It’s OK to quit. Think about how much time we waste with stuff that isn’t working.

Quitting doesn’t necessarily mean failure. It’s OK to change your mind, to quit a job where you are miserable or to let go of a partnership or a goal that is no longer moving forward.

Seth Godin, said it in his best-selling book “The Dip”:  “Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations.”

Strategic quitting — or proactive, thought-out change — is not about stopping because something was harder than you anticipated. Life is hard. Strategic quitting is about identifying the wrong turns. It’s about not wasting your time when nothing is going to get better.

This applies not just to business, but to everything in life. Quit the eating patterns that don’t make you feel healthy. Quit the drinking habit that leads to fuzzy thinking. It’s OK to change something when it isn’t working.

When deals fall through

It’s the same thing with the occasional business deal that just doesn’t happen. It looked glorious from afar, full of promise. But then, something changed and you face the stark reality that the big new client/new piece acquisition/leveraged buyout isn’t going to happen after all.

It happens to us all. My advice? Communicate. Never be afraid to give people the bad news. Let your team know what happened and be transparent. Tell them your vision, the next steps to get there, and move on. It will make you happier when you “quit” and move on to something that makes you more excited.

So many people are not in love with what they do. What they do for a living — and what they do outside of work.

Plenty of great business-savvy men and women just don’t get this connection. They are far too focused on the brass ring (money, stature, success) and not on their passion, the emotional ground wire that lights up inside them.

To get passion, you need to want it

Few leaders “get” this. And that’s unfortunate, because without passion — a mission that you love — you burn out. It’s true in business and it’s true in relationships.

You have to want the concept of passion to get it. You’ve got to love what you do, to feel the kind of success that lights you up, where you don’t “hate” to go to work each morning, and can’t wait to get there because you’re excited to attack the day.

When you work with someone that lights up, you know it. You feel that positive energy radiating out, and it is absolutely contagious.

When I talk to people about whether they are passionate or not, most often I get a blank stare. They have never been asked about it. In fact, many people don’t know what I mean. I like to ask them what would get them excited to go to work each morning. What would they be thinking about when their mind raced and they couldn’t get to sleep? If money didn’t matter, what would they be doing?

Finding your passion is very difficult. But when you do, it’s amazing how you feel and what you can accomplish because you’re excited. If you do what you’re passionate about, good things will follow.

Robert Pagliarini is president of Richer Life Media. Here are some questions he thinks may help you find your passion:

What would you do that would give you a sense of pride? What would an ideal day look like for you? What have been the most significant experiences in your life (traveling, studying, awards that you’ve received)? When are you at your best? What does it look like? Suppose you had 24 hours to live. What would you regret not having done?

So what’s your passion? Do some digging. Figure it out. Put it into daily practice at work and at home.

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at For more information, go to

Published in Indianapolis

Warren Barhorst was getting into trouble at his previous job. His performance reviews weren’t commendable when it came to his interaction with other employees. But as a technical salesperson with a degree in industrial distribution, he was able to stick it out for six years, hoping for a reasonable outcome.

“I would get a performance review, and it would say, ‘Warren is intolerant of other people’s inability to get the job done,’” he says. “That made me realize I probably wasn’t going to be successful in the corporate world. If I wanted to get where I wanted to go, as a human being, I was probably going to have to build something myself.”

Barhorst turned in his notice and had an exit interview of sorts with his supervisor.

“I went to my boss who was a great mentor of mine,” he says. “I left on very good terms. I said, ‘I’m going to quit this gig and start an insurance agency.’ And the boss started laughing and said, ‘You know, Warren, there is an insurance agency on every corner.’ I laughed, and I said, “You’re right. The problem is that none of them are any good.’

At that point, Barhorst made a commitment to himself that his belief and passion would help make him an entrepreneur — and a successful leader.

“You only have to be just a little bit better than your competition, and you can start taking market share,” he says. “That was my belief then when I analyzed it and is still my belief today. My No. 1 requirement for being a leader is that you’ve got to have passion; you’ve got to have belief.”

Barhorst was more than committed; he knew that passion and belief to create a better customer experience was a winning combination.

“You can call insurance companies and they won’t answer the phone, they won’t return your phone call, they won’t give you a proposal or a quote on your insurance,” he says. “It goes on in lots of other businesses. You walk into a car dealership; sometimes it’s hard to buy a car. Nobody seems to want to serve you; no one seems to want to sell you anything.

“I think that attitude is what got me into the business. It could have been any other industry. The insurance industry just happened to present itself.”

Here’s how Barhorst inspires passion and belief in the employees of the company, which was recently rechristened Iscential.

Start with managers

While some leaders and managers may have no problem using their passion and belief to encourage employees to go the second mile, others may have difficulties. The source of the shortcomings may often lie with the manager and not the employee.

“I see it a lot of it in those who lead departments or segments of a business,” Barhorst says.

“Usually if they are struggling with something, if you go back and look at it, their fundamental challenge is their lack of passion and belief for what they’re doing. If people can’t feel passion or belief on you, or see that on you, or smell that on you, for lack of better ways to describe it, you probably can’t lead people. They won’t follow you.”

The fundamental solution is for a leader to teach employees all the tasks necessary to continue to grow the company. By doing so, a leader does not only rally employees to strive for company growth, but it also solidifies the leader’s position as one who can communicate his passion and belief.

“I think our company is no different than any other I have studied,” Barhorst says. “You start it and you run it on the power of yourself and a couple of other people, and then you realize pretty quickly that if you really want to take it somewhere, you’ve got to leverage yourself and other people. You’ve got to teach other people how to do things so that you can continue to grow the company.”

That’s the role of influence: take employees’ passion to improve and encourage their attitude to become contagious to the rest of the organization.

“What has to happen to an owner or a manager, it doesn’t matter which, once you realize that for you to be successful you have to leverage yourself to other people,” he says.

A frame of mind that includes a picture of the organization showing its outdated conceptions must be updated.

“You have to change your mindset about employees,” Barhorst says. “I know this buzzword has been around for 50 or 100 years — that we should treat employees as assets. It’s kind of a paradox because if you look at a balance sheet, or a P&L or any financial documentation for a business, the employees are always on the liability side of the ledger and a chair that you buy that gets tattered and worn out is considered an asset.”

This is a matter of retraining your thoughts that employees actually appreciate in value over time.

“An asset doesn’t depreciate in value,” Barhorst says. “A chair that you buy, the day you get it, it’s getting older and uglier; whereas an employee that you hire, if you mentor, teach, coach and train them, they actually become increasingly valuable to your company.”

Recognizing opportunities for existing employees and delegating responsibilities appropriately can go a long way toward pleasing employees who want to grow personally and professionally.

“People talk about the buzzword of employees as assets, but it starts with that fundamental mind shift. What we are talking about here is, ‘Do I understand that they are an asset to our company and that through them I can actually grow this business?’

“I think the managers and leaders that get that — those are the ones that really rock and roll. The ones that don’t, you can tell by a couple of questions about their employees and just their mindset that they’re probably not very good leaders because they look at the employees as a liability or a pain in the rear.”

Change your mindset

If you are going to value an employee as an asset rather than a liability, you need to put employees in positions to utilize their strengths, which may mean changing the company culture. Managers and leaders who value employees that way will find the team just bursts at the seams and goes forward.

One of the modifications that Barhorst made to show his commitment to employees was to change the name of his company.

“When you name it after the founder, no matter what you do, no matter how you try to build the culture, no matter how you try to make things work, it always ends up being about the founder,” he says.

His team made up the name Iscential, a play on the word “essential.”

“We didn’t want to be about Warren Barhorst the founder,” Barhorst says. “It’s really about you, you as a customer, you as an employee and you as a vendor or partner of ours. That reflection or realization for me was a big change in the way our company acts and in the way it looks. That realization made me understand how important the culture element is in a company.”

One culture that often forms on its own and should be avoided is the interruption culture. This is when the phone rings or a customer walks in the front door, and you almost hear people say, “Oh darn. There is a customer” — you are interrupting their day.

“If you don’t work on your culture, the interruption style ends up becoming the default culture in a lot of businesses,” Barhorst says. “The culture element really characterizes how to act as well as what to do with customers — or with employees or with your vendor partners.

“You see so many people talk about the one way they want to be but then you look at how they treat their employees, and you realize, ‘Well, if you’re going to live that culture, you’ve got to live that in your entire business.’ You’ve got to treat your employees, the people who are supporting you, your vendors or your partners in business and your customers all the same. You can’t have a different culture for those people, or those things, because that dismantles the effort, it’s not aligned, and the company blows up because of that.”

Most companies have a mission statement and a vision statement as well as a set of core values or behaviors as important elements of the culture. These in a way can be used as metrics.

“We kind of think of them as our measurements or our ways that we want to be,” Barhorst says. “So if you look at them in general, they are teamwork, dedication, attitude, communication, goals or objectives and respect — those are the measurement devices or the things you aspire to be. Then you build them on a foundation of a process or program.”

Use continuous learning as a tool

Customers who call wanting your help are not an interruption and a company should be thankful for them. To drive home that attitude to employees, a process called repetitive continuous learning is very useful.

“When you graduate from college, and you get into a professional environment, you really stop practicing, you really stop learning,” Barhorst says. “You might go to a training seminar, or you might go something to learn a new system for your business or whatever, but you don’t really practice. You don’t do your math tables like you did when you were in the third or fourth grade.

“Repetitive continuous learning is the practicing of the same thing over and over — you keep teaching the class over again,” he says “Over time, their proficiency, their learning, their skills grow.”

To analyze the most effective way to teach continuous learning, use a model originated by Gordon Training International about the four stages of competence:

“The first stage is what I would call ‘ignorant bliss,’” Barhorst says. “It’s what they call unconscious incompetence.”

The employee does not know how to do his task and does not recognize that it’s a problem. To move on to the next stage, the employee must acknowledge the lack of knowledge and want to learn the new skill.

“Then you can move up so you discover something and you advance to conscious incompetence, where you are unsettled about something — ‘Now I learn that I am consciously incompetent about this,’” Barhorst says.

Next, you start learning and you become consciously competent, or driven to do something.

“Then ultimately, hopefully, you get into the zone and you become unconsciously competent,” Barhorst says. “A good example is like driving a car. If you have any kids or you know someone who’s ridden in the car, they probably have the knowledge of how to drive a car but they don’t have the skill to drive the car. You have to transition that.

“When I talk about that repetitive continuous learning from a perspective of the fact that I’m in ignorant bliss and I need to be unsettled, I need to be learning every day, learning something — that’s kind of the core piece that we use or apply to the business.

“We continually teach our employees that this is the mindset that you should have. Teach them to ask themselves, ‘Maybe I don’t understand where this is coming from. Maybe I’m in ignorant bliss. Maybe I need to ask some questions. Maybe I need to get unsettled about this. Why is this important?’”

Then it’s time to reinforce the core values in respect to the measurements of where you want to be.

“We call it ‘Always say please and thank you,’” Barhorst says. “The thank-you part is pretty easy. It’s about being thankful and being gracious and thankful for the opportunity you have. The ‘please’ part involves a lot more.”

Barhorst’s PLEASE acronym is not just about selling a product, it’s about developing the person.

“P is for passion,” Barhorst says. “Are you passionate about the business, about what you are doing? If you’re not, life is too short. Go find something you are passionate about.

“The L is for learning. Are you learning something every day? You have to understand that people should learn from their mistakes and from their successes. So many of us chastise people over failure and you can’t do that.

“The first E is for enthusiasm. Are you enthusiastic? I will tell you this, of all the things that we do, this is the one you can ‘fake it until you make it.’ If you act enthusiastically, you will become enthusiastic. It really is, ‘You reap what you sow’; that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, rooted in enthusiasm.

“The A stands for action. You’ve got to have a bias for action. A great plan poorly executed will never outperform a poor plan greatly executed. That’s all about action. Take action. Some action is better than no action in every case.

“The S stands for skills. Skills is an interesting subject because if you poll or talk to people, they believe that knowledge is what pays the bills. I know a lot of smart librarians who don’t make very much money. In order to convert your learning to a skill, you must take action. There must be physical practice, physical action to convert your knowledge to a skill. Skills are what pay the bills.

The last E is for Educating. Are you taking what you have learned and teaching other people? It could be a customer; it could be a colleague on your team. It could be a peer. It could be a vendor. It could be your child or just a friend. Are you sharing that? “PLEASE is actually a circle or a wheel and you can put whoever you want in the middle. Put the customer in the middle, you can put anything in your life in the middle. All of those concepts will apply to that situation.”

Now in its 19th year, Iscential is a $60 million company with about 100 employees and is a captive hybrid agency representing more than 50 insurance carriers

“Some employees have been here 15 years,” Barhorst says. “You can actually see when we brought people in by the length of time they are with the company. So there are two or three guys with 13, 14 or 15 years of experience.

“Then there’s a bigger group of people with 10 years of experience, and a bigger group of people with five years of experience as the company has grown. That bucket of people stays around. But the bigger thing for me was to see how people have developed, how they have changed over time, to watch them interact at a company function and see how well they like each other.”

How to reach: Iscential, (800) 582-4368 or

The Barhorst File

Born: I was born in Dayton, Ohio. My father worked for Honeywell for 42 years. He grew up in the Cincinnati area, moved to Dayton in probably 1963 or ‘64. We moved to Texas in 1972, and I have lived in five houses in the same neighborhood in Texas.

College: I went to Texas A&M University and studied industrial distribution.

What was your first job?

I probably always had been an entrepreneur. I had a paper route as my first job. I had a pretty good lawn mowing business when I was 12 or 13. My first W-2 paying job was as a busboy in a restaurant called Hickory Hollow. Its claim to fame was the biggest chicken fried steak and baked potatoes in Texas. But the chicken fried steak was kind of a trick. They would take chicken fried steaks, put them on a 25-inch pizza plate together then pour the gravy over them, and it looked like just one giant steak.

What was the best business advice you ever received?

My father-in-law, Ray Highsmith, told me something. I used to worry about outside influences on our business. His advice to me was to just spend very little time worrying about those outside influences. You can’t control them, so just focus on some (that) you can control. It was great advice from him. He is a very dear friend of mine.

Who do you admire in business?

I have a lot of people who I admire; most of them are nonfiction authors because I read a lot, and I admire them because of their creativity, and thought process — that they can come up with an idea: Malcolm Gladwell; Marcus Buckingham; Larry Bossidy, who used to run Honeywell; Jon Gordon and “The Energy Bus.” I look at those people more just because the creative side of them makes me in awe of their skill sets.

What’s your definition of business success?

Happiness. Shawn Achor is an author from Waco, Texas. He went to Harvard and wrote a book called “The Happiness Advantage.” Achor says it best in his book. People try to become successful to get happy, and the reality is happiness drives success. If you’re happy, everything else doesn’t matter.

Published in Houston
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 09:46

Tony Little: Step out to stand out

After a cold winter, a group of kids is lined up alongside the edge of a lake. One kid challenges the next to jump in, but he balks. So does the child next to him, and the one standing on the other side. Each one protests, afraid to jump in what could be icy water.

At last, one boy announces, “I’ll do it!” After taking a deep breath, in he goes. Emerging seconds later with a great big grin on his face, he tells the others, “Hey, it’s not bad at all!” And within moments, the rest of the group dives in after him.

Business is like that, especially business in a poor economy. It can be frightening to stick your neck out, even in the best of times. Yet the current economic environment can actually offer exceptional opportunities for those who are willing to step out, jump in and take on the challenge.

The courage to take on new challenges is one of the most important ingredients to success. Global empires have been built on the concept, and I can honestly say that I owe my own career to it. Furthermore, businesses and individuals are both attracted to a positive attitude. As a leader, if you can project your own energy and passion onto the people who work for you, I promise it will get passed along. It is absolutely contagious, yet something that cannot be faked. If you look at a company like Apple, you’ll see that Steve Jobs’ original vision has permeated into contemporary culture. Of any brand, consumers who purchase Apple products are among the most loyal and passionate.

Without courage and a can-do attitude, potential opportunities can easily be missed, as a leader becomes mired in fear and negativity. Let’s face it, there are always going to be downturns in life and in business. Who are the people and companies best equipped to handle it?  It’s not the ones who feel the storm will never pass, but those who look at it as a chance to do things differently and look at their lives or organizations in new ways.

One day, I was at the office of HoMedics, a company specializing in personal health products. It was in the midst of dealing with the return of 40,000 pillows from a retailer. There was nothing wrong with the product, but the retailer hadn’t struck upon a successful way to sell it. I played with a pillow for a bit and thought, “I can do something with this. I know I can.” I began bubbling with excitement and issued them a challenge: “Let me try selling it on HSN. If I can sell all 40,000 units, I get a percentage of ownership in the pillow.”

Giving up a piece of a product can be tough for any company. But the pillow was underperforming and the management team at HoMedics knew my reputation. My passionate willingness to commit sold them on the idea, and they decided to take a leap of faith along with me. The long and short of it? Both HoMedics and I wound up very happy with our arrangement. I sold out the pillow through my shopping channel appearance, and to date, I’ve succeeded in more than 4 million more.

Not that you should ever proceed recklessly, but it is one thing to be realistic about a given situation and quite another to allow yourself to be paralyzed by it. In any given business situation, you have to do your homework, examine all the facts you’re dealing with, identify all the positives and negatives and then make a decision. If you choose to go for it — whether it’s expanding your production line, buying that piece of property or opening new stores — do so with commitment and enthusiasm.

Yes, it can be frightening staring into the unknown, whether you’re the kid standing at the edge of the water or the businessperson contemplating a move with major financial consequences. But if you step out in faith, armed with a well-thought-out plan, a positive attitude and a focused determination to succeed, you may find that the water’s just perfect.

Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp. Known as “America’s personal trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a near-fatal car accident that nearly took his life, Tony learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Tony is responsible for revolutionizing direct response marketing and television home shopping. Today his company has sold more than $3 billion of product. Contact Tony via his website, or by e-mail at

Published in Florida

Darron Burke’s picture is on the front of every bag of coffee he sells, a testament to the fact that he is always standing behind his product. When Burke launched Café Don Pablo as a specialty coffee roaster in 2004, he spent as many as 10 hours a day on his feet handing out samples of the coffee at Costco and sharing the company’s vision with anyone who would listen. As president and CEO of Café Don Pablo and its parent company, Burke Brands LLC, Burke has doubled the company’s product sales on average every year since. By embracing every opportunity to engage customers in the story and the mission of Café Don Pablo, he spearheaded the company’s tremendous domestic and international growth to $12 million in 2010 revenue.

Smart Business spoke with Burke about how he spreads Café Don Pablo’s mission of quality and value to get buy-in from customers and employees.

How have you set your company apart from competitors?

I wanted to give people an honest deal, and I wanted to produce the best of the best for a very good price. In other words: value. I don’t think that value ever goes out of style. … We wanted to give people a fair deal, a great quality coffee at a fair price. When somebody gets something that’s really special, if the quality of the product is such that it’s outstanding and you can tell that it’s different and better, people tend to want to share that with their friends and family.

Whenever we’re at Costco or Sam’s Club and we’re giving out samples and people walk by with another brand of coffee in their hand, they drink ours. They put theirs away immediately.

How does setting up sampling booths help communicate your value to customers?

We’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money educating the consumer, and it’s worked. I make sure — and this is with everybody I come in contact with that has an interest in the business — I always try to share the vision and direction with them and try to get them to buy into it, because if they do, that just makes us stronger. For the last five years I’ve been standing out there myself on weekends giving out literally 1,000 little 4-ounce cups of coffee to people and giving them my little spiel and telling them why, what sets us apart. We’re the No. 1 selling coffee in Costco, and it’s because of that, because I’ve literally given tens of thousands of people, handed them a cup of coffee personally and told them about our company. There’s a lot of brand equity that’s been built up.

Where does customer feedback come into play?

You try to glean any piece of information that you think is going to be helpful to you. Obviously customers are a wealth of information. All kinds of people write in and give suggestions and it helps quite a bit to see if you are on track. If you screw up a bit, and sometimes we do — maybe you’ll burn a batch of coffee and they’ll put it in a bag instead of throwing it away — we hear it from the customers. So that just helps us to realize that we may have some concerns and we need to address them.

What can a leader do to communicate the vision to employees?

You need buy-in from the people. People have to believe you. You have to be honest and credible and transparent. They have to know that you have their best interests in mind. Everything you do has to be with a win-win mentality. I’ve always tried to put myself into the shoes of the other person, whether it’s somebody that works with us or our customer or our potential customer or vendor. And that I’ve found has helped quite a bit. What I try to do is seek first to understand and then to be understood. If you really get to understand somebody else’s point of view and then work from there, they’ll really appreciate that and they’ll help you achieve your goals.

HOW TO REACH: Burke Brands LLC/Café Don Pablo, (877) 436-6722 or

Published in Florida

Mike Vinton was just venturing into the business world out of high school when he found his vision. There was a catch — he didn’t have any formal education on how to operate a business, much less on being a leader. However, it didn’t stop him.

“I knew at that time, there was no doubt in my mind that was the kind of work I wanted to do,” he says, after a stint on a tennis court project in Michigan inspired him to be a sports contractor.

“When you fall in love with doing something, you will know it,” says Vinton, president of The Vasco Group. “It’s just an overwhelming desire to get up and go do it. And somehow, some way, in spite of any circumstances good or bad, you’re going to make it happen. You become willing to do just about anything.”

Despite the obstacles faced, being relentless and doing the right thing along the way brought rewards. Vasco’s 2010 was the best financial year in its 44-year history.

“If the spark starts to burn inside any man ? if it truly is a passion, a vision ? he will go to just about any length to explore that to make it happen,” Vinton says.

Once illuminated with a vision, the would-be leader would do well to seek out mentors.

“Watch other leaders ? what they are doing, how they act, how they treat people,” he says. “Just try to do what the winners are doing.”

People that are successful usually are willing to share advice.

“The big part is asking for help,” Vinton says. “Once you ask, I’ve found that people want to help. I’ve been blessed in that respect in that people have always taken me under their wing and helped me.

“Mentor other young people that want to be leaders. Read leadership books nonstop, and study leadership styles.

“I heard someone say a long time ago that if you want to keep wisdom and knowledge, you’ve got to give it away. That was always modeled for me and that’s what I try to do as a leader today.”

Pick a mentor that works in a different industry.

“Choose people that you came across in relationships,” Vinton says. “I had a commercial real state developer take me around and show me his properties. We would discuss what a leader would do in certain situations.”

Then as you develop your skills, the time comes for more specific mentoring. In a competitive field, it’s a reality check that no one is going to share tips to a possible competitor. But a suitable alternative can be found through associations. Securing a board position on an industry association puts you in touch with professionals from all over who are open to helping.

“I’ve never had people in the industry help me until I was part of national business organizations that did not include local contractors,” Vinton says. “I got many contacts that way.”

The camaraderie will help develop the principle to treat other people as more important.

“One of the most important leadership principles is servant leadership,” Vinton says. “Learn it, teach it and model it for young leaders that serving people in your area of influence is more important than yourselves. Give others the credit when things go well.

“As a leader, be intuitive and aware of the people around you and make yourself available to them on their time.”

How to reach: The Vasco Group, (800) 487-0422 or

M&A synergy

When it comes to acquiring another company, there are two tips that shouldn’t be overlooked: Be patient, and see that synergy ? when a combination is greater than parts alone ? is a component of the decision.

“Make sure you have synergy between the two companies ? that the company fits with your core competencies,” says Vasco Group President Mike Vinton, whose vision included company expansion into other cities and states.

“Get your key people together and ask, ‘Does this create synergy or does this create division?’ That’s a huge thing in making sure that synergy is a part of it.”

Your management team needs to have complete buy-in that the two companies can work hand-in-hand, each pulling its own weight, with no negative feelings.

As the team gets on board and supports the decision, not just the leader’s edict, negotiations can go forward. Timing is everything in acquisitions.

“Don’t be in a hurry,” Vasco says.

Take your time, and be ready to cancel negotiations if a red flag appears.

“I walked away from a deal once. The fit was not good. Three months later, he called me back and said he was ready to start talking again. We did a deal within a month.”

How to reach: The Vasco Group, (800) 487-0422 or

Published in Akron/Canton
Friday, 05 August 2011 11:54

Passion sells for Tony Little

Think back to when you were a child. When you talked about the future, you probably declared: “When I grow up, I’m going to be a fireman!” Or maybe it was an astronaut, doctor, explorer or possibly a singer, veterinarian or ballplayer. Whatever our ambitions were, we passionately proclaimed our grand aspirations for these careers, not because they were merely jobs but because to us, they sounded fun.

Of course, time passes and a terrible thing happened to many (but not all) of us — we grew up. In time, imagination and youthful exuberance were replaced by controlled behavior and managed expectations, so much the better for functioning in adult society and living a professional life. We may not have realized it while it was occurring, but in doing so, many of us put aside our passion and enthusiasm, as well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famed 19th century poet and philosopher wrote, “Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is due to the triumph of enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever achieved without it.” Roll that around in your mind for a few moments and contemplate how profound yet simple that statement is. Add to that another well-known saying — “enthusiasm is contagious” — and the result is the recipe for greatness.

Most successful businesspeople share a common trait. They love what they do. They have succeeded in taking the same mindset they had as children and applying it to their work. Furthermore, their highest goals are almost always about something more than monetary pursuits. Consider for a moment some of the greatest human endeavors — walking on the moon, climbing the highest mountains, exploring the ocean, finding cures for deadly diseases, even pursuing Olympic medals and sports championships. For those who pursue these extremely lofty goals, the challenge — and the satisfaction — comes from wanting to be the best. They are fueled by a fire that burns from within. By retaining their childlike spirit and passion, these people confront seemingly daunting challenges not with dread but with tremendous enthusiasm combined with a deep sense of purpose.

Of course, not every successful person is necessarily a great leader. The best leaders aren’t just passionate themselves; they are also able to impart their enthusiasm to others. By nature, most people are resistant to changes in the status quo. But a true leader, infused with an individual sense of deep passion, can actually generate a wave of energy to those around them.

Our history books are filled with the names of legendary leaders from all walks of life — sports figures, statesmen, military figures, as well as those from the business world. What elevated them from the rest of the pack was their ability to spread their vision and motivate others to believe in whatever cause they were working toward. More than just selling them on an idea, their deep-seated passion sparked the same feelings inside their followers, making them feel personally inspired to aim toward the same goal. This personal engagement was then passed along to the next person and the next after that. Soon enough, with critical mass achieved, the white-hot flame of belief and passion gave rise to monumental achievements — world record sports performances, decisive military victories and breakthroughs in business.

By recapturing the ambition and enthusiasm we had as children and translating that into our professional goals of today, we can bring new vision and purpose to those goals — not just for ourselves but for our employees, customers and communities. Emerson was right. The bottom line is: With enthusiasm, you truly can attain greatness and change the world.

Tony Little is founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. Known as “America’s personal trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct response marketing and television home shopping. Today, his company has sold more than $3 billion of product. Contact Little via his website,, or by e-mail at

Published in Florida
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 16:44

Passionate purpose

If you could ask your team and yourself only one fundamental question, what would it be? How can we increase revenue and profits? How can we perform better as a team? What are the challenges we are facing? There is a more fundamental question to ask.

Many companies, caught up in the day-to-day activities, lose sight of the purpose and passion behind the company. When I ask many executives what the purpose of their business is, without batting an eyelid, they respond it is to make money.

There are a million ways to make money. What compels you to commit to your specific line of business? If your answer does not relate to your passion, then you may be undermining your success. The most fundamental and searching question you can ask your team and yourself is, ‘Why are you passionate about this business?’

Many companies consider themselves purpose-driven. It isn’t sufficient to have a purpose. You must be passionate about that purpose. A company’s mission statement must capture its passion and purpose. The mission must create a strong and clear sense of commitment, serving as an invitation for people to join the bandwagon. Those who subscribe to the mission, join the company, and those who don’t, join a different bandwagon. Having a team that is passionate about the mission can be the difference between mediocre and superior performance.

Let’s look at two mission statements:

1: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

2: “As we strive to become Earth’s most customer-centric company, we constantly look for new ways to innovate on behalf of our different customers: individuals who shop our global websites, merchants who sell on our platform … and creators of the books, music, films, games and other content we sell through our websites. Our greatest contribution to the good of society comes directly from these core business activities.”

If you couldn’t guess, the first mission statement is Google’s, and the second is Amazon’s. Google’s passion to organize the world’s massive information is evident in its actions and its name — derived from the mathematical term googol (a one followed by a hundred zeros). Amazon, too, is passionate about its mission.

Larger and older companies are often at a greater risk of losing sight of their passion. They become mechanical entities driven by the sole need to live up to Wall Street expectations. They lack the spark — lack the spirit — and can find themselves left behind in the marketplace by new startup companies that are committed and passionate about their product or service. Spirited companies are more likely to create the “magic.”

The mission statement isn’t just a feel-good statement or artwork for the office walls to impress visitors. The mission must drive the company’s thinking and actions. A passionate mission alone won’t deliver success. You do have to execute your strategy well, but a strong and specific mission will become the fuel for your engine.

At my speaking engagements, I sometimes ask audience members to share their passion. At one event, a business owner shared her story. When her father passed away, the funeral home treated her family as second-class customers, because the family wanted to cremate her father as opposed to bury him. Not wanting others to suffer the same indignity, she started a funeral home business. The passion to take care of others during their difficult times drives her. It is this conviction that makes her business special and successful.

Rediscover your passion.

Ravi Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting, executive coaching firm. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “Coherent Strategy and Execution: An Eye-opening Parable about Transforming Leadership and Management Perspectives.” To contact Kathuria, please call (281) 403-0250 or visit

Published in Houston