A Spirit of Giving Tuesday, Aug 20 2013 

When I first read the poem, The Giving Tree by Shel Siverstein, it broke my heart and I never wanted to read it again.  A couple of years ago, my son picked this book up at the book store and wanted to buy it.    Re-reading this book and being in a different place in life, I have gained a new insight and perspective on it.  My original focus was on the boy and how selfish he was; taking from this tree to the point that there was nothing left.  Now when I read it, I look to the tree and the spirit of giving it showed to the very end.  As members of the human race, we have a choice – we can choose to be the boy, who takes without regard and think of no one but ourselves, or we can be the tree with unconditional love for others and our community.

Some people call this servant attitude to our community philanthropy.  The definition of philanthropy as we know it is “charitable giving to human causes”.    I love to look back over the origins of words and I was pleasantly surprised to see in the original Greek, philanthropy means “love of mankind”.    The tree in our poem is a philanthropist.   But why is it so important to focus on others and on our community when it is already so hard to get ahead?  I think George Bernard Shaw says it best, “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community.  And as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.  Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got hold of for a short moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generation”. 

“Do all the good you can.  By all the means you can.  In all the ways you can.  In all he places you can.  At all the times you can.  To all the people you can.  As long as you can.” (Anonymous)   Arise out of your ordinary self and achieve something greater than yourselves.  Be the tree!

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Plan Now for Your Future Wednesday, Aug 14 2013 

It’s that time when our summer is concluding and kids are headed back to school.  Time to buckle down and get back into the workflow with a new vibrancy.  Do you realize this is also the time of year when you need to be reviewing that Strategic Plan and setting the course for 2014?  Your plans, both personal and corporate need to be addressed now and completed by the first of November if you are a Jan-Dec fiscal planner. If you wait until year end, or worse the first of the new year, you’re already too late.

So why should you complete a personal strategic plan?  It’s simple.  Strategic Plans keep us on track and direct our every move.  Recently I read “Secrets of the World Class” by Steve Siebold, as he puts it: “Champions are famous for concentrating their energy and efforts on what they want and blocking out anything or anyone who threatens that focus.  While average people haphazardly pursue loosely defined goals, champions concentrate on the attainment of a singular purpose with an intensity that borders on obsession.” It’s a matter of whether or not you want to be a champion.  Stop thinking middle-class dreams and set your sights on something bigger.  I love what Nido Qubein offers “Nothing can add more power to your life than concentrating all your energies on a limited set of targets.”  Without a good strategic plan you are easily distracted by things that pop up in your path.  Bunny Trails as I call them.  They seem important or fun at the moment but they distract for your long range goal and take you off your track to world-class position.

Begin with the end in mind.  What do you see for yourself in the future?  What are your dreams and aspirations?  Once you can identify those begin going backwards until you know what you need to do today to accomplish your dream of the future.   Don’t let each day pass you by only to regret one day that you never lived the life you always wanted.  Plan for it now.

Grace Under Fire – Being a Dragon Slayer Wednesday, May 8 2013 

I love to talk with children about what they plan to be when they grow up. The reason: they don’t hold back.  To children, there are no obstacles.  Why can’t they be a princess or fireman or ballerina or MLB player or President?  If they can dream it, they can become it.  So what happens as we get older?  We still dreams of things we want to do and accomplish, but we no longer believe that we can achieve those dreams.  We look to all the reasons and obstacles for why we can’t achieve.  I believe that you can accomplish the majority of your dreams, but first you must become a Dragon Slayer.

In life’s journey, you will encounter many dragons that will distract you, consume your energy and deflect your plans.  Everyone has them; you just need to be aware of what they are so you can identify them when encountered.

The first dragon is fear.  It may be fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the unknown, or fear of denial.  Wikipedia defines fear as an “emotion induced by a perceived threat”.  Fear can be a manipulating and controlling factor in an individual’s life.  In many cases, your fear is not a rational fear, but more anxiety of the unknown. 

Another dragon people face is a fear of rejection.  When trying to combat your fear of rejection, ask yourself “what is the worst that can happen?”  Be prepared for the worst and you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Assumptions are another dragon you will encounter.  You may assume people won’t want to do business with you, assume you’re not smart enough or talented enough.  You can even assume that you are the greatest thing in the world and therefore do not need to put forth the effort, because people are going to flock to your business.  

Go back to your childhood days and dream the big dreams, but this time, be your own Knight in Shining Armor and slay those dragons!

10 Rules of Leadership Wednesday, Apr 24 2013 

Leadership isn’t easy.  If someone tells you it is, they’re doing something wrong.   Leadership is a constant challenge to do the right thing; lead people in a way that they want to follow you, and create a successful business.  Leadership also requires Grace Under Fire.  I spend a great deal of time reading books, journal articles, blogs on leadership and I have put together what I call my 10 Rules for Leadership.

  1. Be a Leader, not a Manager – Leaders change, seek and create opportunities, inspire and motivate their people, and work on the business. 
  2. Fail Forward – I love this idea from John Maxwell.   Learn from your mistakes and move on.  Don’t let the fear of failure stop you.
  3. Keep Your Perspective – It is important that you keep perspective on the issue and not create a mountain out of a mole hill.  What is the worst thing that can happen?
  4. Keep Your Eye on Your Business – You must be constantly aware of what is going on in your business.  Look at your numbers constantly; sales, P&Ls, etc.
  5. Choose Your People Wisely – The greatest asset you have in your business is your people, but if you don’t choose wisely they can also be your greatest downfall. 
  6. Take Care of Your Team – When you find the right people, treat them right!  If you don’t take care of them, someone else will.
  7. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!   Keep your people in the loop.  The more they know, the more they’ll understand.  Information is power.
  8. Be Seen, Be Available.  There’s no substitute for getting out into your organization and talking to your team.  Learn from your people and let them know you care.
  9. Be Open to New Ideas.  Encourage your team to bring new ideas to the table; you might be amazed at what you find.
  10. Maintain Grace Under Fire.  It’s hard for a leader to inspire confidence and resilience in their team if she cannot keep her composure in times of difficulty.  Maintain grace under fire, be kind to your team and they will go to battle for you!

Grace Under Fire-Founding Grace Wednesday, Apr 10 2013 

I am enjoying the immense  pleasure this week of accompanying my son and the fifth grade of Madison Academy on an American History field trip.   We are visiting Monticello, Washington, Williamsburg, and Jamestown.  This has brought to the front of my mind the example of grace under fire of our founding fathers.  It is convenient for us to view their accomplishments from the comfort of knowing how great the American experiment has played out over the past 237 years, but for them the outcome was anything but certain.  These men staked their fortunes, their reputations and their lives on what they viewed as the fulfillment of their values.  As Benjamin Franklin was quoted “Gentlemen I pray we all hang together, or we will surely all hang together”.

As leaders, I think we should all endeavor to understand the example that the founding Fathers laid before us.  Even if you are not a history buff, the lessons of grace and perseverance of men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John and Samuel Adams and James Madison provide a foundation of understanding value leadership under extreme circumstances.  The very nature of our form of government, which flowed from their sense of balance, echoes grace.  Principles like the separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, and proportional representation were meant to moderate the passions of the government and the governed.  Moderation and balance, two essential core elements of grace.

They showed that their lives were driven by a higher purpose.  Thomas Jefferson said “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits”.  So as leaders, when we can focus not on circumstances, but on our values and priorities, then we can live grace under fire.

 

Grace Under Fire – The Servant Leader Tuesday, Mar 26 2013 

As a professional growing in my career, I was advised on many occasions to surround myself with people who were smarter and more talented that I and they would pull me up.  As a business owner, I still subscribe to that advice, especially in my team.  I believe that a good leader, a servant leader, realizes that no matter how smart or talented they are, they can’t go far without a team of great people.  As a leader, you are limited by those you surround yourself with.   When I combine my skills and talents with the talent of my team, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.  To make this work to its greatest potential involves becoming servant leader.  One way I define servant leadership is:  putting the interests, needs, and benefits of others first.   A leader who places the organization and those in it above him or herself and are committed to the mission and vision of that organization.  Someone who views their role as a leader who empowers others to become better and achieve greater levels of skill, knowledge and productively. 

When an organization is run by someone who views their role in this capacity, it fosters a greater sense of teamwork.  Servant leaders use words like “us” and “we” far more than “I” or “me”.    By creating an atmosphere of teamwork, a leader naturally creates a servant mentality in those around them.  With the lack of un-healthy competition, you increase productivity and creativity of everyone on your team.

Servant leadership also strives to add value to all members of the organization.  When people truly believe that their leader views them as valuable, they value what they do and will go the extra mile.  It is imperative that a leader believe and prove to their team their belief that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as employees.  As a servant leader, you should be deeply committed to both the personal and professional development of every individual within your organization.  This type of behavior will also create a sense of trust from their team, a value that is lacking in our world today.

I encourage you to take a step back and view your leadership style.  Ask your employees questions and evaluate if you would be considered a servant leader.  If not, begin today to take steps to improve your relationship within the organization and watch it grow to heights you never knew you could achieve.

Grace Under Fire: Conversations with Yourself Tuesday, Mar 12 2013 

When I look around and see different business owners, I often wonder what makes some of them so flaming successful while others struggle just to stay alive. Sure, business savvy, education, service or product all make a difference but I dare to say that probably one of the most successful attributes that these people share is the conversations they have with themselves. Within the last half hour, you have probably had a conversation with yourself. Unfortunately, statistics show that this conversation has probably been negative, self-critical, self- limiting, or any number of self-destructive inner dialogues.
How did you feel the last time you had a conversation with a person who spent the majority of the time talking negatively about themselves, others, our country, or their work? I know when I am around a person like that I am quickly looking for an exit. Negative talk is defeating and often will bring my mood down. I might have entered the room confident, encouraged and ready for a challenge, but after spending a few minutes with such a negative soul I am feeling defeated, stressed, and as if nothing I do will ever make a difference. The same will occur when you have those negative conversations with yourself. What we might believe is “keeping ourselves in check” or “staying humble” can serve to defeat us. But you can use this natural tendency to talk to yourself to really boost your motivation, give your day a powerful lift before you even go out the door, or counter any negative emotion that threatens to cause you pain or impose false limitations upon yourself.
In the book The Magic of Thinking Big, Dr. David Schwartz says that “success is determined not so much by the size of one’s brain as it is by the size of one’s thinking”. Every day take time to talk to yourself about what will make you a success. Believe in yourself and all that you have to offer. “Belief in success is the one basic, absolutely essential ingredient in successful people” according to Schwartz.
Napoleon Hill, in his bestselling classic, Think and Grow Rich, stated that, “Thoughts are things, and powerful things at that, when they are mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence, and a burning desire for their translation into riches, or other material objects.” Use your inner voice and converse with it regularly. Build yourself up and believe in the power of you. “Think victory and succeed.”

Grace and the Entrepreneurial Spirit Thursday, Mar 7 2013 

Last week we started discussing Grace Under Fire and how crucial it is to those who run their businesses. This week I want to specifically discuss grace and the entrepreneurial spirit. One definition that I particularly like for grace is “Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion”. For those that have chosen a path of creating something new, grace may not be the first characteristic that comes to your mind. Most people tend to associate characteristics such as independence, perfectionism, creativity and intensity with entrepreneurs. However, grace can be a defining characteristic of many leaders, and the organizations they serve. The problem is one of choice. For busy leaders, grace under fire is a matter of intention. As we said last week, it will set the tone of your whole environment, it will determine the success of your support system and critically, it helps keep everything in perspective.

I believe grace, and more importantly grace under fire, forms a particular mindset from which the entrepreneurial spirit emerges. One way of describing this mindset is internal focus. Internal focus means that what goes on inside of your head and your heart greatly effects what happens for you in the outside world. This internal focus will also drive how you respond to external forces, and accordingly how you interact in the world. This internal focus will also lead to the defining vision of the organization you are building. The more “graceful” this vision, the more it is likely to add value and be deemed acceptable to others.

The entrepreneurial spirit is typically driven by a higher purpose. Make a better ____, or shift the way people ______, are the types of statements that you would hear from an entrepreneurial pursuit. Applying principles of grace can help elevate this sense of purpose even higher. Keeping yourself, and your organization focused on this purpose will be much more easily obtained in an environment that exhibits grace.

Grace Under Fire Wednesday, Feb 27 2013 

In this crazy world, small business owners are continually juggling more and more.  We are parents, spouses, daughters, sons, friends, bosses, co-workers, community volunteers and the list goes on and on.  While managing all these activities, we are required to do so with the utmost grace and dignity.  I don’t know about you, but as the mother of two young boys, wife to a busy man, and owner of two small businesses I more often feel like The Mad Hatter, than the queen of England when I leave my house in the morning. 

 As a leader in your organization, maintaining a calm demeanor is critical.  You set the tone for your staff and everyone around you.  If after a hectic morning just trying to get the kids out the door for school, you show up to work frazzled and stressed you bring that negativity to the office.   When you are alone in your car try taking time just for yourself.  Put on music that makes you happy and calms your spirit, pray, or listen to motivational podcasts.  You may even need to take a longer route to the office just to get your mind and spirit ready for the day.

 Knowing who to call when crisis hits is also critical.  We all need that support system.  Do you know who yours is?  Make sure the person(s) you choose has a level head.  The last thing you need is someone who will amplify your negative feelings. It is critically important to move beyond emotions in a crisis. Talking through a situation can help you get to an understanding of what the worse-case scenario is, and this is almost always survivable.

 Keep things in perspective.  In the rear view mirror, thIngs are never quite as bad as we make them out to be.  Take time to analyze and think before you judge.  Joe Paterno, former Penn State head football coach, used to say “you’re never as good as you think you are when you win-or as bad as you think when you lose.”  The same is true in life and work. Strive to stay centered, and get back on your plan (original or modified) as soon as possible. I call it grace under fire, and it truly is a key to winning in work and life.

 

 

Divide and Conquer Monday, Feb 11 2013 

Small business owners wear many hats.  They are salesman, technician, referee, customer support, chief financial operator and business development personnel.  Their days are crammed full with activities; business development events, client meetings, taxes to be paid, proposals written and payroll done all in the same week.   This diversity is wonderful and most entrepreneurs don’t miss the repetitiveness of many corporate jobs, but it is certainly a challenge.

Often these entrepreneurs find themselves running to meetings, back to the office to finish paperwork, and then back out again.  At the end of the day they are exhausted and frustrated that they weren’t able to accomplish all that they wanted.  In addition, the social vibrancy needed for a networking event requires a very different mind frame than the focus diligence of bookkeeping and you aren’t able to give any one task complete focus.  Not to mention lost time running from one place to another and back again. In our area, since North Alabama has become an increasingly regional economy, this is becoming a bigger consideration.

In order to get better control of your schedule, consider dividing your days into “in” office and “out” of office.   One or two days a week, depending on your type of business, schedule an office day to work only on task that require in office activities.  On these days, do not take time away from the office to attend outside events.  By organizing your days this way you can batch similar tasks together and allow you not only to reduce the time you spend running around town, but help you get your mind in the right game for the day and keep it there.

Hopefully, this means you won’t lose time waiting for your brain to settle into a near gear after a networking event so you can concentrate on writing a proposal. Nor will you be in the flow and concentration of work only to glance at the clock to realize it’s almost time for a meeting and rush out of the office in mid-sentence.  

By blocking these times out on a weekly, or monthly, basis you can organize your days better. You will be amazed at not only how much you are able to accomplish, but at the improvement in the quality of the product you produce.

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