people who are too deferential. Success without humility typically leads to ego issues. I’m not saying we shouldn’t value or respect accomplishment, but we shouldn’t put a disproportionate emphasis on the attributes of the person. Superlative outcomes are usually the result of good timing, hard work and specialized focus not generic ability. In addition, doing good work that taps into your unique talents makes a positive difference in the lives of others should be enough of a reward. Don’t get too caught up with celebrating YOU.
Winning does matter. Our country is built on the idea of individual freedom, personal initiative, competitive markets and free enterprise. In the Unites States we are constantly keeping score and rewarding those that achieve in all walks of life. You can chose to live a reactive and safe life rather than a proactive and riskier existence, but then you are dependent upon others who create the overall conditions of success from which you earn your living. This doesn’t mean that all successful people do it the right way or have admirable values. There will always be individuals who cheat the system or take advantage of the less fortunate. However, I would contend that this number is smaller than everyone thinks and our legal system (contrary to popular opinion) does a good job of ferreting them out. It certainly is not perfect, but our civic system and the “rule of law” does exist and often works. Regardless, we all learn from an early age that life isn’t fair and all we can control is our actions in response to anything that happens. There are very few true victims in life…
If I had to pick one thing that inhibits success the most amongst small business and nonprofit leaders I would say it is a lack of sustained focus. By the very nature of them being entrepreneurs, they tend to be very opportunistic. It is common for them to see a business opportunity around every corner. Their mindset is that every problem has a solution and the only obstacle to progress is a lack of effort. Unfortunately, this is only partially true. Yes, every problem does have a solution, but the effort needs to be put forth by the right people with the right plan. It is not merely a question of resources, attention and willingness to put forth effort. Great leaders and strong businesses focused on the wrong opportunities/problems typically only achieve mediocrity at best. At worst, this distracts their true potential for greatness by limiting their attention on what they should be doing in the first place and creates business vulnerabilities that should never have existed.
I have always been a fan of Sir Richard Branson. He has so much wisdom to share but more importantly his energy and passion for entrepreneurship and individual initiative is infectious. He is very inspiring. I encourage you to take the time to watch this interview and/or read one of his many books:
If I had a $100 for every time sometime told me something couldn’t be done by me or others, I’d be a rich man at this point in my life. The cold reality of life is that most people are followers and more comfortable with the status quo than the prospect of changing anything. There is also a big difference between rhetoric and action. I’d be equally wealthy if I had a $100 for everyone I met who talked a good game but then failed to follow-up with any real action. It seems as if a majority of people are content to sit on the sidelines of the game that is their own life and leave their fate to the actions of others and then complain about it. Like most fans, people have strong opinions about what should or should not be happening, but then they don’t have the courage, talent or fortitude to play the game themselves. It is a vicious circle and misery does love company.
At the risk of sounding like an old codger (which I am not), I can’t believe how worked up people get up over common issues these days. It’s almost as if any level of adversity is intolerable. You would have thought the end the world was near the way everyone especially the media reacted to the recent winter storm. We were bombarded with worst case scenarios and impending doom. People raced to stores to stock up just in case they lost power for a few days. My goodness, can’t we handle a few days of discomfort if required? As a friend said yesterday, “Why the huge interest in toilet paper, can families really not survive a few days without TP?” Are they that close to the edge of hygienic catastrophe? I’ve seen it happen in families, businesses, schools, and communities: if you are not careful, weakness and worry is infectious. Like all significant change, it all starts with small symbolic gestures and begins to gain momentum elsewhere.
There is no better business strategy than creating happy customers. I am just back from a conference in Mexico held at the Fiesta Americana in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was a very enjoyable experience. It has been awhile since I felt this valued as a customer. Every employee of the resort I interacted with […]
I always like this time of year. After a great football weekend, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and watch the inauguration of our President. It is a very proud time to be an American. As I was reflecting on this experience it dawned on me that there are several characteristics of winners whether they are football teams, civil rights leaders or presidents. Several common traits emerge:
In my experience there are two types of leaders: those who build alliances across the span of their career and those who leave casualties in their wake. It’s always a pleasure to work with people who operate in the former category. Leaders require followers and the more people who see themselves in your camp the better. At the end of your career, you will hopefully be able to look back and see many lives that you have changed for the better and a large number of mutually beneficial relationships. Approaching life from a win-win perspective just makes plain common sense.
I remember when they asked Jerry Seinfeld why he would turn down $5m an episode and leave one of the top rated shows in TV history and he said he wanted to go out on top. He also said he wanted to get a life and that work had become all consuming. At the time I couldn’t quite understand his decision but now I respect it. Too many people stay on past their prime whether its entertainment personalities, public officials, business leaders, etc. There comes a point for each of us where the value we are adding begins to diminish and it’s time to reinvent ourselves and do something different and/or focus on other priorities.
There is a dark side to our competitive nature as individuals that often begrudges the success of others. I’m not sure why this and there are probably many psychological and neurological explanations. What I do know is that individual success is good for a community. In business this means more people get hired, employees have steady and stable incomes, more vendors get paid, tax revenues go up, charitable giving increases,and more discretionary dollars are spent on other things. The good news with entrepreneuers is that most of the fruits of their success stays local. We should root for as many people to be successful as possible.
One of the interesting things I find with high performing people is that they are usually harder on themselves than anyone else could be. Sure there are some exceptions – leaders who just self-confidence, but this is rarer than you think. There is usually something that drives an individual to excel. You hope the motivation is a positive one; however this isn’t always the case. I still remember one of my top clients saying several years ago that fear of failure is a good motivator and he didn’t know what he would do if ever actually embraced and enjoyed his success. I found this to be sad and he couldn’t understand why.
It’s very important to celebrate your accomplishments! It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day to day aspects of running an organization and forget why you are working so hard in the first place. Being in business can be a bumpy ride especially these past few years. However, if you’ve been in business for any prolonged period of time you must be doing something right. And, it’s important to recognize those events, milestones and people who helped you get here and increase your likelihood of continued success in the future.
Business ownership has never been for the faint of heart. On-going change and adaptability is part of the success equation. Even when things go well there are problems you will have to navigate. As you grow, your company and you should be prepared to experience many if not all of the following issues:
Most things of importance and value in life require some level of effort. Some people get lucky and have success, happiness and self-fulfillment fall in their lap, but they are few and far between. In life it has always been that little extra effort that makes the difference. We all must accept that there are many people who will be more intelligent, better looking, more talented, have more advantages, and be more capable than us, but only you as an individual decide if they will outwork you. I’ve found that when you are tired and/or feeling lazy and could easily talk yourself out of doing something, but do it anyway, that’s what separates you from the pack. Success in life and business requires consistent, focused, sustained effort.
It is surprising and frustrating how many business leaders simply make it up as they go along. Entrepreneurs typically start with a core idea and then if they are lucky have some initial success which requires them to actually build a business delivery model. Most of them then get bogged down in the day to day operation and fulfilling their product/service promise to their customers. Since most companies typically start out undercapitalized and growth eats cash, they also get caught up in basic financial issues which can be a major leadership distraction. Next thing they know they have a company on their hands and employees who expect to have a boss with a clue about the future and a strategic plan of action. It can all be very challenging and easy to fall into a survival rather than success mode.
Never allow yourself to get bullied in business or life. It was true on the playground when we were kids and it is true as an adult in your business dealings. I make it a rule to never to business with anyone I perceive doesn’t have my best interest at heart. Any dealing that is completely one-sided is not a good business deal but extortion. The good news is that once you survive a bad economy, it becomes pretty evident who the worst transgressors are. I sincerely hope that they end being held to account for their actions.