Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Effective leadership

As leaders, we understand that our actions, whether good, bad, positive or negative, are being continually examined. Our job as leaders is to create a vision, develop and execute strategic plans, define goals, and set objectives aimed at creating excellence through products and services that address the needs of the customers and markets we serve.

Accomplishing these tasks cannot be done in a vacuum; a team of highly skilled and dedicated leaders is needed to accomplish these goals. CEOs and business owners are constantly challenged to seek out the talent needed to build an effective leadership team. Though difficult, it is paramount to find talent that has a keen understanding of your organization’s market, vision, mission and objectives.

Building a team of talented leaders that share similar capabilities, traits, ambitions, and that are qualified to lead an organization is one thing, but getting this group to function together to lead a business effectively and efficiently requires special attention.

It is vital to have a leadership team that consists not only of highly skilled, functional leaders but also those who possess the ability to understand the broader picture. Members of this team must be willing to contribute, provide productive opinions and work as a team to reach consensus, and then collectively execute these decisions throughout the organization.

Leading strong leaders requires managing egos, resolving conflicts, balancing power and integrating opinions in a way that ultimately fosters a team that is aligned with your organization’s vision, goals and objectives.

Reflect for a minute on the qualities that have brought you to your leadership position. You are a visionary and you’re high on confidence. You likely have charisma and years of experience. You have a wealth of important contacts and you are a person that most would consider to be “plugged in.”

Now assume that those in your organization, technically your subordinates, share many of those same qualities that you possess. The possibility and likelihood of friction in these relationships is high if you don’t manage these relationships carefully.

Below are some action steps to take to enhance your leadership within your organization.

1. Set the expectation that leaders actually lead, be accountable, take risks and don’t wait for direction. If those around you are not willing to do the same, then maybe it’s time to make a change.

2. Spend quality time with leaders individually to understand their views on their role and their vision of how their functional area contributes to the mission of the organization. Are they thinking big, stretching their direct reports and delivering the results you expect?

3. Challenge the team and individuals to stretch their thinking and share their “big ideas.” Be clear and concise. Put things into context so they understand the meaning and possible outcomes of decisions.

4. Set clear expectations of leaders and the leadership team. Expect individuals to know the overall business and be able to separate themselves from their functional role and contribute to the enterprise by tackling complex issues.

5. Mandate open and frank dialogue between leaders while reiterating that these discussions remain confidential.

6. Expand their role by asking them to contribute by taking lead roles on enterprisewide matters.

7. Allow leaders to lead so they own their actions and decisions. It is your responsibility to identify and select high-quality talent with the knowledge and experience needed in order to contribute to the organization.

These steps are the beginning to a harmonious relationship with your top team members. Remember, the goal is the respect that you earn along the journey, not friendships or three people to round out a great foursome on the links. Your energy, vision, determination and drive are the active ingredients in leading by example. ?

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

Published in Columnist
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Focus on the critical few

As businesspeople and business leaders, we have full plates. Whether it’s balancing work, home, community, social obligations, aggressive business targets, strategic initiatives to sponsor/support/implement, unwelcome external influences, or customers expecting more for less, prioritizing all of that can be a daunting challenge.

Prioritize and focus are the business vernacular terms we always hear. We smile grimly, mutter “uh huh,” and return to our overwhelming pressure cooker without changing a thing about what we do or how we are approaching our work.

But those words really are the key to managing our crazy world of over-commitment and under-capacity — when combined with two more words: critical few. Prioritizing and focusing on the critical few results, products and people who truly matter more than others is job No. 1 for executives.

How to look at it

The facts: You have a critical few customers, without whom your business would dramatically suffer. Ensure that your organization serves those customers disproportionately well. That does not mean ignore the others; ideally, all customers would be served flawlessly.

You have a critical few products/offerings that make up the 80 percent in the 80/20 of your business. Ensure you get them flawlessly right. Your brand is set by those core products or services. If you get it wrong there, the rest may not matter.

You have a critical few employees/direct reports who play a disproportionately impactful role in the success of your business. Your time should reflect that understanding. It doesn’t mean ignore everyone else; it simply means that you cannot leave to chance that your key people are sufficiently directed, motivated, feeling challenged by their work and appreciated.

They are people you can build the rest of the organization around. You’ve got to get it right with these folks above all others and then rely on their help to reinforce and motivate the rest of the organization.

Optimize and organize

So clearly, identifying your critical few customers, products and people is job No. 1 for results. How do you optimize your short list of the critical few? Simply answer these three questions:

?  What are the critical business results you need to deliver?

?  Who are the key performers who will deliver those results?

?  What are the critical few behaviors that your key performers must do?

That reads like common sense, and it is. But achieving it isn’t so simple.

Don’t forget reliability

You know your critical results and key performers right now, but what about those all-important critical few behaviors that people must do to make it work? If people don’t do the right things, you won’t get results.

Many initiatives are designed to get those critical few behaviors to occur — behaviors that we think should automatically happen, but they don’t. How do we get people to do the right things reliably?

It’s not about making people happier at work. Many happy workplaces go belly-up. It’s easy to be distracted by things that create fun and do little to improve performance.

It comes down to (1) pinpointing those actions, which if performed reliably, will move the needle for your organization and (2) ensuring there are reinforcing consequences for those critical few behaviors and corrective consequences for behaviors inconsistent with what you need. That alignment is necessary, and it is often overlooked.

So in a nutshell: Ensure focus on the critical few results, people and behaviors. Don’t allow yourself or your organization to be distracted. Without the critical few happening well, you will spend many more hours fixing things than growing your business. ?

Published in Columnist
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Emotions are contagious

Long work hours, heightened competition, demands for efficiency, and new laws and regulations are all challenges faced by executive leaders today. It often feels like we’re running up the down escalator — constantly in motion, exerting excessive energy with our adrenaline pumping just to get through a normal day.

After awhile, the demands take their toll. In addition to serious potential health consequences — including heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. — stress has behavioral side effects, making us anxious or depressed.

The result of that chronic stress can severely compromise our ability to lead. It affects not only each of us personally but also the teams we lead and the organizations we run. When we acknowledge the power we have over our people and businesses, this subject takes on real urgency.

Check your emotions

Emotions are contagious, so as leaders we need to be vigilant about the emotions we’re passing on to those around us. Are you carrying fear and stress to those around you?

Imagine different scenarios: a boss who responds to stress and fear by acting aggressively toward employees and becoming overcontrolling, a leader who appears calm but buries his head in the sand, or a leader who remains calm and responsive.

The first two will create fearful, stressed out or frustrated employees whose performance is stunted or paralyzed, while the latter creates an atmosphere of trust and confidence, where people are encouraged to act. Where would you rather work?

We can start by paying attention to the emotions we’re passing on to others and honestly assessing whether we’re contributing to their productivity or inhibiting it. If it’s the latter, we have to find ways to defuse our stress — through exercise, relaxation or levity — and avoid taking it out on those around us.

Be honest

The ability to speak openly and honestly is a critical leadership behavior. If a team member isn’t performing up to par, avoiding a conversation only increases ineffectiveness and raises anxiety.

When we find the courage to have honest conversations, we create a climate of transparency and openness — necessary elements of healthy and productive workplaces.

At the same time, we relieve stress and anxiety by being proactive and confronting tough situations head on.

Stay connected

Being connected through devices means we’re always available.

But are we? Being available to everyone all the time can leave us unavailable at any one time. It’s hard to focus on the conversation you’re in when you’re constantly ready to respond to the outside world.

We can enhance our leadership by demonstrating that we’re present and connected in the moment, in face-to-face conversations. Those human interactions make us better leaders and reduce stress.

Be open to learning

A hallmark of effective leadership is openness to learning. Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock,” said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

As leaders, we’re besieged by information, and the contexts in which we work are changing daily. That’s why it’s more important than ever to be not only willing to learn but eager to learn as well.

Emotions are like an on-off switch to learning. If you’re resistant and fearful, you’re in “off” mode, and it will be nearly impossible to learn. If you face new situations as opportunities for growth with an attitude of willingness and curiosity, you get turned “on.”

Our leadership ability is directly correlated to our openness to learning. Once you’re “on,” learning isn’t a source of stress and anxiety but is a source of energy and creativity. ?

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Who wants a dream that's near-fetched?

Steve Jobs was credited with inspiring Apple’s trademark advertising campaign challenging each of us to “think differently.” But how does one go about thinking differently? Since founding the Alliance of Chief Executives in 1996, I have passionately studied and experimented with how CEOs can generate breakthrough ideas — which are the most visible examples of thinking differently.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Marty Neumeier who in 2003 launched a think tank called Neutron to merge design thinking with business management. He’s written three best-sellers, but his newest book, “MetaSkills: Five Talents for the Robotic Age” suggests that we are entering a new age in which the “left-brain” skills of the industrial age, while still very important, will be surpassed by the “right brain” skills of creativity, sensing and learning.

As computing advances have made information immediately and almost totally accessible, Neumeier believes that we must develop the ability to cultivate five “metaskills” if we are to reshape the world.


The ability to draw on human emotion for intuition, aesthetics and empathy is a talent that’s becoming more and more vital. It’s the ability to connect deeply with people through vicarious imagination or “putting yourself in another person’s shoes.”


Integrative thinkers don’t break a problem into separate pieces and work on them one by one. Instead, they see the entire architecture of the problem — how the various parts fit together and how one decision affects another. By resolving the tensions that launched the problem, they can craft a holistic solution, which often requires them to reject the urge for certainty and grapple with the messiness of the paradox.


The No. 1 hazard for innovators is getting stuck in the tar pits of knowledge. Knowledge has a powerful influence over creativity. When we’re stumped or in a hurry to solve a problem, our brains often default to off-the-shelf solutions based upon what everyone knows. The proper approach to invention is not logic but wonderment. Creative thinking begins with phrases such as “I wonder,” “I wish” and “What if?”


Creativity is a messy process, and we arrive at better decisions by making not-so-good decisions and then constantly improving upon them. The best designers believe in failing fast. Their drawings, models and prototypes are not designed to be perfect solutions.


If you’re seeking new information or fresh insights, you need to look beyond your clique, since a clique is a closed system that acts more like a mirror than a window. The antidote to the clique is to open the window and connect with groups outside your own. Put yourself in the way of meeting like-spirited people, not just like-minded people.

So how do normal people like us think differently? Steve Jobs was smart — but not exceptionally smart. However, he learned the trick of divergent thinking. Biographer Walter Isaacson said Steve’s “imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected and at times magical. He had the ability to make connections that other people couldn’t see, simply because they couldn’t let go of what they already knew.”

We need to stop seeking only current best practices and challenge our assumptions about our current limits and ask questions about what might be. Howard Schultz once said, “Who wants a dream that’s near-fetched?”

In order to solve the global problems facing us, we must think differently than we have done in the past. No single individual is as smart as all of us, so we must learn from others with different knowledge and skills. By seeing our problems from new perspectives, dreaming big ideas and fast prototyping new solutions, we can make a dent in changing our world.

Paul Witkay is the founder and CEO of the Alliance of Chief Executives. Based in Northern California, the Alliance of Chief Executives is the most strategically valuable and innovative organization for CEOs in the world. Reach him at paulwitkay@allianceofceos.com.

Published in Columnist
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

An extension of your team

Every company, irrespective of size, at some point needs a variety of service professionals. The amount and experience these professionals possess can substantially add value to your business and mitigate risk.

Technical matters of law, financial audit, tax, industrial marketing and public relations are usually best handled by outside experts. Attorneys, auditors, tax experts, public relations and industrial marketing professionals have specialized knowledge and skills that you couldn’t and shouldn’t hope to duplicate.

Clark-Reliance’s business philosophy has always been that we make service professionals an extension of our team. We frequently invite them to sporting events, company dinners and other internal events. Knowing our service professionals on a personal basis and allowing them access to know our staff makes it a better and more effective partnership.

Our senior management works closely with these providers so that they can answer questions efficiently and quickly whether it’s a simple or complex business issue.

It is also good practice to formally meet with service providers on a frequent basis, even if the meeting is only an update. This practice will allow your providers to gain a better understanding of your business and provides a discussion forum that is different than just dealing with them on an as-needed basis or for “crisis interventions.”

Legal services

Whether you have in-house counsel or not, outside legal service providers are an imperative partner to help you grow and protect your business. Partnering with a reasonably sized firm allows you access to worldwide contacts, practices and procedures.

Almost everyone has four distinct reasons to use an attorney or specialized law firm, even if you do employ general counsel:

Acquisition — When your company is engaged in an acquisition, you need a highly specialized legal team to provide expertise in areas such as due diligence, negotiation, asset acquisition, purchase agreements, taxation and employment transactions.

Intellectual property — The need to safeguard your new product ideas can be ensured by a highly specialized attorney who can protect and defend your intellectual property, patents, trademarks and copyrights, both domestically and worldwide.

Product liability — The misuse and misapplication of products that have been sent into the stream of commerce may result in litigation or unjustified claims that need to be addressed by competent legal counsel.

Labor and employee issues —The multitude of employment law issues, regulation and compliance requirements and employer/employee legal issues demands a working relationship with a labor/employment legal professional.

Financial services

The changes in the United States Federal Tax Code and the continuing compliance with tax laws for federal, state and local taxation demand comprehensive and technical knowledge. Most companies also need to have audited financial data for borrowing purposes or to meet public company regulations. This highly specialized and technical knowledge can only be accessed through a tax and financial adviser.

There are four areas where a financial/tax service professional can assist any business.

Taxes — Whether you are an S-corporation, C-corporation or LLC, you need to have a tax adviser analyze the tax implications of business decisions to ensure that you are properly taking advantage of the complex tax code.

Grants and tax credits — The research tax credit remains a valuable source of support to businesses that conduct qualified research and development.

Acquisition process — During the acquisition process, it is imperative to include your financial advisers in terms of due diligence and specific issues like goodwill, inventory valuation and working capital adjustments.

Audit — Private or public, it is a good idea to have your financial data analyzed and scrubbed by experts in areas of revenue recognition, inventory valuation and off-balance-sheet transactions.

Utilizing service professionals provides a road map to avoid the pitfalls that can present significant obstacles to your business success. ?

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate cochairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

Published in Columnist

In late February, Office Max and Office Depot agreed to merge, pending normal government and shareholder approvals — and while this merger had been anticipated by the financial community for many years, the reasons why this took place are all too common.

The office supply world has changed dramatically over the past 16 years. In 1997, Office Depot attempted to merge with Staples, but the courts halted this due to the potential monopoly. Since then, the rise of stronger independent dealers working in the B2B marketplace, the rise of e-commerce sales (both independent dealers and others), and department stores expanding office supply goods in the B2C marketplace have forced marketplace changes.

Is this just a temporary rearrangement of the deck chairs? There are a number of reasons that make up the failure of these two companies to make it on their own. The first reason boils down to debt.

The bottom line is that these two firms combined have nearly 2,100 stores across the United States. This in itself has created massive amounts of debt — both on the balance sheet and off the sheet too. Office Max has more than $1 billion in off balance sheet debt and $1.7 billion of debt listed on the balance sheet. In addition, there has been another $2 billion in write-downs during of the past five years.

The second lesson is having a stagnant business model heavily based on brick-and-mortar stores. This new company, as yet un-named, will have 2,100 stores nationwide. Competitor Staples will have about 2,000 stores. However, all of the self-serve stores have been in a retail retraction for a few years and have been closing or reducing the size of stores in an effort to cut costs.

What you can expect to see

In order to create a healthy balance sheet, my crystal ball tells me that, due to duplication of resources, over the next few years, you can expect closures of distribution centers, a continuation of store closings, financial write-downs, layoffs and reductions in debt. Will this be enough to please shareholders? Stay tuned.

Since Depot bought Max, will Office Depot bring all of its outsourcing back from overseas or send more out? Will the handling of customer service issues improve or decline? Some clients have been told not to order on Friday, because they won’t deliver on Monday. Will they outsource all delivery personnel?

Will these changes affect their B2B clients? It is very likely — and not in a positive way.

By far, the biggest question is whether all of these changes will impact the remaining store, B2B and e-commerce sales.

What to do right now?

Businesses should control their business destiny and not wait for their dust to settle.

Look at your company’s strategic initiatives. Many common strategic initiatives include cost cutting, vendor reduction, “buy local” and sustainability.

Take this change in the marketplace as a reminder to examine this line item in the budget — even if you aren’t using Depot/Max. As we’ve seen, there isn’t a line item in a company budget that is above scrutiny.

I’ve worked with many clients nationwide and have been able to show them a double-digit price decrease compared to self-serve stores — all the while providing a higher level of service. While the pricing makes one competitive, it’s the service level that maintains loyalty.

Caution: Businesses that look strictly on price may likely be short-changing themselves by not looking at overall value. Consider working with a local partner who can make your office run smoothly. This will lower both hard and soft dollar costs while helping achieve strategic initiatives.

Independent office supply companies carry thousands of products. They have formed their own buying consortiums to lower the cost below self-serve stores and provide nationwide delivery. These include furniture, janitorial/sanitation, coffee/breakroom and computer supplies.

If you could purchase nearly everything for the office, with a reduced number of vendors and have a favorable impact to your balance sheet — wouldn’t you make a change? ?

Bill Botkin is a sales consultant for Today’s Business Products. Contact him at (800) 536-5163 or bbotkin@todaysbp.com.

Published in Columnist

With 88 percent of businesses now active on social media, the social media landscape is becoming more cluttered and more difficult. This means that, for businesses, it is becoming harder and harder to break through the noise and be heard.

In order to penetrate the noise, businesses must deliver the right message to the right person in the right way. Increasingly, the way that people want to receive messages online is visually.

We’ve heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, and this is true. The brain can process images faster than text. This is why images are breaking through on social networks — because they provide a quicker way for people to comprehend information.

Image-based social networks, such as Pinterest and Instagram, are among the most popular and quickest-growing social networks online. Images are the most liked and commented on content on Facebook and links to images get the most clicks on Twitter. All signs point toward images as the most popular, most shared and most liked content on social networks.

The point is that with so much content on social media, images are increasingly the content that is breaking through and getting results. I realized this trend and recently published a book called “Visual Social Media Marketing” about how brands can take advantage of this and get results.

So, what can you do to take advantage of this trend? Here are three simple steps to start taking advantage of the visual revolution online.

Include images on your website

The visual Web focuses around images, and as your website is shared online, the images from your website are usually the focus of how your website content is shared.

For example, when I post a link to a website on Facebook, the image is shown beside the link to my content. In this example, I’m sharing a link to our report on Google+. The image of the Google+ report is on our website.

Having the image on our website is important to how the link to our website shows up on Facebook. The reality is that if you want to drive traffic to your website from social media, each page on your site should have relevant images that are appropriate for sharing on social networks.

Use images on existing social networks

If you want your business to be successful on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, images must be a part of your strategy. Consider these statistics:

?  Images are the most shared and clicked on content on Twitter.

?  Images receive 50 percent more interactions on Facebook.

?  Google+ users have uploaded 3.4 billion photos.

?  Recruiters spend more time examining a LinkedIn user’s picture than actually reviewing the person’s qualifications.

These statistics show that if you want to break through on the leading social networks you must have an image strategy. Images are easy to consume and eye-catching, and with all of the content on social networks, images break through and get better results than text updates.

Consider joining Instagram and Pinterest

Instagram and Pinterest are two of the quickest-growing social networks and they can be your way to reach new audiences and get results ahead of your competition. Consider joining these networks and participating in the community to reach your audience in a new and interesting way.

Visual marketing is a trend in social media that you just can’t afford to ignore. If you want your business to stay relevant, drive traffic to your website and build shares and likes on social networks, you can’t afford to ignore the power of images in achieving these objectives. ?

Krista Neher is the CEO of Boot Camp Digital. She is an international speaker and social media thought-leader, as well as the author of “The Social Media Field Guide,” “Visual Social Media Marketing” and “Social Media Marketing: A Strategic Approach.”

Published in Columnist

Business owners are still cutting corners to cut costs and stretching their staffs in an attempt to stretch their budgets, but a lackluster economy shouldn’t be the only thing affecting their business decisions.

When companies try to manage “on the cheap,” the result can be anything but savings. The price of cutting corners in HR can lead to escalated risks, decreased productivity, increased turnover and ultimately higher costs.

Risk of noncompliance

To mitigate risk and minimize costs, HR compliance should be a constant consideration for business owners. Employment laws govern how companies hire, schedule, compensate and behave toward their employees. Adhering to these and other government regulations is not just the lawful thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do to protect a business from unnecessary risks.

Federal wage and hour laws are one of the most common noncompliance violations for companies. According to one report, the average settlement per case is nearly $13 million.

Allegations include employers’ failure to pay minimum wage, unpaid overtime and inaccurate “exempt” or “nonexempt” employee classifications. Exempt, or salaried, employees are not eligible for overtime pay regardless of extra hours worked, while nonexempt, or hourly, employees can earn overtime.

Corporate anorexia and the cost of turnover In a lean economy, making do with less is simple common sense, but when companies try to operate with too little staff, the unhealthy result is what some experts call “corporate anorexia.”

Remaining employees are expected to carry a heavy portion of the company’s workload. When consistently stretched too thin, employees become less productive, and the most marketable and highest-performing employees eventually look for better opportunities.

Experts estimate that turnover costs companies anywhere from one-half to five times an employee’s annual wages depending on his or her position within the company.

While that may sound like an exaggeration, consider the hard costs of recruiting and training a new employee. Add to that the softer costs of lost productivity and lost opportunity.

Cost-saving solutions

So why would a business owner ever choose to ignore employment laws? Or risk losing the most experienced staff? For most, it’s not a conscious choice but an unavoidable outcome.

When a company is making do with less, its HR function is often severely understaffed or nonexistent. How can a small business owner or a one-person HR department effectively manage the volume of duties and stay abreast of constant changes in employment law?

HR experts suggest that when limited means dictate that companies cut corners, they should focus on the fundamentals. That includes a comprehensive employee handbook and regular compliance audits.

A handbook is the first line of defense in employee matters. It outlines company policies and establishes a guideline for behavior. When employees review and sign a handbook, they acknowledge that they have reviewed and understand the company’s policies and intend to abide by them.

Regular compliance audits can help ensure a company is properly meeting its obligations and can help identify potential risks before they become costly oversights.

Business owners can also augment their HR by outsourcing part or all of the function. Professional employer organizations and HR outsourcers employ experienced human resource professionals who have extensive knowledge in a variety of HR disciplines.

PEOs and HROs also dedicate significant resources to developing proven processes and systems that can help minimize the most common and costly mistakes. As for cost, many qualified firms cost roughly the same as one full-time HR employee.

Cutting costs can be smart, maybe even necessary, but cutting corners on critical functions or deeply into staff can backfire. If you cant cover all the bases, focus on HR’s fundamentals and enlist assistance where needed.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses.  For more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com. 

Published in Columnist

Egos are a big factor in business. Egos can cost companies a lot of money.

I learned this simple fact a long time ago, and to this day, it amazes me how much time, energy and resources are wasted by individuals unwilling to check their egos at the door and let their companies be successful. Believe me, I have an ego myself, and I have to remind myself that all the time.

We all know the type — the guy or gal who always has to be right and whose questionable judgment in business stems either from a sense of self-importance or is based upon what they feel others expect from them because of their position. This person can even be fairly pleasant and well-meaning. But when they turn out to be someone with whom you have a working relationship, things can go downhill very quickly, especially when they’re pushing ideas and making decisions for all the wrong reasons.

I sell a line of bison meat products, which is marketed as a healthful alternative to beef. One day, the company with which I was partnered hired a new marketing fellow who immediately wanted to change the packaging. It was clear that he wanted to make a big splash with his new bosses, but I was dumbfounded by his decision.

I argued, “We’ve been enjoying tremendous success, and our branding has been very clear. Why in the world would we want to change it when we have a winner?” I’m a pretty agreeable guy, but I also know when to dig in, especially when I’m fighting for something I believe in my heart is right.

After a brief internal debate, my partners agreed with my logic, and we happily continued on with our hit product.

In business, it is paramount that everyone looks for the perfect solution that works for everybody else. This isn’t about getting along with each other just for the sake of it but rather about learning to be successful together.

Ego, when it comes from a place of experience, confidence and wisdom, actually can be a tremendous asset if properly managed by the individual.

I’ve recently started working with a good friend of many years, and I totally respect his ego. He understands exactly what it takes to be successful and has the experience to enable him to accurately size up a situation and make sound business decisions. He also knows how to work with partners like me, creating a complementary relationship, not one in which there is constant bickering.

When you’re around people with healthy egos, they create an aura of chemistry and trust and can provide a nesting ground for others to be their best. These types of individuals don’t make radical changes on a whim, but they try to understand their business environment, then make decisions to either build upon existing success or fix what is not working. People like this aren’t afraid to make wrong decisions because they have the confidence — the ego — of knowing that eventually they will make the right decision.

In dealing with complicated business relationships, the most critical relationship is the one we have with ourselves. Always ask yourself the reasons behind your decisions, especially if you are challenged by peers, partners or others in trusted positions.

There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you truly believe in. But be sure you are guided by wisdom and a clear thought process with the intention of truly solving a problem or building upon previous achievements. If not, allow yourself to hear other voices and have a healthy enough ego to let them contribute to your success. ?

Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. 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. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.


Published in Columnist

If you’re among the companies that start your fiscal year on July 1, it may be time to do some thinking and planning. But no matter when you start your business year, here are some points to consider.

The beginning of another business year is at hand. No matter what your business faced or how your organization pulled through, now’s a great time to provide your team with a well-deserved “pat on the back” and a thoughtful review.

First, give thanks: Consider a half-day retreat. Begin with a celebration or recognition lunch. Find something positive you can recognize in each staff member, i.e., “Rookie of the Year,” “Best Use of Humor in a Low Moment,” “Most Inspirational,” etc. Make a big deal of each success.

Second, measure: Take stock. List your division’s accomplishments. How close did you come in each category compared to your goal? Where was growth centered? How did this last year stack up to year’s past?

Third, staffing: Which sectors are growing? Where do you need to build?

Lastly, what did you learn: Where is your business headed? What will you keep as is? What needs to be changed or discarded altogether?

There’s no better time of year to reflect, regroup and analyze. If you take the time to do this now, it can prevent you from launching automatically into a repeat of the past year.

What are your strategies? What tactics will accomplish them? How will you delegate and hold people accountable? How will you track progress, share the vision and the results? How will you involve the entire staff?

Measurements are critical

The worst kind of clock is one that is wrong. Fast or slow doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is wrong. Why? Because it’s human nature to be tempted to accept what it tells us.

The same holds true to any measurement standard. Keeping track of the wrong data — or interpreting it wrong — is worse than not keeping track at all.

Are you sure you are measuring the right information for your business, your products, your team?

Exceed expectations by giving less; it doesn’t sound possible, exceeding expectations by giving less.

People (customers and employees) don’t care how much you offer them. What they want is to get more than they expected.

In our rush to get noticed, chosen, grow bigger or achieve more, we often promise the moon — and raise expectations above what is possible.

How about promising less and bragging less? Instead, deliver on the promise to delight.

Demand the best

Too often, we are presented with choices that don’t please us. And too often, we pick one.

Why settle? Because it’s easier. Or we run out of time. Or the best is too expensive. Name your excuse. It’s simply easier to choose the least objectionable alternative than to hold out for the best or go out and find it.

Like Steven Jobs — we should demand the best of our people, processes, vendors and standards.

What are you settling for?

By demanding the best, you are setting an example for your staff. Too often we set a “lower bar,” and if each time you set that bar lower, mediocrity starts to set in. ?

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 Indiana Chamber of Commerce has voted the company as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana. Harding can be reached at dharding@hardingpoorman.com. For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com.


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