Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

Trust, but verify

The playwright Oscar Wilde wrote, “A cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” By nature, most successful business executives tend to be more optimists than cynical naysayers.

The leaders who are the best of the best, however, have an internal mechanism that allows them to dream, dare and do while simultaneously knowing to challenge and question. The good leaders probably possess a yet undiscovered gene that automatically flashes a yellow warning sign in the back of their heads reading “trust, but verify,” when they’re introduced to the unproven or unknown. Experience, judgment and wisdom are the tools needed to distinguish between dismissing an idea as flaky and accepting it at face value.

Case in point is the now infamous Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi-practitioner extraordinaire, who also had a bit of Houdini in him because he could touch a dollar and make it instantly disappear. His signature pièce de résistance was the vanishing act of putting other people’s dollars in his own pocket by using a sleight-of-hand maneuver, most likely in the form of a glib smile and nifty software program. The software produced a faux monthly statement that recapped the bogus previous 30 days’ perennial successful results. This led trusting investors to believe they could sleep soundly thinking that their money was not only safe but also growing exponentially.

This garden-variety swindler, who makes the Wild West bandit Jesse James look like a saint in comparison, certainly did not discriminate. Reportedly, he purloined more than $50 billion from supposedly savvy fund managers to unsuspecting charities with no doubt a few widows and orphans sprinkled in for good measure.

How could this have happened? First, people wanted to believe. Secondly, most of us have an innate desire to be associated with winners. However, eventually, we all learn the cold reality that if it is too good to be true, then more than likely, it is too good to be true. Worst of all, some professional “money managers” turned over unimaginably huge sums to this Ponzi artist without apparently doing their own due diligence, which is not only an ethical prerequisite but also an exercise demanded by common sense if not common law. Had the unsuspected subscribed to the principle of “trust, but verify,” this scheme would have failed. Instead, decades passed before the genie was out of the bottle, and it took the biggest stock market disaster since the Great Depression to defrock this con man.

How can executives learn from this debacle and translate the concept of “trust, but verify” into a safety net to protect the enterprise without dampening creativity and enthusiasm that could lead to the next great business success?

Every stockbroker must learn the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Rule 405, which is “know your customer.” This same requirement must apply to businesses. At a very minimum, have a sense of whom you are dealing with. Is it coming from a trusted peer or subordinate or the nephew of your brother-in-law’s barber? The best bets are made on those who have done it before and have done it successfully. Some call these habitual achievers “serial entrepreneurs,” but they also can be innovators who toil down the hall from you and constantly deliver on promises and concepts. Good leadership requires the discipline to hear out a proposal yet employ finely tuned instincts and cunning, sometimes indelicately referred to as the “smell test.”

Sniffing out the nuances of the real story to discover hyperbole or worse takes discipline and patience. Once the answers sort of make sense, move to phase two by doing some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations and research to determine if there is at least a snowball’s chance that whatever is being proposed won’t melt away as soon as your check clears the bank.

Finally, talk to others who may have tried something even remotely similar to what has been proposed. You’ll be amazed at what complete strangers and even tangential competitors will tell you when you simply pick up the phone and ask.

To build, grow and succeed, every organization needs a constant inflow of new ideas, be it products, services or a better way to skin that proverbial cat. Somewhere between an optimist and a cynic is a realist who always knows the difference between a quacking duck and a striped zebra.

MICHAEL FEUER co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money during a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling it for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003 to Boise Cascade Corp. Feuer is CEO of Max-Ventures, a retail venture capital/consulting firm, and co-founder and co-CEO of Max-Wellness, a new health care product retail chain concept that is launching in 2009. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-ventures.com.

Published in National
Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

Direct involvement

At one of our recent events, Steve Demetriou told our audience that if he is spending a lot of time with his direct reports, then he has the wrong people in those positions.

Demetriou, chairman and CEO of Aleris International Inc., a $5 billion metals company, really struck a chord with that comment. While it may seem that the role of the CEO should be to spend a lot of time with his or her direct reports, that’s not really the case.

If you are spending a lot of time managing your management team, who’s working on the major strategic issues facing the company?

It’s always tempting to jump into the fray and solve day-to-day problems, particularly in the parts of the business where you have a lot of experience. If you came up through the ranks on the sales side, there will always be the temptation to meddle with sales and get things done the way you used to do them. But now you have someone else that’s in charge of that function, and you need to let that person do it his or her way.

There’s always a time and place for the CEO to get involved in the details, but these opportunities need to be chosen carefully and should produce maximum results.

This goes back to Demetriou’s comment. If you are spending a lot of time with a particular department head to straighten things out, then you probably have the wrong person running that department. Short-term fixes are fine, but if it’s a regular occurrence, you need to think twice about what is going on.

You also have to give your key people the wiggle room to get the job done. Give them the parameters in which to operate, then get out of their way.

The great American general George S. Patton is credited with saying, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” Sure, you hold them accountable for results, but if you find the right people to begin with, then you don’t need to be managing how they manage others. CEOs have their own role to play within the organization.

Some like to spend more time with their front-line people — who are closer to customers — to stay current on trends and specific needs. Some like to talk to customers directly to make sure the product and service offerings are relevant in a changing market. Others like to tweak long-term plans and spend time refining the corporate vision.

The point is, no matter how you prefer to be spending your time, if you have the right people in your key positions, then you will have more time to focus on the things that are most important for the long-term success of your company.

So if you find yourself spending a lot of face time with your direct reports, you have to ask yourself two questions: Am I micromanaging these people? And, is this the right person for the job?

If the answer to the first question is yes, then it’s a matter of trusting them with the responsibility and the authority to get the job done — and hold them accountable to that. If you aren’t micro-managing them but you’re still spending a lot of time with them fixing problems, then it might be time for evaluating whether you have the right people in your most important positions.

Ultimately, if you’re having to do their jobs, then who is doing yours?

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Published in National
Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

Determine your destiny

“I can’t believe this has happened to me,” said Steve, a young man whom I had been mentoring. “I never intended for my boss to find out this way,” he said with real anguish as we sat in my office late one night.

For several months, Steve had been questioning whether his current job was still a good fit. He had an important position, as well as a supportive relationship with his manager, who had invested heavily in him during the past two years. Steve’s loyalty to his manager had him torn about whether to explore other opportunities within his company.

In our last meeting, Steve decided that his intention was to stay in his current job and that if he chose to explore other positions in the future, he would first discuss it with his manager because of his loyalty to her. At least, that was the plan.

But in the weeks that had passed since that meeting, Steve began to have casual conversations about a position in another group at his company. As his interest grew, he sought out several people in that group and asked them to quietly recommend him to their manager. Steve also recruited a friend outside of work who knew the manager to send a recommendation, along with a copy of his resume.

It wasn’t surprising that all of Steve’s actions became known when the manager of the other group eventually called Steve’s current manager. It also wasn’t surprising that Steve’s current manager felt betrayed, not by Steve’s interest in the position, but by the way he had chosen to approach it.

The only real surprise was Steve’s sincere astonishment as he said over and over, “I can’t believe this has happened to me.” I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him. It was obvious that Steve’s actions had made this outcome inevitable from the moment he began discussing the new position. Now, he sat in my office knowing that, at best, he had damaged an important relationship and, at worst, may have lost his job.

Have you ever experienced an outcome that was radically different than what you intended?

With every action you take, you define the path of your life. And every path has a trajectory toward a certain outcome. While it’s important to know what you really want — in essence, to have a clear destination — it’s far more important to ensure that the path you’re on will take you there.

If you want to become a trusted and respected leader in your team at work, examine your path. Are you completing every assignment with real excellence? Do you support and encourage the people on your team who are struggling? Can your teammates trust you?

If you want to become a loving and engaged parent or spouse, examine your path. Do you create time every week for the people who matter most? Do you regularly tell them how much they mean to you? Are you there when they need help?

It’s easy to focus on the illusion of who you intend to be and to miss the reality that the choices you’re making every day are leading to a completely different outcome. Like a person who talks of driving north while consistently heading south, if you’re not careful, you will trade in what you want most in life for what you choose to do in each moment.

Make a list today of the five most important things you want to become, such as a thoughtful spouse, a trusted friend or a successful leader. Now, beside each item, write five actions you took in the last week that are helping to create this outcome. Complete the exercise by listing any actions that took you away from these outcomes.

If you’re honest with yourself, the results of this simple exercise will show you the path you’re on and where you need to change.

In the end, it’s your actions, not your intentions, that determine your destiny. Choosing actions that align with your intentions will enable you to become the person you want to be and to create a life that is truly extraordinary.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the third year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Published in National

Most things start with a plan. In “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers sang, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run” — which is practical advice applicable to business and, specifically, to planning. Introducing a new product or service or starting a company, takes a huge amount of thought and copious compilation of facts, figures, strategy and tactics.

Other plans, such as making it through a bad day, may simply require keeping your head down, your mouth shut and minding your own troubles rather than playing the under-appreciated and unwanted white knight bent on solving other people’s problems.

The “if” in any plan is, will it ultimately produce the desired results? Experience can be a bitter teacher, but anyone who has devised a plan from scratch knows that an initial plan doesn’t always play out as expected.

That is not a big deal and, in fact, can be a positive, as it requires the initiator to refine, tweak and nurture the plan until all the viable elements fall into place. A good plan should really be designed as a work in progress so that it can build, change and take on different shapes and directions as it matures.

Some of the best plans mushroom into something completely different from the initial objective. As the plan is vetted, many times a new and improved concept emerges.

On the flip side, corporate America is littered with plans that started with lofty objectives but during the embryonic stages became cast in concrete as the creators and implementers fell in love with their idea and were unwilling to deviate from their plan. Instead of succeeding, they failed because they lacked the creativity to recognize alternatives.

So how do you know when to hang tough and when to take a different direction? That depends on circumstances and on what you discover along the way. For example, if you are negotiating an employment agreement and the prospective employee wants a higher salary than you can afford to pay, it is time to go to Plan B.

Instead of additional monthly compensation, you could come up with a bonus plan based on reaching specified goals that are higher than you would have originally required. Instead of telling the candidate to take a hike, you offer a more creative solution via Plan B, which provides for a bonus on top of a bonus if specific incremental objectives are reached. The beauty of this is that it probably won’t cost you any more because the results will more than make up the difference of what you needed to make the deal work.

Another example would be in the purchase of high-priced equipment. If the seller balks at the price you offer to pay, you could come back with a creative solution that provides incentive payments after a specified time if the equipment produces better results than the predetermined targets.

This concept of integrating Plan A and Plan B into every major undertaking is limited only by your imagination. The key is that you can still get what you want at the price you want to pay, while giving the other side something in return.

If you had read the business plan created in 1988 for my company, complete with the obligatory long-term goals and objectives, and compared that with where we landed a few years later, the only commonality was that we were still in the retail business. The original plan called for 100 OfficeMax stores primarily in the Midwest, and instead, we grew to 1,000 stores on three continents.

What we expect to take place rarely happens exactly as anticipated. Our saving grace was that even though we always had Plan A, we used it primarily as a guide rather than making it sacrosanct. More often than not, we used Plan B or C or D when it became clear that there was simply a better way to do whatever needed to be done.

Like most start-ups, we never had enough money, time or resources. We quickly realized that the secret to winning was to be focused but also very flexible. Our battle cry was “carpe diem” — seize the day.

Clear winners in business today are those who have both a Plan A and a Plan B in their arsenal and can move from mind to market faster than their competition. Business is a marathon, not a sprint.

However, if you fall into bad habits and follow the ruinous practice of wearing blinders, you’ll spend most of your time planning how to make it through the day and keeping one step ahead of failure, leaving your company mired in mediocrity and always playing catch-up.

MICHAEL FEUER is co-founder of OfficeMax, which he started in 1988 with one store and $20,000 of his own money, along with a then-partner and group of private investors. During 16 years as CEO, he grew the company to almost 1,000 stores with sales approximating $5 billion before selling it for almost $1.5 billion in 2003 to Boise Cascade Corp. In 2004, Feuer launched another start-up, Max-Ventures, a venture capital operating firm that focuses on buying control and/or making substantial investments in retail-oriented businesses and businesses that serve retail. Reach Feuer with comments at mfeuer@max-ventures.com.

Published in National
Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Creating your own crisis?

I was already late when I left the office heading for the airport. My flight was the last one of the day that would enable me to have dinner with an important client in a distant city, and I had to make it.

Driving well above the speed limit, I could feel my hands tighten around the steering wheel. My pulse was throbbing in my temples as the stress of the possibility of missing my flight began to rise. When another driver attempted to cross over into my lane, I accelerated to close the gap between my car and the one in front of me, blocking him out.

Speeding around a curve in the highway, I suddenly saw a sea of red brake lights ahead, forcing me to a complete stop. Soon, I heard sirens and saw the flashing lights of two ambulances racing down the shoulder of the highway.

When I finally reached the accident, it was a vision of total devastation. One car was overturned, and several others lay crumpled at odd angles, while emergency personnel hurried from one injured person to another.

Staring in shock at this terrible tragedy, I witnessed a scene I had experienced many times on television but never in reality. Barely 20 feet in front of me, two emergency workers lifted the body of a man and placed him into a long, white bag. They pulled the zipper from foot to head with a slowness that seemed almost reverent, closing the body within it, and closing the journey of a life.

Even as the shrill command of a policeman’s whistle forced me to drive on, I knew that image would stay with me forever.

Had the man in that bag been in a hurry, just as I had? Was he driving too fast, dialing his cell phone or mentally distracted by a problem at work when his last moment occurred? I’ll never know. But I will always suspect that it was the same frenzied pace that I felt — the same urgent need to hurry — that created the devastation on that highway. Except for a few minutes’ difference in time, and the miracle of grace, the man in that bag could have been me.

Are you always hurrying through your life? Is your pace so urgent that you become angry at the smallest delay, such as a lengthy traffic light or a customer in front of you counting out exact change to pay? If so, then here are two questions you should consider.

Are you creating your own crisis? On that day, making my flight was so urgent that I felt compelled to drive dangerously, but it was a crisis I had made myself by squeezing in one additional meeting before I left. Today, I can’t even remember what that meeting was about, but the urgency it created could have cost me my life.

Instead, why not plan adequate time for the things you need to do and leave a small buffer between commitments for the unexpected? As radical as this may sound, you will actually get more done by remaining in a calmer, more focused state than you will by rushing frantically from commitment to commitment.

Are you always distracted? Constant multitasking only creates the illusion of productivity, not the results, while adding extra stress.

I recently received a call from a colleague about a complex financial spreadsheet. In the background, I could hear the sounds of a crowd cheering. When I asked, he told me he was at his daughter’s soccer game and how important it was to her that he was there to watch her play.

I realized this man was sitting in the stands with his laptop open, discussing an issue on his cell phone, while believing he was fulfilling an important commitment to his child. The sad truth was that both his work and his daughter received less than his best that day.

The commitments you make and the people to whom you make them are essential elements in creating the life you want to live. Slow down enough to give them the time and the undivided focus they deserve, and you will find that both your work and your relationships reach a new level of success and fulfillment.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Published in National
Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

Job vs. life

The headline in the newspaper instantly drew my attention to the article below it.

Less than 24 hours ago, a prominent local attorney had taken his life. I had known Bob casually through professional associations and a few deals between our companies. He was very competent; I remembered how detailed he was in the negotiations we had conducted.

As I read on, I learned that he had a wife and two children, now left behind in the horrific wake of his actions the day before. Over the next few weeks, Bob’s suicide was the topic of much discussion, and through friends and contacts, I learned what had happened. Bob had been working on a very large deal, one that would merge his company with a competitor, creating a dominant player in the market. For almost a year, the merger had been his sole focus, and he had worked as many as 100 hours each week, even sleeping some nights in his office.

At the final hour, the other company decided to abort the merger. No one knew that when Bob left the office that day, he would never return. Distraught, disillusioned, hopeless — all of these emotions must have overwhelmed him, and in the end, he took his own life.

Bob’s story had a profound impact on me. Somehow, he had allowed the circumstances of his job to become so important that when they failed, he felt his life was over. It was a mistake I was determined to avoid, in my own life and in the lives of everyone I could influence.

Are your responsibilities overwhelming you? Everyone is being asked to do more today than they were a few years ago and often with fewer resources. While you need to stretch and grow to be successful, there is also a point where the impossibility of your workload can overwhelm you.

Instead of becoming immobilized, take control by making an inventory of everything you’re working on, then take note of the deadlines, the level of effort required and the resources you will need to be successful. Use this inventory to realistically assess what you can do, then start to let others know where you need help. The risk you may feel in stating that you can’t do it all is far less than the risk you’re taking both personally and professionally by trying and then failing.

Are you secretly afraid you’re not qualified? Anyone with significant responsibilities has at least once had the fear that he or she isn’t smart enough or talented enough to meet the demands of the role.

As soon as you have this feeling, your next fear is that someone will find out. It’s a natural reaction and one that, if left to grow, will undermine your energy and your confidence. The antidote to this fear is disclosure.

When I first became a CEO, I reviewed financial reports that I didn’t always understand. And although I needed to understand them, I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t for fear that I wouldn’t seem qualified. As soon as I asked for help, others were happy to give it, and a fear that might have disabled me was relieved.

Is there no room in your schedule for your life? Take a look at the week ahead and pretend it’s the calendar of a stranger. What can you conclude about the life it reveals?

Is there time designated for a family event such as a ballgame or a movie? Are there entries for dinner or buying a special gift for a spouse or partner? What about time for exercise, prayer or lunch with a friend? The absence of items such as these is an early warning sign of exhaustion and burnout.

Although several years have now passed, I still wonder what might have happened if Bob had asked and answered questions such as these. Unfortunately, I will never know.

But if he could speak to us now, I believe he would say something like this: “Dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to your work, but never allow your job to become bigger than your life.”

I hope we’re all listening.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resource Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Published in National
Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Friends in need

The bigger your business gets, the more attention you will attract. Bigger suppliers become interested in doing business with you, and bigger customers start to take notice. But you also will get attention from the aspiring businessperson, the one who runs a small operation but isn’t doing as well as he or she could be doing.

These people are attracted to you because you’re obviously doing something right. They’ll approach you looking for advice, business, money, referrals or all four.

Your first reaction may be to send them packing because you don’t have the time or the patience. But maybe you should take the time to hear them out.

Odds are, somewhere along your climb to success, someone helped you out in some way. Maybe it’s time you did the same by doing your part to help improve the local business climate.

Before you jump in to help, make sure you are in a position to do so. Don’t try to help someone if you need help yourself.

People are typically looking for one or more of the following.

  1. Advice. Sometimes all people really need is guidance from someone who knows more than they do or a push in the right direction. In this case, you’re just sharing the wisdom you’ve gained during your own growth process.

  2. Business. Often people are looking for you to do business with them. They have a product or service they think your successful company might benefit from. Give them a chance. Maybe they can provide a better price or service than your current supplier. A little business thrown their way can really make the difference between survival and failure.

  3. Referrals. If you can’t use their particular product or service, they may want you to refer friends and colleagues their way. If you trust they’ll do a good job, refer someone to them.

  4. Money. Depending on your relationship with the person, you may be comfortable loaning him or her money directly, bartering services or even taking some sort of ownership stake in return for cash. Be cautious about lending someone money, but if you believe in this person and his or her business, then it may be worth the risk.

There are many ways to help another business, but never offer to help someone who isn’t asking, because doing so can offend that person. Those who ask are already showing leadership by admitting they don’t have all the answers, so why not consider hearing what they have to say and seeing if you can lend them a helping hand.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at fkoury@sbnonline.com or (800) 988-4726.

Published in National
Wednesday, 21 July 2004 11:19

Due credit

Have you checked your credit rating lately?

Never assume that your personal or business credit is accurate. These reports are often plagued with errors and inconsistencies, which can affect your overall credit rating and, ultimately, the rates you pay on your loans, costing you money. A bad credit rating can also prevent you from getting the loans your business may desperately need to grow.

The power the big three credit reporting agencies -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- have over your personal and business life is potentially disastrous. Will you miss out on your dream house because an error on your credit report delayed your financing? Will an error on your business credit report cause you to pay higher interest rates than you should and cut into your cash flow as a result?

These agencies need to be held to a much higher standard than they are currently, especially considering their past actions. In 2000, the Federal Trade Commission fined the three agencies a combined $2.5 million because they weren't complying with provisions in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, namely the requirement that they maintain a toll-free number to allow consumers to challenge mistakes on their credit reports.

Equifax and TransUnion were even accused of blocking certain calls based on area code.

If you want to see your report, you have the privilege of paying the companies around $10 just to see what they have reported about you before you can even start correcting the problem. A new law requires that by Sept. 1, 2005, everyone will be entitled to one free credit report annually, which is a step in the right direction, but not enough.

The credit reporting agencies take a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach with consumers and businesses, and that's unacceptable. The burden of proof should be on them to prove a negative remark before it's ever posted to your report. You shouldn't have make sure the information they built their business on and profit from is accurate -- that's their job, not ours.

In a country built on capitalism, credit reports wield a great deal of power. Those who profit from generating those reports should be held more responsible for making sure everything in them is 100 percent accurate. There is too much at stake to expect anything less.

If you would like to see action taken on this cause so that laws are changed, please contact us.

To learn more about credit reports, credit scoring and how to obtain your report, go to www.myvesta.org, a nonprofit consumer education organization or www.ftc.gov.

Published in Akron/Canton
Friday, 02 April 2004 04:40

The art of negotiating

Everyone wants a good deal, but at what cost?

We should all be striving to create win-win relationships, but unfortunately, some people are only interested in themselves. A win-win relationship makes you and your client happy, leading to a long-term relationship.

I believe in the old adage that what comes around goes around. People who are out for themselves will always end up in a win-lose relationship that will eventually turn into a lose-lose relationship.

In business, we negotiate every day. Some thrive on it and others avoid it at all costs, seeing it as potential conflict. Don't look at it as conflict, but as communication.

Here are five keys to ensuring a win-win relationship.

1. Patience. Good things come to those who wait. In business, we want it and want it now, but a win-win relationship doesn't come easy. It takes time, and if you strive to do your part, the rest will fall into place.

2. Research. It's important to be knowledgeable about the subject matter. Learn about the person and his or her business needs before going in. The more you know, the better you'll be able to focus on the issues.

3. Vision. Don't only look at it from your own viewpoint. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Try to see the issues from their perspective, and you might be able to work out a better deal for everyone.

4. Partnership. You can put magnets together two different ways: One way they will come together naturally, the other way takes force. Force never works. If you encounter resistance, you may need to approach the problem in a different way.

5. Gratitude. Show gratitude regardless of what side of the negotiations you are on. When other people see this, they will want to go out of their way to make you happy.

Past relationships may not have not ended as win-win. Take a few minutes and send letters to these people to let them know you'd like to restore the relationship when they are ready.

They might be hurting your business without you realizing it. This gesture will go a long way.

Published in Akron/Canton
Wednesday, 28 December 2005 05:57

Taking control of your life

Desert nomads have an ancient teaching: Trust Allah, but tie your camel. They know that crossing the desert requires real faith, for there will be violent wind storms, long days filled with the burning rays of the sun and those mystical visions of oases that vanish when you reach them. Each successful desert journey is a small miracle and the traveler who survives must rely on faith to see it through.

The desert people also know that camels have minds of their own. Unlike dogs that can be trained to stay, camels wander wherever they please. Unless they are tied, a surprised traveler can awaken to the reality of completing the journey on foot, and even the strongest faith will not sustain one who is dying of thirst in an ocean of sand.

The business of life is often like a desert crossing. There are many circumstances beyond our control: economies that rise or fall, jobs that are offered or taken away, promises that are kept or broken. In the face of these uncontrollable possibilities, it is only our faith that sustains us and enables us to go on.

But, like the desert traveler, faith alone is not enough for a successful journey. We must also do those things that represent our part of the process. In business, we must plan and execute with excellence. In relationships, we must invest our time, energy and passion in those we care about. We must remember to tie our camels.

When our journey to success goes off track, it’s easy to blame other people and all the forces beyond our control for not having obtained what we most wanted. Too often, we waste our energy recounting how we became victims of the challenges we faced. But if we look closely and honestly, we can usually see the small choices, the seemingly insignificant responsibilities we neglected along the way.

Have you been denied a promotion or some recognition that you feel you deserve? Did you miss the deadline or the sale that you were certain you would make? Did you depend on the constancy of a relationship that proved unfaithful?

Instead of focusing on the outcome, look back across the steps that led to it. Can you remember the moment when you first veered from the result you wanted? When you said something that wasn’t completely true or decided to avoid a problem rather than confronting it? When you lost your passion and began faking so no one would know?

If you look deeply, you can not only remember the moment, but you can also remember that it felt wrong, that you had a chance, right then and there, to retrace your steps and get back on track. But the moment passed, and if you didn’t act, the awareness of your shift in direction was lost.

Often, it’s only when we arrive at a painful outcome that we look back and see how that first choice, and each successive choice after it, brought us to where we are now. Even if our journey included a significant event or action by another person that truly was out of our control, we still had a choice in how we responded and even how we felt.

Ultimately, it is our choices that determine virtually every aspect of our life. Choices that are consistent with our vision create the life we want. Choices that are aligned with our beliefs create a strong and visible character. And when unfortunate events occur, choosing patience and forgiveness makes our faith a reality.

Far more than the influence of any external force, our choices create the life we experience. Accepting this is the first step in taking control of the direction of our lives. When we combine faith and faithfulness, balancing our vision with the choices that are ours alone to make, we can create the life we were born to live.

Be a person of great faith, but be sure to tie your camel.

Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that was recently recognized as one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work For in America by the Great Place to Work Institute. Contact Huling at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com or (770) 677-2400.

Published in Atlanta