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How many of you remember your mother telling you, “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you"? I remember making this statement to my two daughters, for which I have since apologized. However well-intentioned this statement may have been, it is utterly false.

Words do matter, and they can hurt. Words can be hurled out in haste either in speaking or in writing that quick email, message or tweet. Our minds work extraordinarily fast, our defense mechanisms kick in, and we are in response mode.

In fact, if we think about all the muscles we have in our bodies and how we are to properly exercise them, there is none more powerful than the tongue, yet we do not often think about how to control that single muscle which can cause so much damage in such a short amount of time.


Setting the tone

As leaders of your organization, you have the responsibility of setting the tone within the organization. The words spoken and how they are spoken create an atmosphere that can be either helpful or toxic.

Who can forget the speech given by Gen. George Patton at the beginning of the film, “Patton” or how we reacted to hearing a coach’s pep talk right before the big game?

All of us can remember hearing words of encouragement and congratulations, and I would imagine, you can relate to the cringe I feel when I think back to the “sting” I have inflicted when my words were poorly chosen. Words do matter.

It’s all in how you THINK

I once heard a presentation about the power of words and what to consider before speaking. The message did not contain anything I had not heard before, but it did give me an acronym that I use every day: THINK. “T” stands for thoughtful, “H” for helpful, “I” is for inspirational, “N” for necessary and “K” for kind.

That has been a lifesaver for me on more than one occasion. While I am far from being perfect, taking a split second to THINK before speaking has made a significant difference in my relationships.

THINK reminds me that it is always best to use words I would want to hear in a tone that would elicit a positive response.


Inspire, rather than prod

There will come a day when we will no longer be around, yet our reputation and legacy will remain. We get to influence what that reputation may be by the words we speak and write.

Certainly, corrections are needed at times; however, a correction can be given in a manner that is inspiring rather than harsh. We can choose words and the tone of our voice, which demonstrate our desire to lead rather than prod. Because we are leaders, we must be consistent in demonstrating to others that we understand the power of words.

We can all remember times when unknowingly, someone has made a statement that impacted us in a significant way. Taking just that split second to THINK has the potential to make the difference between sending a message of encouragement or disaster.


Julie Nimmons

Vistage International in the St. Louis area
Vistage provides professionally facilitated peer advisory experiences that help CEOs, business owners and key executives grow their business.
(314) 301-9823



“Successful leadership is not about being tough or soft, assertive or sensitive. It’s about having a particular set of attributes ... and chief among these attributes is character.” — Warren Bennis

A colleague of mine recalls a time during high school when he admired a certain teacher and even saw him as a potential role model. That potential was quickly lost, however, when the teacher consistently demonstrated that what he said and what he did were two different things.

We’ve all experienced times when we see leaders who don’t walk the talk. That is disastrous for leaders. There is no quicker way to undermine leadership than to say one thing and do another … or even say one thing and have people perceive that you’re doing another.

Of course, leadership development is a journey. The teacher mentioned above was young and may have learned later in life that to be a successful leader of students one must be the right kind of person in addition to having the skills or knowledge to teach an academic subject.

Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, Harvard Business School professor and co-author of the book, “Finding Your True North: A Personal Guide,” outlines some warning signs that can help identify five potential character “hazards” that can lead to ineffective leadership.


Imposter — Being driven by the fear of “making mistakes and having one’s lack of skill or knowledge exposed.” Avoiding feedback and being selective about one’s sources of input are a few of the signs that this hazard may be imminent.


Rationalizing —When we won’t admit our mistakes for fear of being considered a failure. We see this play out when we don’t hold ourselves accountable for results, play the blame game or talk only about the positive in order to hide our failures.


Glory seekers — Pursue only outward signs of success, don’t give others credit and overstate their own contributions to the organization’s success. Navigating around this hazard includes recognizing that acknowledging others’ contributions in no way diminishes one’s own accomplishments.


Loners — Cut themselves off from feedback, lose perspective and make decisions that are out of touch with stakeholder needs. Listening to and building natural networks with those we serve will keep us from losing touch with their perspectives and needs.


Shooting stars — Move away from what the authors call an “integrated life” by neglecting family, friends, community and their own health and wellness and end up running too fast and not doing their best.


Bennis also adds, “Leadership is … character in action.” If that’s true, it is critical for us — with the help of those we trust — to assess whether or not we see any of the warning signs that these hazards are on the horizon and take the necessary steps to avoid them at all costs. ●


Andy Kanefield

Dialect Inc., a company that helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity.
Andy is also the co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” (314) 863-4400




We know there are “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Thank you, Steven Covey and Paul Simon for helping us to clarify these things. Business leaders are often pushed and pulled in many directions and are trying to motivate and manage many people and projects at the same time.

Keeping seven things in mind might be tough. I apologize to you, Mr. Covey, but we may have to cut the list down. How about four? We can probably keep four things in mind at any time.


Be empathetic

Showing empathy for those you lead will gain you respect and loyalty. Having empathy for others will give you a broad and deep understanding of affairs and conditions that are important to your mission.

Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes will help you develop products and services that bring real value and create good margins. Understanding the position of your investors and stakeholders will help you alleviate their concerns and garner more support from them.


Think ahead

How will your actions and your company’s behavior shape the near-term future and the long-term future? Are today’s activities helping you build for more opportunity and better service? Thinking ahead will help clarify strategy and tactics, helping to rally support among your team members.

Every action has ripple effects that move well into the future. If you can anticipate those ripples and influence them, you can create solid and sustainable strategies.


Act boldly

When it is time to act, act. Take plenty of time for empathy and thinking ahead and planning and strategizing. But when it is time to act, act swiftly and deliberately. Act boldly. You may not have many opportunities to move an organization in a significant way, so make that opportunity count when it is presented to you. Leaders are called leaders because they take people and projects to places that the meek and unprepared would not dare venture. Go there with purpose and go there boldly.


Admit mistakes

Good leaders make mistakes. Admit when you make a mistake and move on from it. If you were using your empathy, thinking ahead and acting boldly, you did all you could to be prepared. In that case, you made a good mistake. Own it. Learn from it. Forget it and move on to the next set of decisions. Make sure the people who are affected by the mistake know you made it, understand how you made the mistake and see how you plan to move on. Involve them in the next plan and prepare for action.


Successful leaders know there are only a few things that set them apart from those who pretend to lead or those who are managers but not leaders. If you aspire to be a successful leader, you can do it by exercising your empathy, thinking ahead and acting boldly.

When you err, admit your mistake and move on. You will have many who will follow you, because they know your mistakes will be worth experiencing for the successes that follow.


Tron Jordheim,

StorageMart, one of the world’s largest privately held self-storage companies with locations across the U.S. and Canada.

Tron has helped lead the company to double-digit revenue growth for the last four years by embracing digital marketing and call center support. With 40-plus years of experience in sales, marketing and training, he continues to be sought after as a public speaker, sales trainer and consultant.


They say that the best way to overcome your fears or phobias is to confront them. Not comfortable flying in an airplane? How about giving a public speech or walking across a high bridge?

Well, you’re not alone. Some surveys say about 20 percent of people 18 and over have anxiety problems that when you get right down to it, are irrational.

While some fear can be expected as a response to imminent danger, phobias are exaggerations of those reactions. They can be difficult to overcome, people avoid them like the plague — it’s the friend who always takes a train or bus to travel when an airplane would be much quicker.


Overcome through confrontation

What about if you could take a dry run on a small scale? It might help you as you weigh the risks of the entire process.

Sarah Clarke, manager of the Gateway Arch Bi-State Development Agency, which operates the tram to the top of the Arch, has some observations that can help shed light on the subject. After all, the Arch is a 630-foot monument, the top of which can only be reached via a five-seat tram that stops at an observation area crammed with visitors.

She says there is a car from the tram in the Arch’s lobby on the ground floor so visitors can and see what it is like and find out if they might feel claustrophobic.

“That allows people to get inside and try it out,” Clarke says. “Usually that helps, but some people at the last minute jump out before the doors are about to close. Most people who give it a try don’t feel that it’s too bad.”

So the smart visitor has a chance to test the personal space inside the tram — and decide if it’s time to confront his or her fear.


No dress rehearsal

While you don’t get a dress rehearsal with every business risk, there are some ways to prepare your company so it has a better chance for success.

One of the first steps to take is an analysis to see if the risk is a good fit for your company. For example, you wouldn’t want to expand your customer base without improving your production line first.

If you don’t get an outside opinion of your risk, you might be dooming your success. An unbiased look can analyze if the opportunity is a good one for business growth.

Mark Bamforth, CEO and president of Gallus BioPharmaceuticals LLC, can add his two cents here.

“You need to evaluate things and assess risks and potential, but you can’t wait until there’s no risk because if you do, the opportunity will have gone away.”

That is the definition of a calculated risk. With your opportunity, weigh the pros and cons of going forward — and of keeping the status quo. Don’t allow the fear of failure to quash your ambitions.


Dennis Seeds
Managing Editor

Smart Business St. Louis
Dennis is interested in the people and business making a difference in St. Louis.

(440) 250-7037


This may be the most unglamorous and simplistic business in the world, but like every other business, it has developed a complicated and multifaceted advertising and marketing ecosystem. I am making plans and preparations to present some of StorageMart’s marketing practices at PubCon, which Forbes magazine has called a must-attend event for online and social marketing. Conferences like these are a great way to show what you are doing to peers, and study what other peers are doing. My sessions are normally about local and niche marketing.

It has been said that all politics is local. The thinking is that people vote for candidates based on how the candidates feel about or act on issues of local importance. I am not so sure this is correct.

What does this have to do with advertising and marketing? Many businesses are similar to self-storage in that they draw their customers from a defined geography. The shoe repair shop does not have many customers mailing shoes from the next state over to be repaired and mailed back. The shoe repair customers come from a rather small area, perhaps 10 minutes’ drive-time, perhaps 10 minutes walk-time. There may be reasons you would choose one shoe repair shop over another, and you might go an extra 10 minutes to get far better service or because that shop’s staff are particularly pleasant to deal with. But would you go an extra 15 minutes farther? Twenty minutes farther?

Value of the locality

Grocery stores are similar. How many grocery stores would you drive past or walk past to get to the one you like best. Grocers draw from a very tight geography as well. This is one reason you hear about the existence of “food deserts” where neighborhoods lack access to full service grocers.

I suppose the world view qualifier that I believe affects politics also affects shopping. If you only eat gluten free organically grown locally produced foods because that is what you believe in, you may pass many other grocers before getting to the one that meets your qualifications. If the local shoe repair shop uses leather repair patches made of Kangaroo, and you are opposed to making leather from kangaroo, you might travel some distance to find a shoe repair shop that only uses cow leather.

My point is that advertising and marketing is local, because your most likely prospect is the person who lives closest to your place of business. If your business practices or business niche caters to people of a certain world view, then your geography suddenly widens tremendously. If your business does not have a physical location, then your place of business is the mobile device, tablet or PC of anyone in the market for your product or service anywhere you able to complete a delivery. If your business does have a physical location, you are competing online with companies strung across the globe for the potential customers in your local area.

Advertising and marketing is local and it is not local at the same time. For storage companies in general, the focus has become heavily dependent on reaching local consumers. There just aren’t too many ways to differentiate between storage places so that one can create a niche market that will draw from a very wide area. There are not too many world views that would work for or against a storage operator to help make local advertising and marketing less of a factor.

We do look for differentiators that will help convert more shoppers into customers. A clean storage facility that smells fine is what consumers want, but they don’t always know that until they get to the storage place and take a look around and experience the smells there. It would be odd and probably counter-productive if StorageMart advertised itself as the best smelling storage place in Brooklyn. It might work, but the chances seem pretty slim.

It is difficult to appeal to other niches. How do you promote self storage as an environmentally friendly, low carbon footprint business? In some ways it is exactly those things. We encourage people to save, reuse and repurpose, because we all about keeping things rather than throwing things away. Storage places use a fraction of the electric power buildings of similar square footage use, because we only run lights when people are in the aisles and in their units. We use a lot less heating and cooling because people’s belongings are fine being a lot warmer in the summer and a lot cooler in the winter than you would keep your home, office or hotel room. Wouldn’t it seem a little weird to promote self storage as an earth friendly action that will save the snow leopard and the tiger? Maybe this would be the perfect way to promote storage and I just don’t believe it yet.

StorageMart has several properties in the greater Toronto area that are being outfitted with solar electric power generation panels on all of the roof space. Each of these properties is large enough that hundreds or even perhaps thousands of homes can be powered while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But how many people are shopping for an environmentally friendly storage facility? Even if people were shopping or such a thing, we wouldn’t know it, because Google no longer reports on keyword data.

If StorageMart is competing with all sorts of companies from outside of its many, many little geographic trade areas, and if it is difficult to fit storage in to a particular world view, how do we go about local advertising and marketing?

Distribution is the first item of importance. Look at the world’s most successful companies and you will see that they master distribution. By this I mean they are easy to find everywhere. In how many places can you find Coca Cola, Pepsi or Budweiser? We take this same approach in a local way. Any outlet that is local in nature in one of our trade areas is important to us.

Google Maps, Yellow Pages, city directories and local business listing sites get a lot of attention. These activities are the foundation for building other local tactics. Any local business should be spending a lot of time managing and tweaking these tools.

Other steps to consider

Local relevance is the next item of importance. I don’t mean relevance in the way internet marketers used to use the term relevance before Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird. I mean relevance in real life with real people in real situations. Is your customer service top notch? Do you support local events, local organizations and local charities? This local relevance generates positive online reviews and positive real-world word-of-mouth, which all influence how powerful a local brand you have. The more powerful your local brand, the easier it will be for people to recognize you when they search and to the easier it will be for search engines to identify you and show you to people who are searching.

Online social engagement is the next item to consider. There are many social sharing sites that are powerful influencers and allow those people who find you relevant to speak well of you and to be a part of your wider network of support. There are those who scoff at social engagement and say that it does not produce definitive returns on investment. I would answer that when people are checking in at your place of business on their favorite social site, that when people like, share and comment on your postings, you are getting valuable referrals, recommendations and affirmations that others in the geography you work in will notice. This is powerful stuff.

Video is another very important part of the mix. People love to watch video and they love to watch interesting, funny, entertaining or informative video. It is tough to make storage be all of those things, but you have to try and have a little fun with it.

Mobile is the fifth piece of the puzzle. We have tried to make the mobile version of user-friendly and easy on the eyes. We use many advertising partners to serve ads to mobile users when those users are in our geographic areas. When you see how quickly people are changing their use habits and now spending most of their online time on their mobile devices it makes your head spin. We plan to spend a lot more time working on ways to make it easier to find StorageMart and easier to find a storage unit in the mobile environment.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers to the advertising and marketing questions. In fact, I am not sure we even know all the questions. I expect that if we continue to focus on local distribution, local relevance, social engagement, video and mobile, we will find a way for enough people to find us easily.

If all advertising and marketing is in fact local, then we are on the right track. In the meantime, we might discover the one world-view twist that makes storage a must-have item for cool people everywhere. 

Tron Jordheim is CMO of StorageMart, one of the world’s largest privately held self-storage companies with locations across the U.S. and Canada. He has helped lead the company to double-digit revenue growth for the last four years by embracing digital marketing and call center support. With 40-plus years of experience in sales, marketing and training, he continues to be sought after as a public speaker, sales trainer and consultant. For more information, visit




 “People are people” the old saying goes. That means everyone brings his or her own personal baggage with him or her to work. People make poor choices, act rashly and defend their own comfort zones. People have agendas all their own that often have nothing to do with the work agenda that you, as the manager, are promoting.

The best managers try hard to motivate and guide their people to meet agreed-upon goals. Procedures, protocols and guidelines are put in place to help keep things fair and organized. Feedback, motivation and direction are given. But at the end of the day, good managers realize there is no good way to manage people.

But since managing people is the key to any business success, you have to try anyway.

There are many books on people management, and you may have practiced all the different styles. There are really only two things to do. One is to make sure your staff is getting ongoing training, feedback, correction and motivation for all their work-related behaviors. The other is to leave your people alone and let them work. The trick is to know when to do which with each person.

Here are some ways you can try: 

Best practices

Create models of best performance and best practices for employees to learn, copy and aspire to. You can create goals, requirements and performance thresholds to use as measurement tools.

Be fair and consistent in enforcing performance requirements and work rules, and be honest with them in your assessment of business conditions, in communication of company policies and your feelings about their performance. 

Know your people

Get to know your people individually so you can find the right way to approach them, motivate and correct them. Spend a little time with each of your direct reports and encourage them to spend time with each of their direct reports.

Spending time together helps solidify teamwork, helps clarify any issues and helps to make sure you and your people are being accountable to each other. 


Stop relying on email and memos. Have personal conversations with the people in your group. Allow your people to be honest with you. Spend a little personal time with each person every month if you can.

Learn to be a good listener. You will learn a lot about how to deal with your people if you hear what they say. 

Leave well enough alone

Sometimes managers feel that people can perform better and can produce more, but if employees have found a comfortable and satisfactory balance, it is best not to disturb it. Resist the temptation to over manage.

There are times your people just need to be left alone to do their jobs. Some days you will work hard to mold people’s behavior and performance when what they really needed was to be left alone to do their jobs. Some days you will leave people alone when what they really needed was to be working with someone. Try to ask yourself each day, Who needs time from me today?, Who needs to be left alone?

If you allow yourself to admit that there is no good way to manage people, you can do your company a lot of good by trying to be a better manager every day. Work on best practices, get to know your people, communicate personally and above all, leave well enough alone. 

Tron Jordheim is CMO of StorageMart, one of the world’s largest privately held self-storage companies with locations across the U.S. and Canada. He has helped lead the company to double-digit revenue growth for the last four years by embracing digital marketing and call center support. With 40-plus years of experience in sales, marketing and training, he continues to be sought after as a public speaker, sales trainer and consultant. For more information, visit

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Failure is part of success

Six tips to improve your leadership decisions

We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes — understanding that failure is not the opposite of success; it's part of success.  — Arianna Huffington 

Our decisions help define us as individuals and organizations — our great decisions and our poor ones. We can never entirely eliminate imperfect decisions. As Ms. Huffington suggests, we can learn from them and build successes after even our largest failures. There are also some things we can do to decrease their likelihood. 

Play to your strengths. As with most things in life, self-awareness helps. Making decisions is no different.  Are there some patterns about how we make decisions?

Is there something we do that tends to lead to better decisions? Are there questions we ask of ourselves and others that help us? 

Manage your weaknesses. It’s also important to know what aspects of helpful decision-making we tend to naturally neglect.

Do you think primarily about financial metrics and fail to consider how a decision will affect people? Do you find it hard to think about consequences one year out? Two years out? Further?

Include people in your decision-making who think differently than you. 

These principles can also help you manage weaknesses that are common to all us — the tendency to seek out information that confirms our current beliefs or opinions.

Having those around us who can present alternative views without the threat of dismissal can help us make better decisions. 

Align your decisions. It’s easy in the midst of a fast-moving world to neglect the anchors or guides we intentionally create to help us when we need to make decisions.

For example, if your organization has put a stake in the group to focus on innovation, you have a primary filter for making decisions. Will this action enable innovation? But that question alone is not enough. The follow up question should be “How will this enable innovation?” If you can’t clearly explain that to yourself, you’ll never be able to explain it to others. 

Be happy. Cool off. Our emotional state is a key influence on our ability to make decisions. With a slightly elevated mood, we have more insights and can see more options both of which are important to making decisions. When we’re angry or upset we tend to take fewer risks and are less likely to reframe our options to allow for better decisions. 

Test it. When possible, test your preferred option in appropriate ways. Act “smartly” as quickly as you can. This means that you act quickly with the resources currently available to you, you know what an “acceptable loss” is and you don’t exceed it, and that you “bring others along to acquire more resources; spread the risk, and confirm the quality of your idea.”

A simple example of this principle is a pilot project. 

Do something. Research suggests that we regret not taking action more than taking action. We regret not going to college, not taking risks in our job, more even than choices that weren’t the best decisions in hindsight. 

These are just a few helpful principles to begin to improve your decision-making. You’ll learn more as you honestly assess the effectiveness of your decisions and are open to changing how you make decisions.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to make decisions that are congruent with what you stand for, you may reach him at (314) 863-4400 or


Thursday, 21 November 2013 15:21

Why you can’t treat social media like a road trip

Written by

The idea of driving aimlessly seems glamorous in movies and songs. In reality, few of us get in a car without knowing how to reach our destination. We’ve created smartphone apps, GPS devices and satellite mapping to make our trips as efficient as possible and to avoid what we know to be an inconvenient, expensive outcome — getting lost.

I bring up this idea because many companies using social media have inadvertently become lost drivers. They start using social platforms with the goal of reaching some number of likes, retweets or shares, but as they embark on their social media strategies, many experience a disconnect between the content they post, blog and tweet and their progress on measurable business goals. These companies are driving without a roadmap; they just don’t know it.

Sound familiar? If social media isn’t working for you, your social media approaches may be missing a fundamental component: an effective content strategy. Here are three ways a solid content strategy will enhance your company’s social media success.


A like is just a like
All social media engagement is not created equally. To be successful, the social media activity that you generate needs to support your marketing goals — whether you want to improve employee engagement, boost customer conversions or build interest in a new product.
Creating a content strategy before you engage in social media will help your business clarify the specific marketing goals you want to achieve through content, as well as what messages you need to communicate to reach those goals. This process will ensure you get the right likes, shares and retweets from social interactions.


Social is a vehicle
Social media is a vehicle for sharing compelling content with your audience, and it doesn’t work if you don’t know what issues, topics and trends your audience finds compelling. Part of developing a content strategy involves learning how those you are trying to reach want to be talked to. Where do they go for information? How much time do they spend online? What kind of content are they looking for from your industry?
By getting to know the interests and pain points of your audience (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.), you can develop tactics to reach your online audience more effectively, saving you time and enhancing your company’s social influence.


Relevant content is meaningful
Kings of social content don’t become that way by luck. They use strategic tactics to connect with their audience through the right channels at the right times. More importantly, they make these connections meaningful and memorable by posting and sharing strategic, relevant content that their audiences desire.
When you deliver social content that your audience members find valuable or interesting, they’ll reward you by sharing your content, engaging with your business and, ideally, helping to promote your reputation as a thought leader in your business or industry. A content strategy allows you to do that by providing a roadmap for what kinds of informative, helpful, educational or creative content you need to make meaningful interactions.

As a recent Huffington Post article put it, the golden rule of the web is clear: “To know us better is to sell us better.” Ultimately, being successful in the social media space means taking the time to map out what success looks like. In this sense, a solid content strategy is not only an important component of any social media strategy, it’s the key to driving the results your business wants.


Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business and SBN Interactive. Reach him at or (440) 250-7078.

When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.

While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.

They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.

And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.

You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?

During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●

What would it take for a company to succeed if its leader could effectively do only one of the following: innovate, instigate or administrate? We all know that an innovator is the one who sees things that aren’t and asks why not? The instigator sees things that are and asks why? The administrator doesn’t necessarily ask profound questions but, instead, is dogged about crossing the “t’s,” dotting the “i’s” and making sure that whatever is supposed to happen happens.

Ideally, a top leader combines all three traits while being charismatic, intellectual, pragmatic and able to make decisions faster than a speeding bullet. Although some of us might fantasize that we are Superman or Superwoman, with a sense of exaggerated omnipotence, the bubble usually bursts when we’re confronted simultaneously with multiple situations that require the versatility of a Swiss army knife.

Business leaders come in all shapes and sizes with various skill sets and styles that are invaluable, depending on the priorities of a company at any given point in time.

Every business needs an innovator to differentiate the company. Without a unique something or other, there isn’t a compelling reason to exist. Once those special products or services that distinguish the business from others are discovered and in place, it takes an instigator to continuously re-examine and challenge every aspect of the business that leads to continued improvements, both functionally and economically. It also takes an administrator — someone who can keep all the balls in the air, ensuring that everyone in the organization is in sync and delivering the finished products as promised to keep customers coming back.

As politicians and pundits of all types have pounded into our heads in recent years, “It takes a village to raise a child.” All who practice the art and science of business have learned that, instead of a village, it takes a diverse team working together to make one plus one equal three.

On the ideal team, each member possesses different strengths, contributing to the greater good. The exceptional leader is best when he or she is an effective chef who knows how to mix the different skills together to create a winning recipe.

In many companies, however, leaders tend to surround themselves with clones who share similar abilities, interests and backgrounds. As an example, a manufacturer may have a management team comprised solely of engineers, or a marketing organization could have salespeople who came up through the ranks calling all the shots.

If everyone in an organization comes from the same mold, what tends to happen is, figuratively, one lies and the others swear to it. This builds to a crescendo of complacency and perpetual mediocrity.

There is a better way. Good leaders surround themselves with others who complement their capabilities, and savvy leaders select those with dramatically different backgrounds who will challenge their thinking because they’re not carbon copies of the boss. This opens new horizons, forges breakthroughs and leads to optimal daily performance.

Strange bedfellows can stimulate, nudge and keep each other moving toward the previously unexplored.

To have a sustainable and effective organization, you can’t have one type without all the others. While everyone on the team may not always agree, each player must always be committed to making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The single most important skill of the leader who has to pull all the pieces and parts together is to have the versatility of that Swiss army knife — selecting the precise tool to accomplish the objective at hand. ●


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 this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at

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