Most of us sincerely want to be a better person, manager, spouse, significant other, parent, child or Indian chief. Certainly, good intentions and desire are the first steps in self-improvement. The second step is an introspective discovery process combined with a bit of discipline in order to make meaningful progress.
To get started, ask yourself several pointed questions. Has anyone ever made suggestions to you about your management or communication style? Maybe it was a boss or mentor, a good friend or an associate earnestly trying to give you a few constructive tips on how to improve. Best yet, it might have been self-discovery after you did something that did not quite measure up to your own expectations.
Reality is, for most of us, our strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses. As an example, if you're a type A, anal-retentive person who is detail-oriented to a fault and always crosses every T and dots every I, possibly this strength has morphed you into becoming a micromanager of others. Or, maybe you consider yourself a disciple of the great communicator, the late President Ronald Reagan, because you are a terrific speaker who can captivate the other person in one-on-one conversation or every individual in a large audience. The downside of this is maybe you're not a great listener because you fall in love with the sound of your voice and your words. This could translate into you talking too much and unintentionally giving the wrong impression of not being receptive to another person's point of view.
The list can go on and on. The trick, however, is to recognize what you are and what you're not, and then tweak your style for the greater good, helping not only yourself but also those with whom you interface by making yourself more effective and perhaps even a little easier to take.
Try this. Create two columns on a legal pad or spreadsheet and list all of the attributes you think you possess in terms of your management capabilities/style. Keep the list short and focus on what's important, as this is not an inventory of everything you've done or learned since the third grade. Once you've captured two, three or four key characteristics, in the next column record a corresponding set of those things you know don't help your cause.
Next, re-read this personal inventory of pros and cons and look for patterns. If you note, as an example, that you are incredibly disciplined and seldom give yourself any slack, see if you also jotted down on the detractor side of the ledger that people tend to think you push subordinates too hard without differentiating between what is mission-critical versus basic tasks. If you spot this corresponding weakness, it doesn't necessarily mean that you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, but you might just need to recalibrate your standards when dealing with others, recognizing that your subordinates don't have to become your clone to be successful.
Once you've drilled down on the most important characteristics that you want to change, it's time to develop a game plan. For illustrative purposes, let's again assume you're that great communicator, but you sometimes go over the top and incessantly interrupt others, which leads to missing out on their ideas, not to mention becoming a bore. If this is your Achilles' heel, you must focus on the triggers that cause you to behave in this manner in order to strive for improvement.
Maybe you're really not self-consumed, but instead, your mind races ahead to follow-up thoughts that you want to make without allowing enough time for others to absorb and comment on your initial words of wisdom. This suggests you need to put a mental circuit breaker on your lips after you make your first major point, allowing for a long pregnant pause to let others amplify on your point or introduce an opposing or complementary thought. By doing this, you'll help make the conversation or presentation more interactive, which may lead to better resolutions or open the door to new unexplored concepts or opportunities.
Armed with this newly created self-assessment, you'll become a more productive and better leader who has learned to make your strengths stronger and reduce the negative effects of your weaknesses.
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. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
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Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.
There are plenty of warnings about wanting too much in this world, whether it is in your personal life or as the CEO of a company.
Remember the dot-com bust? Prior to the technology market bubble bursting, tech companies could do no wrong. Investors were ignoring basic fundamentals because “this was a new era” and the old rules didn’t apply. Well, it turns out the rules did apply. As did one very old rule about “what goes up, must come down.”
Tech company valuations were slashed by billions, thousands were laid off and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.
More recently, we experienced the real estate bust. It was pretty much the same story — people ignored basic investing and common-sense rules and the prices for real estate went sky-high, and then the bubble burst. The results were also the same: billions in value lost, thousands of jobs affected and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.
There is plenty of blame to go around for these events, both by investors who got caught up on the hype and CEOs who were trying to get rich, or at least richer than they already were. It was a quest to have the biggest paycheck, the biggest yacht, the biggest plane and the biggest house. The reckless CEOs were trying to use get-rich-quick methods that are dangerous to everyone.
There are four common ways to grow a company:
- Going public through an IPO
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Debt financing
- Self-funded organic growth
IPOs cost a lot of money to launch and even more money to maintain. The second and third methods are all about leverage. Overvalued stocks and overleveraged companies were major contributors to the tech and real estate busts. Too many CEOs were borrowing more and more money to fund the next great merger or open more locations. When tough times hit and the money dried up, they had lived well beyond their means and a harsh reality set in.
Despite these recent economic failures, many companies are still playing with borrowed money, overleveraging themselves and putting their entire company at risk. You have to understand the leverage game and the risks that come with it. The best way to grow a company is to create an environment that fosters growth and to focus on building long-term relationships.
This isn’t to say that you won’t make a strategic acquisition here and there or occasionally borrow money to fund needed expansions. The key is to do it in moderation and understand how too much debt can hurt your ability to grow. Making a mistake with debt can spell doom for your company and everyone in it.
Your responsibility as CEO goes far beyond yourself. Investors obviously are counting on you, but so is everyone that works in your organization. For some of your vendors, you might be their largest account. If you suddenly went out of business, how would it affect them? Would you create your own mini “bust” that rippled through the local economy, even on a micro scale?
In today’s world, you need to take a hard look at how you are leading your company. One wrong move could cut you off from the credit you need to fund your leveraged growth. With no money, the organization often collapses under the weight of its own debt.
It’s OK to be satisfied with what you have and not play the high-risk game of leveraged growth. Growth is good but not when it requires an “all-in” risk that can ruin your organization and the lives of the people who work there. Remember, more often than not, slow and steady wins the race.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan S. Elliott wanted to write a book that would share the inspiring words of wisdom she picked up in her 50 years in business. It would also keep her out of her daughter’s hair.
Elliott launched SSE Inc. in 1966 after a successful stint as a female programmer at IBM. She led the 100-employee IT services firm until 2004, when she transitioned leadership to Elizabeth, her daughter.
“If I could help do the same thing for others who were coming along or leaders who were building their leadership roles, that was what I hoped and dreamed about,” Elliott says.
Elliott’s book is called “Across the Divide.” She spoke with Smart Business about the lessons that helped her be a more effective leader.
What are keys to successful leadership?
If you have passion, there are no obstacles and nothing stands in your way. If it’s important to you, you persevere. A favorite quote I read from Steve Jobs was when Steve believed in an idea, he was both passionate and patient, scratching away over the years until he got it right.
It’s relentless intensity and total commitment. The only way to do truly great work is to adore what you are doing, which is a combination of passion and perseverance.
How do you deal with these times of constant change?
You have to look at change and look to the future right when your business is at the peak of its success. It’s the hardest time to do that. Your revenue is coming in. You’re feeling good about what you’ve accomplished. That’s when you have to make the transition.
IBM almost missed the PC market altogether. They stayed with the mainframes so long. Microsoft, they were late coming up with Internet Explorer, but it did replace Netscape. But look at Bing, it doesn’t touch Google. The last one is Kodak. They had to declare bankruptcy. They missed the whole digital world transition.
How do you get your people to buy into change?
You have to build a team that is responsive and receptive to your vision.
Elizabeth, my daughter, pulled together people from various aspects of the company. She did not include me or the gentleman who had been president when she took over. She pulled together people who were technical, business office, back office, that type of thing.
What they did was figure out, what can we be the best in the world at? What can be we passionate about? What do we have that is an economic engine that will make it work?
By pulling the various entities into this discussion, they came out with this manifesto as to what SSE should be doing going forward. That filters through the whole organization because it bubbled up from the people.
What is a leadership trait of your daughter that you really admire?
The ability to make a decision and follow through. It’s not shoot from the hip. It’s well thought out, carefully prepared in her mind and then executed. There are so many business executives that just weeble-wobble and can’t bite the bullet. You have to make decisions. You have to follow through.
If you don’t, your employees look around and they think, ‘Well, they tolerated this, they won’t care because this is OK.’ You have to be strong. Don’t second-guess yourself.
How to reach: SSE Inc., (314) 439-4700 or www.sseinc.com
In “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence,” the authors tell the story of a manager who used cars in the parking lot as a barometer of her team’s collective emotions after a merger. Immediately after the merger announcement, she noticed full parking lots even late into the evening.
She interpreted this as an extra level of excitement about the potential opportunities afforded by the merger. Over time, and as post-merger change initiatives foundered, the number of cars decreased, and she interpreted this as decreasing excitement and commitment.
But she also noticed that certain cars were a constant. There were “pockets of people” that remained productive and happy in the midst of delays in progress with the merger. What she found was that most people who endured the change with positivity were protected from the disorder by leaders who included them in the process of change, gave them needed information and provided as much control as possible over their destiny.
Effective leaders know how to promote engagement regardless of the strength of the winds of change — or in this case the lack of progress.
Something in our business environments is always changing — either internally or externally. In addition, something in our business environments is always stalled. Leaders need to understand how to keep the energy level up during challenging times.
Some of the most effective leadership behaviors during tough times are illustrated in this post-merger example: Include your team as much as possible, give them critical information and allow team members the appropriate level of autonomy so they feel they have some level of control over their immediate work environment.
The authors of “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work,” offer another key component of engagement. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer suggest that “of all the events that can deeply engage people in their jobs, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”
Think about the last time a key corporate client said to you, “You guys are integral to our success; we couldn’t have done this without you.” Were your steps a little lighter that day? After celebrating that success with others and thanking all involved for their contributions, how much more motivated were you to do a great job for that client? How much more motivated was your team?
As leaders, we need to ensure that our employees are not only making progress with organizational goals, but that they believe that their work matters. How do we do that?
There are several key principles to keep in mind: First, of course, is that people find meaning in their work in different ways. Some derive value primarily by how much they please your customers. Others focus almost exclusively on what they can acquire from their employment: status, money, etc. Others want to build an organization or army of people who will accomplish something great for its own sake and some simply derive pleasure from getting things done. What they do is less important than the accomplishment of achieving goals. Finally, there are people who find meaning by working with others who are like a family to them.
While none of us typically focus exclusively on just one source of meaning, it helps to remember that people do extract different primary sources of meaning and that leaders and managers need to have this in mind as they seek to lead others.
Second, once you know how your team members find meaning, make sure you don’t obscure it. Be clear about how what your team is doing connects to something beyond the day-to-day tasks in ways that has meaning to each person.
Finally, if you lead the entire organization, be clear with everyone, not just your team, on how the strategies, initiatives and measurable goals connect to different sources of meaning.
Helping people see the links between the progress they are making in their daily tasks and the meaning in their lives or the lives of others is one of the key tasks of leadership. Doing this well can only serve to fuel the fire of full engagement for your employees and for you.
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 get greater alignment behind systemic organizational changes, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400 or email@example.com.
The idea for Yurbuds Sport Earphones came when Seth Burgett was training for his first Ironman triathlon. He completed a six-hour workout each Saturday, and after one such workout, he realized his ears hurt from his earphones worse than his legs. He joined forces with co-founder Richard Daniels, a 24-time marathoner, to develop an ergonomic solution to earphones that hurt or fell out.
The duo partnered with audiologists and ergonomics experts to study the human ear and develop the product. This ultimately led to six different sizes consumers can purchase at specialty stores such as Best Buy and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Online consumers can also send a picture of their ear to the company, which will send the exact size Yurbuds the next business day.
Burgett, chairman and CEO, is an independent thinker who is willing to take risks in the face of uncertainty. For example, Yurbuds’ first package did not show earphones but a picture of a face with “INSPIRE” written in red. This went against convention, but now others are copying the packaging, with retailers telling established brands they should look more like Yurbuds.
Burgett transfers his athletic mindset to the business. He founded the company’s annual Team Adventure Race that is now in its third year. In 2012, 12 members attended the four-hour race, which includes running, mountain biking and canoeing. The race encourages employees to live a healthy lifestyle and creates bonding opportunities within the company.
The company’s vision for the future is driven by three growth factors — Bluetooth; biomonitoring, which may include real-time monitoring and feedback of heart rate, blood sugar or oxygen level; and appcessories, the integration of earphones and apps on smartphones.
HOW TO REACH: Yurbuds Sport Earphones, www.yurbuds.com
When Jon Cook began his career with VML as an account executive in 1996, the Internet was just beginning to take off.
Few marketing firms recognized the potential for digital marketing, but Cook, knowing that in the marketing industry a firm needs to continually push the envelope, urged the company to head in the digital direction.
His foresight turned VML into the market leader it is today, and subsequently, Cook has held nearly every possible role at VML. In January 2007, Cook was promoted to president, and in February 2011, he became the company’s CEO.
Cook’s commitment to originality and creativity continues in that role as he encourages his employees to challenge the status quo and devise new ways of doing things. From this thinking, he created the concept of “Most Important Partner.” Cook wants all his clients to see the company not only as a marketing firm but also as a partner ready to do anything needed to grow their business. This concept has positioned VML as one of the most respected and highly rated digital interactive marketing firms in the world.
Cook has also been committed to giving back to the community. The VML Foundation is an employee-led organization that spearheads community outreach and charitable contributions. It works nationwide to give back to the communities VML operates within. Nearly 75 percent of the company’s employees make contributions to the foundation; VML matches a portion.
In the coming years, Cook plans to continue developing VML into a global digital powerhouse. He has implemented a series of alignment teams to handle substantial client work while maintaining the responsiveness of a small, nimble agency. This structure has allowed VML to sustain and expand its capabilities, enabling the company to scale operations to support annual double-digit revenue growth.
How to reach: VML, www.vml.com
DIRECTORS INTRODUCTION – St. Louis
Kansas City of?ce of Ernst & Young
St. Louis of?ce of Ernst & Young
For more than 25 years, Ernst & Young has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who make our economy vibrant.
Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year® Program to recognize those with a passion for “thinking big” and to bring together visionaries and leaders to inspire each other and our communities.
We have gathered here, and in 25 cities across the United States, to honor all of our regional ?nalists and welcome a new class of entrepreneurs into our Hall of Fame, recognizing their resilience, ingenuity and innovation.
We applaud them for overcoming challenges, inspiring others, opening new markets and, ultimately, fueling economic growth in the Central Midwest.
Let’s celebrate their achievements, perseverance and tireless pursuit of business excellence.
Congratulations to all of the 2012 Central Midwest ?nalists.
What many saw as a failure, Doug Schukar saw as an opportunity. When his former employer, LoanSurfer.com, filed for bankruptcy, Schukar acquired select company assets, including the USA Mortgage name and the right to cherry-pick those he wanted to hire for his new start-up.
He completed the acquisition in 2001, forming DAS Acquisition Co. LLC, which provides its full-service mortgage banker/broker services, under the USA Mortgage name. However, the acquisition didn’t come without some persistence on Schukar’s end. He survived four failed attempts to purchase the LoanSurfer.com assets and completed the acquisition using his own financial assets.
He took on great personal risk as he just started a family with his wife in the midst of the acquisition. Schukar continues to solely bear the financial risk of the company. From the company’s inception, Schukar realized the secret to its success relied in its people, so he sought to foster an environment in which they could succeed. This culture, which is sales-motivated and competitive although collaborative, promotes employee self-management and bonding with co-workers. As a result, USA Mortgage attracts top talent with low turnover.
Schukar’s charitable involvement includes being an elected trustee of the Village of Wildwood, sponsor of the Women’s Council of Realtors, past president of The Young Friends of the St. Louis Art Museum and past director of the Jewish Community Center Association.
USA Mortgage is an active sponsor of the Old Newsboys Day campaign and actively supports some 20 other charitable and civic organizations. Schukar, president and CEO, plans to expand USA Mortgage geographically, evidenced by recently opened offices in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Georgia. He is also in the process of launching DAS University, a curriculum tailored to engage employees, boost company-wide performance and nurture organizational change.
How to reach: USA Mortgage, www.usa-mortgage.com
Dan Reed has a different way of looking at the legal industry. By focusing on it as a business, integrating technology in the litigation process and streamlining operating processes, he has been able to transform the global legal industry and fill a previously unmet gap.
CEO of UnitedLex Corp., Reed founded the Overland Park, Kan.-based consulting, technology and outsourcing provider of legal services in 2006. Instead of using the traditional law firm or BPO model for delivery of services, he built a company that has a management consultancy front end, a technology development and integration enablement group and a centralized resource-outsourcing engine for delivery execution.
Within five months of its start, UnitedLex boasted a client portfolio that included Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft and Marriott Hotels. The company has continued to grow, with a staff of almost 700 serving law firms and corporate legal counsel around the globe in the areas of corporate legal support, litigation support, intellectual property and immigration.
UnitedLex’s customers, many of them Fortune 500, benefit from the lower costs achieved through more efficient processes and risk reduction due to better processes. The company employs customizable creative solutions, such as a dashboard portal allowing clients to view workflows and the status of projects, while maintaining all databases and applications under one common platform — keeping UnitedLex a single point of knowledge.
Already operating in the United States, India, Israel and the United Kingdom, Reed aims to expand UnitedLex into other geographies, including Costa Rica or Brazil, as well as Eastern and Western Europe. In 2011, the company was ranked in the Inc. 500 fastest-growing private companies in America.
How to reach: UnitedLex Corp., www.unitedlex.com
Mike O’Neill, CEO; John Nickel, president; Kevin Quigley, executive vice president; Switch: Liberate Your BrandWritten by SBN Staff
Due to the strategic collaboration of three executives to diversify its revenue base, Switch: Liberate Your Brand is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary as an independent organization with a portfolio of clients that includes big names such as Coca-Cola, 5-Hour Energy, Elsevier, Vitamin Water and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, among others.
The experiential marketing agency, headquartered in St. Louis, is owned and operated by CEO Mike O’Neill, President John Nickel and Executive Vice President Kevin Quigley. The trio began as colleagues at Busch Creative Services, a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch, before taking advantage of the opportunity to collectively purchase BCS in 2002 — which would evolve into Switch: Liberate Your Brand.
self-reliant and diversify its services in order to survive. To differentiate from competitors and attract clients, the trio worked to make Switch a full-service provider with account management, creative department and production all under one roof.
In addition to traditional capabilities, such as strategy and design, Switch has nontraditional capabilities too, such as market research, a digital innovation lab, a large format print shop, a fabrication studio, video and motion graphics production and equipment.
These capabilities allow Switch to have control over the full experiential marketing process — from initiation, strategic brand conversation and development to the delivery of the product.
Additionally, Switch recently added a director of technology to enhance its digital/technology group, as well as an intellectual property director to leverage assets to develop new intellectual properties for client use.
The organization’s innovative model has helped the company grow in both revenue and size. Switch now employs 116 full-time headquarter employees and more than 900 field marketing associates across the U.S.
How to reach: Switch: Liberate Your Brand, www.liberateyourbrand.com