I refer to this fear of choosing as "double-mindedness." Everyone is looking for a guarantee. So many things are uncertain that people are afraid to make a choice.
In business, we need leaders who are not afraid to make decisions and live with the consequences -- good or bad. I'm not suggesting people make bad decisions, but rather that leaders need to lead. Too many people try to have everything by straddling the fence.
Here are five suggestions for making the best decision possible the next time a choice needs to be made.
1. Surround yourself with good people. Wisdom comes from an abundance of counselors. Don't look for people who will tell you what you want to hear. Look for people who care about you and the best interests of your company, and who will give you honest answers no matter how much you might not like it.
2. Gather as much information as soon as you can. This will help you make the best decision possible.
3. Use prayer. Whenever making a decision, I feel it is important to pray and include God. The prayer may not get answered the way you want, but at least you included him in your decision-making process.
4. Follow your gut instinct. This comes from experience, based on trial and error. As you learn from your mistakes, you will hone your instincts. When there doesn't seem to be logical information to base your reasoning on, let your instincts show you the way.
5. Follow the leader. Sometimes the best way to make a decision is to see what already works and improve upon it. Don't be afraid to copy someone who is doing something successfully.
Double-mindedness is choosing to be indecisive -- the worst choice of all. When there are tough choices to make, you can't have it both ways.
Get off the fence and lead.
The joy we derive from success can be nearly bottomless. To transform an idea into a profit-making venture is the goal of every business, and the process is not unlike watching your child change from helpless infant to crawling baby and finally to a toddler taking his first wobbly steps. Anyone who has been involved in starting a business and watching it grow into a vibrant enterprise can instantly relate to the deep sense of pleasure it brings.
But success can just as quickly become a sword with two edges. Money and power can transform the humble friend you grew up with into a ruthless cuthroat who will stop at nothing on the road to becoming an arrogant Master of the Universe. Like drugs, success when its attained is sweet; but we can never get enough, despite a spiraling search for ways to sustain the pleasure. The addict always needs a slightly larger dose to top that last high.
And yet we inevitably set goals to achieve ever greater success in a vain attempt to surpass ourselves; rarely do we take the time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. The paradox is that success demands a certain amount of discontenthealthy in proper doses, though never when that discontent turns destructive.
Hollywood is overflowing with examples of the excess that often comes wedded to success. The real-life soap operas of many of its leading figures are the stuff of Greek tragedy: After attaining fame and wealth, their lives begin to spiral out of control as they wander from one drug-rehab center to anotherforever trying to one-up that initial high. Is there a purpose to all this seeking after success? Is the goal of success merely to build a bigger and brighter monument to ourselves before we die?
There are two other life questions we should ask ourselves as we go about growing our businesses. Why do I want to be successful and what will I do when I am? Only by first answering these two questions can we hope to begin charting our course.
One especially compelling figure from American business history provides us an intriguing role model.
This Scottish boy emigrated to America with his family in the middle of the 19th century, after the power loom erased his fathers job as a manual laborer. At the age of 12, he was working as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory, educating himself by reading, writing and attending night school. By age 14, he had become a messenger in a telegraph office, quickly advancing up the ranks. By just 24, he was superintendent of the mighty Pennsylvania Railroads Pittsburgh division. He invested heavily in railroads and traveled to Europe to sell railroad securities. By the time he was 30, his annual income was $50,000. Still, that didnt prevent him from leaving to manage one of his investments, the Keystone Bridge Co. By 38, he had founded a steel works. Using the best technology and accounting methods available at the time, he achieved the highest efficiencies in the industry, almost single-handedly helping the U.S. to surpass England in steel production in the opening years of this century. By 65, Andrew Carnegie was earning the then-almost-unfathomable sum of $25 million per year.
What utterly separated Carnegie from other robber barons of that era, though, was his philanthropy. He eventually sold his empire for $250 million and spent the rest of his life systematically giving away that and many additional millions. He saw being wealthy as a duty for the improvement of mankind, as he put it. His famous saying that a man who dies rich dies disgraced stands as a glowing testament to his life, along with the nationwide teacher pension system he founded and the hundreds of libraries still standing today which were built through his astonishing generosity. His wealth, you might say, achieved a larger purpose.
Those of us who search for happiness in our possessions are destined for disappointment. The rush is fleeting, the satisfaction short-lived.
Why not try an alternate path? And you need not practice philanthropy on so grand a scale as Carnegies in order to derive a full measure of psychic pleasure. The next time you feel down, try visiting a nursing home and talking to someone who has no one else in life. Or perhaps volunteer to cook dinner at a homeless shelter. See if life soon begins to take on a deeper meaning.
Youll depart from this session of service with a great feeling, and it wont have cost you anything but a modest investment in time. And youll receive in emotional satisfaction several times what you gave in time and effort.
The purpose of your success, once shrouded in impenetrable fog, may well come into sharp focus as you pursue goals more meaningful than the hunt for ever-greater love of self. And you wont have to share your little secret with anyone. You alone will know about your good deed, and thats more than enough.
Just for a test, try it and let us know about the results.
Fred Koury is CEO of Small Business News Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Planning for your future requires one important element: organization. It involves taking the various components of your life and assembling them into a systematic routine aimed toward a particular result. Absent organization, you can look forward to frustration, wasted time, poor performance and lack of perspective.
Organizing your life yields three priceless resources: time, efficiency and perspective. Everybody has the first of these. Each day contains 24 hours that can never be captured again. If the average life of a person is 73.5 years, that's 26,827 days, or 643,860 available hours.
But time is finite. When we waste it, we can't simply go back and make up for it. Like cash in the bank, it must be managed. And by managing our time, we gain control of this resource, and can accomplish more in a shorter period.
The dividend of time management is efficiency, the ability to do more with less. The wealth and ease that most people have in the United States is a direct result of increased efficiency. The evolution of the world from agricultural to industrial and now to an information age is tied to ever-increasing productivity. We thus need to look for ways to continue to increase our own productivity. Are we involved with overlapping activities with negligible rewards? Every wasted activity eliminated is time discovered to produce more results.
Perspective is the ability to form a clear view of your environment. How often have you felt so overwhelmed, only to realize that you were going in circles? The person without perspective cannot see their path. But when we can step back for a moment and consider ourselves as outsiders might, we can correct our course. The Portuguese navigators of the 14th century kept detailed log books and records of their voyages to uncharted waters. In fact, they were considered state secrets. In our life's voyage, it's only by keeping detailed records of successes and failures and the choices that brought us there that we're able to adjust our course for more profitable waters.
So where should we begin? First, take an honest look at ourselves. Three major steps will follow:
No. 1, examine every aspect of your life--work, leisure and spiritual-and make an inventory. Assess the tools you have at your disposal. What is your expertise? Who is around who might give you insight? What are your assets and liabilities? Where are you wasting time? Are you spending too much time relaxing? How much time do you spend at work? What are your work processes? Where is your work being duplicated?
No. 2, group the different parts of your life into components. Ask yourself, what is important? Then incorporate these various aspects into one central command post, sometimes called an organizer.
The Roman army was one of the most successful in history because it was one of the best-trained and best-organized ever. It was divided into divisions, or legions, of 6,000 men. These were in turn divided into cohorts, which had several centurions over various units. Through superior organization, Caesar was able to conquer the larger but less-well-organized armies of Gaul in a few years. Your organizer can likewise become a central command post from which you will be able to direct the needed resources to win the war. It should contain some lever of control over every aspect of your life.
No. 3, execute your plan of attack. Do you need to make more sales? Do you need more products? More locations? More quiet time? With a panoramic view of your personal battlefield you can begin plotting your strategy for the rest of your life.
We are only given one life, and now is the time to make it count. We can't go back and capture lost time. We can only look forward and make the time we have left count. By organizing ourselves, we can all get there.
Fred Koury is CEO of Small Business News Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this year, I shared a strategic plan we put in place for our company called the Go Forward Plan. It was divided into four parts: product plan, market plan, financial plan and people plan.
The theme for our people plan is, Dont worry, be happy, and our goal is to create a fun environment for all employees. In a time when the economy is booming and unemployment is at its lowest point in 29 years, your people are your most valuable asset. We decided it was time to differentiate ourselves from other employers in a number of ways.
The first step was not to reinvent the wheel, but to find a company that was doing this successfully. After doing some research, the company that came up over and over again was Walt Disney World. It is regarded in its industry as a leader in motivation through its employee programs.
Walt Disney World has 180 recognition and incentive programs, according to Bob Nelson, author of 1001 Ways to Energize Your Employees. You may ask yourself if that is overkill. Disney doesnt think so. It is looking for more. One employee was asked, Have you helped to bring anyone else to work here? His reply was 12 people.
Not only is this person doing his day job as a food server, he is acting as a recruiter. When asked what incentives the company uses to motivate him, they ranged from a shining star name tag to public praise in meetings. Others included being named in the company newsletter, dinner for two at a nice restaurant, a reserved parking space and the spirit of F.R.E.D. award a miniature Mickey Mouse statue which stands for Friendly, Resourceful, Enthusiastic and Dependable. Surprisingly, money wasnt even mentioned. After reviewing several other success stories, it was time to implement our own plan.
The next thing we did was meet with the majority of our people by department and find out their personal, professional and financial goals. We decided that in order to know what motivates our people, we needed to ask them. We gave people a platform to be heard. After filtering the feedback, we had enough information to move forward with our people plan.
Our plan was divided into three separate parts:
n Establish a results-oriented culture.
The idea was to develop quarterly plans for each department. In doing so, everyone has clear expectations as to what role they play in the company with a built-in accountability mechanism. Next, we decided to implement an incentive and reward program based on key performance measures tied into their specific goals. Incentives could include cash bonuses, trips, awards, gift certificates and time off. We found this twofold approach meets our goals for our overall go forward plan as well as our people plan.
- Develop the full potential of each employee.
Our goal here is to provide and implement ongoing training for all employees on a yearly basis. This could consist of internal and external training programs.
- Improve employee understanding of business fundamentals.
We will share key performance measures on a regular basis with the entire company. Our people need to be educated in all areas of the business to make the greatest impact. Fundamentals include revenues, staffing levels, number of advertisers, advertising market share, advertiser satisfaction, product quality, reader satisfaction, reader request levels, community involvement and employee satisfaction.
We immediately noticed a change in attitude of our employees when implementing our plan and look forward to the rewards for the company to follow. Everyone needs an incentive. Most companies dont really focus on their employees until its too late. Remember, employees will never treat a customer better than they are being treated themselves.
After receiving an overwhelming and enthusiastic response to last month’s column entitled “Join the PAC: Politics can make or break your business,” a number of readers have decided they would like to move forward with the formation of a Political Action Committee dedicated to electing truly pro-business candidates on the local, state and national scene.
As I described last month, a PAC is an independent organization, the primary purpose of which is to support or oppose candidates, political parties or ballot issues. It is more financially flexible than independent campaign donations, allowing groups of people to pool their resources, educate voters on issues that may affect them and support likeminded candidates for political office.
It will be the goal of this new PAC to act as an advocate for pro-business issues, with a motto of “We are in the business of helping business succeed.” The organizers of the PAC have set a goal of raising $250,000 during the next six months. As a reader and a business person, you will read more about the PAC in its own newsletter, paid for by the PAC and contained in future issues of SBN.
If we all pool our resources, we can have a much greater impact on the whole. Listed below is a breakdown of how the PAC hopes to make its $250,000 goal.
5@ $5,000 $25,000
50@ $2,500 $125,000
50@ $1,000 $50,000
50@ $500 $25,000
50@ $100 $5,000
200@ $50 $10,000
250@ $25 $5,000
500@ $10 $5,000
There will be different levels of participation to help the PAC meet its goals, but each and every donation, regardless of amount, is important. This is an opportunity to stand up and be counted. Together, you can bring business issues to the forefront of the political arena.
Several committees are being contemplated with regard to the PAC’s formation. If this is something that you would like to be more actively involved with, please let us know. It is the intention of the PAC to make this something that readers and business people can be involved in at every level. I am pleased that the organizers of the PAC have adopted many of the goals that I set forth in last month’s editorial, including:
- Raising and donating money to political candidates who are truly pro-business, who have demonstrated their commitment to a pro-business agenda by their actions, including voting records, candidates’ questionnaires and by members of the PAC who can vouch for their pro-business agendas.
- Creating a new voice for business owners and leaders to bring attention and focus on the issues that affect them.
- Educating members of the Political Action Committee about issues that may affect their businesses and the politicians who have a direct influence on corresponding legislation.
- Bringing about change to help businesses grow and prosper.
Synergy is where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. I know each one of us gets asked to do a lot of things, but I hope you will consider creating a stronger political voice a priority. When the Political Action Committee is formed, the organizers will let you know where contributions to the PAC can be sent. Look for that information in the PAC’s first newsletter, coming soon.
Fred Koury (email@example.com) is president and CEO of SBN.
Ohio is the most recent state to come under attack for references to God. A challenge to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to remove the phrase With God all things are possible as the official state motto for Ohio, suggests just one more step in the process of removing any mention of deity in our lives.
The first step is removing God from our government and schools. Will the next step be to remove God from our businesses? Will faith be outlawed as a guiding principle in our daily affairs as religious references are erased from public view?
In our rapidly changing, high-tech culture, we are so crowded with our own inventions that we have no need for dependence on, nor accountability to, a Supreme Being. But can success, material wealth and power give ultimate meaning to our lives? In our shift from the spiritual to a more secular world view, our appeal to higher standards of love, virtue, compassion and positive traits in general have lost their point of reference.
There is a growing sense of frustration that achieving The American Dream does not fulfill our deeper longings. We spend years building businesses, growing market share and watching the bottom line. After years of struggling to climb a mountain of obstacles, we get to the top, only to realize that success can be an empty feeling.
We have it all, but we are not satisfied.
Peggy Noonen, former speech writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, spoke about our national spiritual crisis in the Sept. 14, 1992, issue of Forbes magazine: ... We are beginning to lose God banishing Him from the scene, from our consciousness, losing the assumption He was part of the deity drama or its Maker.
And it is a terrible thing when people lose God. Life is difficult and people are afraid, and to be without God is to lose mans great source of consolation and coherence.
From Moses to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have come dire warnings of the consequences of a nation that forgets God. Without God, our business endeavors have no reason or meaning. It becomes a game of wealth accumulation and power struggles.
Some will demand evidence before allowing God to guide their daily affairs, but there are compelling reasons that a belief in a Supreme Being is not so farfetched. Consider:
- The outer evidence. Look at the order, beauty and intricate design of nature. Could all of this happen by chance or accident? I think not, any more than an explosion in a print shop could result in a book of poetry!
Abraham Lincoln said, All that I see teaches me to believe in a God that I do not see.
- The inner evidence: The inner longing of every human being to be loved and to express love, to know truth and the desire for peace where do these come from? A higher being? To come to the realization that we are created for a purpose will influence our personal, family and business worlds. The more we seek to be in a right relationship with God, the more we come into right relationships with our fellow human beings.
It will pervade every area of our lives as we remember that in all matters however, great or small it is In God We Trust.
Fred Koury (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president and CEO of SBN.
Given its large number of electoral votes, Ohio has always been an important state in presidential politics.
As the 2000 campaign comes to the forefront, it seems to be developing into an important swing state in determining who will be our next president. In keeping with its mandate to promote the open discussion of issues affecting businesses, Ohioans for Better Business (with SBN affiliation) would like to host a two-part forum in September that will provide the Republican and Democratic nominees for president separate opportunities to discuss issues of concern to business owners and to explain their plans for creating a strong pro-jobs environment in Ohio and the nation.
We spearheaded the creation of Ohioans for Better Business because of our experiences during the past 10 years as the largest chain of business-to-business publications in Ohio. In our business dealings throughout the state, an increasing number of business leaders voiced their interest in creating a forum to discuss taxes, health care, the environment, labor relations, campaign finance reform and other issues of importance.
I have aired many of these issues in my column, which reaches more than 300,000 readers -- most of whom are presidents and owners of companies ranging in size from 20 to 500 employees. Few topics bring as much feedback as those that have a political focus to them, because politics can affect whether a business is successful or not.
A simple change in an environmental law can have a huge impact on business. An administrative ruling can mean the difference between a business surviving or failing. Too many times laws are enacted or changed without proper input from business owners and leaders. It's time our representatives in Congress and the White House hear our side of the story.
In short, business owners care about what happens in Washington, which is why we created Ohioans for Better Business. We believe the work of the federal government clearly dictates the future of Ohio's business climate, for better or worse. Ohioans for Better Business is dedicated to promoting the open discussion of issues impacting our business communities.
While more than just a business advocacy group, we will be supporting the advancement of federal, state and local legislation that will support successful Ohio businesses and make the climate here business-friendly.
Each of our two proposed forums will be by invitation only and include business owners and members of top management from companies throughout the state. This will be a great opportunity to talk to other owners who have similar concerns and to hear first-hand what our representatives are doing to improve the business climate. If you are interested in attending these events, please contact us.
We also want to encourage any feedback on issues you might have. It is very important that we hear from you about the issues that affect your day-to-day operations.
What can political leaders do to make your business more successful, generate more jobs and make the community a better place to live? Now is the time for your voice to be heard. We need your support. Many people don't bother to get involved because they don't feel they can make a difference. However, our goal is to create a unified voice for business owners and leaders and bring attention to the issues that affect them. Synergy is where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Without you, we are missing a very important part. Fred Koury (email@example.com) is president and CEO of SBN.
One key to business success is knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
Too often, companies find themselves in trouble because they venture outside of what they are good at. Quite often today, you hear that you should really know your core competencies -- what it is your company does or specializes in that will give it a competitive edge in the marketplace.
In any leadership position within a company, it is very important to know what sets the company apart from others. It is important for this message to be articulated throughout the organization so each person is on the same page.
For example, we at SBN Magazine are in the publishing business. When someone asked me what our core competencies are, I said we write stories, sell ads, mail out our publications to top decision-makers within each company and gather information about our readers to develop our database.
After giving it more thought, I realized the importance of the answer -- so much so that we decided to focus on each point to see how we could further develop these areas. Below is a detailed version of our core competencies and how we are mastering them.
1. Content generation -- Our unique approach to local business coverage has the garnered the recognition of the journalism community, as well as of our readers. In the last year alone, SBN Magazine has received eight awards for excellence, including SBN Magazine Cleveland being recognized as the best business publication in Northeast Ohio.
2. Sales and marketing -- SBN Magazine has developed an extensive client list that includes an array of industry-leading organizations such as UPS, PNC Bank, AT&T and Arthur Andersen.
3. Market reach -- SBN Magazine saturates almost 100 percent of its desired targeted audience in its markets. Out of our targeted audience, 92 percent of the people who receive our publication are decision-makers by title.
4. Market knowledge -- SBN Magazine has developed an extensive database of buying trends of middle market companies.
I challenge each of you to put yourselves through a similar exercise if you haven't done so already. If someone were to ask you to name your core competencies, could you? Once you have outlined each of them, come up with a plan on how you can focus on each area and take it to the next level this year.
Are you performing as highly in each area as you should be? Outlining your competencies and examining how well you're performing in each area can give you insight into which parts of your company need the most attention.
Performing this type of analysis is another way to keep your edge in an increasingly competitive environment. Fred Koury (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.
When was the last time you asked your employees if they trust you? People take their employees for granted, and that's a big mistake.
I see six ways to build better trust between you and your employees that will make you a better leader
1. Communicate. It's better to overcommunicate than not communicate at all. This can be done through daily, weekly or monthly e-mails, newsletters or managers' meetings.
2. Take a genuine interest in your employees' financial situation. If an employee is having financial problems and you are in a position to help, why not extend an interest-free loan that can be deducted out of future paychecks? It costs little, and the gesture will go a long way.
3. Take a genuine interest in your employees' personal situation. Flextime is a great way to allow employees to deal with childcare, eldercare or sickness in the family. Employees appreciate flexibility.
4. Give recognition when deserved. Surveys show employees crave recognition as much as or more than money. Show them you appreciate their efforts.
5. Show a clear direction for the company. People need to be able to see the future of the company, as well as their own future. It's important to share goals and objectives that pave the way to success.
6. Share key performance measures of how you run the company. Everyone should know what variables are used when making decisions. For instance, one variable could be return on investment and the timeframe in which you expect to get that return.
Leadership is not to be taken lightly. The more you care about your people's needs, the greater the chance that you will be the person leading them. Even when you think your employees are wrong, if you listen carefully, they're probably telling you something about your business that needs correcting.
In the current economic climate, you can't afford to ignore them.
Maybe what we really need is a good case of an attitude readjustment. I know it's easy to look to the left and to the right and see something that appears to be so much better than what we have. Each one of us has a certain lot in life and it is important to make the best of it. The first thing that happens when we look to one side or the other to see what we don't have is we forget what we do have. Discontentment sets in and we become ungrateful.
Eventually this leads to a bad attitude.
How should we view the discontentment that appears from time to time? As an enemy, and try to avoid it, or as a friend we can learn from?
I see four ways to move closer to a better attitude.
1. Appreciate what you have before you lose it. You or your business may not be where you want to be, but it is important to appreciate what you have or it could be taken from you. Don't look at what you could have, but rather appreciate what you have accomplished.
2. Appreciate what you don't have before you get it. Everything isn't always as good as it seems. Don't wish something upon yourself that appears to be good, but turns out to hurt you. Difficult economic times can lead to poor decision-making as companies take high risks to try to turn bigger profits.
3. Lead by example. A great attitude is contagious and people want to be around it. If you see how much differently you can view life with the right attitude, you'll never have a bad attitude again.
4. Learn from your mistakes. A bad attitude can only be your friend if you learn from it. Change your tone and watch how much better people respond to you. Communication and morale will improve as your attitude changes.
The true test of a person's character is not when things are going well, but how that person handles challenges. The people with winning attitudes are the ones I want on my team. Those with bad attitudes always get thrown off the team in the end because no one wants to play with them.