The Power of Gratitude

The late Bob Briner, author of Roaring Lambs, taught me the most important words you can say are thank you. I knew from years of reading the Bible and associating with thankful people that giving thanks was important, but Bob, a successful businessman, emphasized gratitude in the workplace. As a result, I’ve made it my practice to say thanks as often as I can, to as many as I can, and for whatever reason I can.

Saying thank you is so powerful that only the naive and ignorant would fail to employ it. Here are two reasons why:

First, everyone needs to feel appreciated. When you tell someone you are grateful for what they have done, it lifts them up, it makes them feel good. It inspires them to excel since they know they’ll not go unnoticed.

Second, gratitude is powerful because it produces something good in you. When you give thanks it changes your outlook on life.   Your perspective becomes more positive; you realize there is so much to be thankful for.  You feel better about yourself.

When to give thanks? Always—and for everything. Most will say thank you when something good is done for them; gratitude is easy when things go well. However, one of the best ways to deal with tough situations is to be thankful! It may or may not change the circumstances, but it will change how you face them.  The best path out of trouble is thanksgiving.

As a business owner, I hate complaints, but have learned to appreciate them. Truth is, a dissatisfied customer could not say anything to you, but go tell others how bad your company is. Instead, they are calling to tell you they’re unhappy. This is great news, as a complaint can go from something negative to a chance to improve—hopefully saving a customer too!

Two examples of gratitude come to mind.

Jim and Phyllis Russell were expecting a child, but not the child they got. On delivery day the baby born to them had down-syndrome. During dinner with Jim, he recalled the occasion of their daughter Amy’s birth. He remembered the biblical admonition, “In everything give thanks”; so Jim and his wife thanked God for the precious gift they had just received. Jim is gone now, and the child a mature adult—known all over the world as the “Amy” in the Russell’s private charity, The Amy Foundation.

The second example is simple but impacted me greatly. My wife and I were dining at the Amway Grand in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Each time the waitress served us and I thanked her, she replied, “My pleasure.” You could tell she meant it and not only enjoyed waiting on us, but was grateful for the opportunity.

There is so much to be had by taking the time to say thanks. What would the workplace be like if we took the time to express some gratitude?

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A Rude but Welcomed Awakening

I’ll not forget an experience I had late Spring 1990. We were in our 6th year as a company, having enjoyed five straight years of rapid growth and profitability. I had added personnel and our firm was working all over the state of Michigan. However, it was May and we had lost a considerable amount of money the first four months of the year. T. L. Hart, Inc. was in trouble.

I had had a goal of becoming one of mid-Michigan’s best and largest painting contractors. And we were well on our way. Our list of reputable customers was growing and, as for me, I was active in the area’s trade association and had worked my way to the top as president. Working with this association and the state, I had developed an apprenticeship program to train new painters. All of this was in jeopardy because of the losses. Not only was what I had built at risk, but so was my family. We had sold our house in town—and couldn’t get a loan approved for the new house we wanted because of the financials.

I was humiliated and my world was fast falling apart.

One day, laying on the couch and commiserating with myself, God reminded me of a Bible verse I had read before. It was from the book of James, chapter four, verses 13-15:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’”

There’s a lot to be learned in these three short verses, but my take away that day was this: “if the Lord wills.” That is, whatever I do—in this regard grow the company—it has to be in harmony with God’s will.

Most folks think that God and religion are to be relegated to Sundays and church, but that’s not true. Even a casual reading of the Bible instructs us that God cares about even the most mundane things, like eating and drinking and sleeping—not to mention business, employer/employee relations, profit, and so forth. I had come to understand this through many years of not only reading the Scriptures, but also being part of a Christian businessman’s group which studied such things.

God’s will is paramount to any endeavor, and it is important for the earnest believer to be always putting that ahead of his own aspirations. I think mine had gotten way out ahead of God’s

Life is too short to be messing around with pursuits motivated by pride and personal ambition. In fact, James goes on to cite the reason for his admonishment: “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil” (verse 16).

I’m certain my inward attitude resembled at least to some degree such arrogance. Success, especially quick success, breeds such things. Thank God He interrupted the course of things and interjected His thoughts into the matter. I stood corrected.

If I remember it right, we went on that year to recover the losses and ended the year with a small profit. And I was able to get a mortgage. God is good.

I had a lot more to learn—but I shall save these for another time. What is important, albeit with respect to business, marriage and family, church, and other personal interests, is the will of God. The take-away is this: we ought always to say when considering anything, “If the Lord wills.” Or, “God-willing, we will do this or that.”

Why Core Values are Important

Everyone has principles by which they live. For the business owner it might be financial freedom; for the school teacher, impacting the lives of the next generation; for the Christian, faith. Whether they are aware of it or not, all have values that shape their attitudes and direct their actions. Consciously or unconsciously, they constitute the heart and soul of the person; its who they are.

Companies also have tenets they operate from. Many that have identified them may refer to them as core values. These are the things that make for the culture of a company. They might be written in mission statement on the wall or simply assumed, but these are what makes the firm tick; they constitute its core.

Whether you are an individual or a huge, multinational corporation, it is important to dig deep and find out what these are. Once found, wrap yourself or your company around them and bring everything you do into alignment.

Author Gino Wickman, in his book Traction, provides a wonderful process for determining what your businesses’ core values are. The book is worth the read just for this helpful information. He even provides tools to guide you through the discovery–and yes, it is a process of discovery; what you really believe in your heart may surprise you, good or bad.

Core values can be changed. My mentor for twenty years, the late Jim Russell, once told me, “Terry, your business will take off when you change your thinking about it.” What he meant was, the underlying guiding principles that held my company at bay needed to be altered. What I held to be true about T. L. Hart, Inc. had to change.

I believe it was Michael Gerber in his book, The E-myth, who pointed out that your business is you. In other words, your business is a direct reflection of who you are as a person. I understand that most companies may have more than one person to be considered, but the maxim is the same; who you are–or, who your team is, will be seen in the firm as a whole. This is why you not only need to do some digging yourself, but include other key players in your organization.

I went through the process a few years ago and included some team members. We came up with a list of seven or eight key qualities that we thought best represented our company. I wrote them down, and for a year or so taught them at our monthly staff meetings. After a while, I quizzed the group at to what they were; not one got them right.

I learned what Wickman presents in his book: keep them to a few; no more than seven or eight, but better yet four or five. So we took another look and boiled them down further. I am now confident that our four core values truly represent who I am and what I stand for. There is buy-in from the team, and they are fast becoming corporate culture.

To put this to work your core values need to permeate the entire operation. You hire and fire by them, you make your decisions based on them, and you build your products and services around them. Your core values dictate what you do and how you do it.

In my next article I will tell what my company’s core values are and why, and how I incorporate them into what we do.

God Be Magnified

“Let God be magnified” (Psalm 70:4). That is, allow Him to be as great as He really is in your situation. Taking it a step further, *make Him greater* in your situation.
All of us face things that seem insurmountable. Or we have dreams that seem far off. Or we’ve a word from the Lord that seems impossible. All of which is to say we are thinking these things to be greater in scope than the One who is Great—God.
To magnify is “to make (something) greater; to make (something) seem greater or more important than it is; to make (something) appear larger” (Mirriam Webster). This is precisely what we tend to do when we’ve situations we don’t know how to cope with. We elevate them. In fact, we almost deify them—as if they are sovereign over us. An attitude that almost borders on idolatry.
The word here however is in the context of great need. The Psalmist is under a death threat, there are people seeking his very life. And he, on his part, is “afflicted and needy.” It is in this situation that he says “Let God be magnified.” In other words, “This is what is happening to me, and I am not sure of the outcome—but God, I call out to You! I seek You and am glad in You! I love Your salvation (and I really need it right now)! I recognize You are far greater than my earthly foes! I make you greater than these! I magnify You!”
When I think of magnifying God, I think of a magnifying glass—a lens through which when you look at something it makes it appear bigger. It’s not that God is small and we have to somehow make Him bigger. No, it’s that we see Him small, as if unable to help us or do anything about the challenges we are confronted with. The point is we need to change our glasses. The ones we wear are often of the wrong sort; we need the glasses that make God out to be as large as He really is.
I think of a story Jim Russell told me about the birth of his daughter Amy. It was well before the days of ultrasound, and when the day came for her to be born, she was a down-syndrome baby. What I remember about what Jim told me is that he and his wife Phyllis simply thanked God. The rest is history; thousands and thousands have been influenced for the kingdom of God by virtue of Amy’s birth and the Russell’s magnification of God at the time.
We ought alway see God as absolutely sovereign. There is nothing that escapes His notice. Prophet Graham Cooke rightly said, “What God allows in His wisdom He could easily prevent by His power.” This ought inspire a deep reverence for God in our hearts, what the Bible refers to as the fear of the Lord.
To magnify the Lord is to place Him above our circumstances, right where He belongs. He is already there, mind you—He just needs to be there in our hearts and minds. He needs to be there in our perspective, in my view of things. God is greater. He is more powerful. He is wiser. He is present. And, wonders of wonders, He loves us.

If the Lord Wills

I’ll not forget an experience I had late Spring 1990. We were in our 6th year as a company, having enjoyed five straight years of rapid growth and profitability. I had added personnel and our firm was working all over the state of Michigan. However, it was May and we had lost a considerable amount of money the first four months of the year. T. L. Hart, Inc. was in trouble.

I had had a goal of becoming one of mid-Michigan’s best and largest painting contractors. And we were well on our way. Our list of reputable customers was growing and, as for me, I was active in the area’s trade association and had worked my way to the top as president. Working with this association and the state, I had developed an apprenticeship program to train new painters. All of which was in jeopardy because of the losses. Not only was what I had built at risk, but so was my family. We had sold our house in town—and couldn’t get a loan approved for the new house we wanted because of the financials.

I was humiliated and my world was fast falling apart.

One day, laying on the couch and commiserating with myself, God reminded me of a Bible verse I had read before. It was from the book of James, chapter four, verses 13-15:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’”

There’s a lot to be learned in these three short verses, but my take away that day was this: “if the Lord wills.” That is, whatever I do—in this regard grow the company—it has to be in harmony with God’s will.

Most folks think that God and religion are to be relegated to Sundays and church, but that’s not true. Even a casual reading of the Bible instructs us that God cares about even the most mundane things, like eating and drinking and sleeping—not to mention business, employer/employee relations, profit, and so forth. I had come to understand this through many years of not only reading the Scriptures, but also being part of a Christian businessman’s group which studied such things.

God’s will is paramount to any endeavor, and it is important for the earnest believer to be always putting that ahead of his own aspirations. I think mine had gotten way out ahead of God’s

Life is too short to be messing around with pursuits motivated by pride and personal ambition. In fact, James goes on to cite the reason for his admonishment: “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil” (verse 16).

I’m certain my inward attitude resembled at least to some degree such arrogance. Success, especially quick success, breeds such things. Thank God He interrupted the course of things and interjected His thoughts into the matter. I stood corrected.

If I remember it right, we went on that year to recover the losses and ended the year with a small profit. And I was able to get a mortgage. God is good.

I had a lot more to learn—but I shall save these for another time. What is important, albeit with respect to business, marriage and family, church, and other personal interests, is the will of God. The take-away is this: we ought always to say when considering anything, “If the Lord wills.” Or, “God-willing, we will do this or that.”

Why Legal Marijuana is a Bad Idea

Last November, Lansing, Michigan voters approved a measure prohibiting the city from regulating the “use, possession or transfer of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, on private property, by a person who has attained the age of 21 years.”

A similar move is currently underway in MSU’s hometown of East Lansing.

As a resident of the Lansing area and a business owner, here is why I believe legal marijuana  use—for medical or recreational purposes—is a bad idea.

1.  Adverse effects.

I first smoked dope—appropriately termed—in the fall of 1967.  I was a starting end on the high school football team, and within two weeks of my first high I quit the team, became seclusive, depressed and suicidal.  That didn’t stop me, though; I continued to use the drug and quickly moved to stronger ones like mescaline and LSD.  My life was miserable for the next 7 years until, in 1974, I found relief through faith in God.  

My experience is not isolated.  I have witnessed many whose drug use, beginning with marijuana, effected them much in the same way. One person I’ve worked with recently, a young man suffering from schizophrenia, traces his problem to drug use.  Others I know have lost their jobs, their families, gone to prison, and one boy committed suicide.  

I have been an employer for over 35 years.  Literally hundreds have worked for me at one time or another. No stranger to drug use, I know what it looks like.  At first there is a shift in the attitude, then an increase in absenteeism, then overall performance.  Ultimately the person quits, fall off the map, or does something to get themselves fired.  

Working under the influence of marijuana is also unsafe.  Unlike alcohol, the drug remains in a person’s system for up to 30 days, so the weekend’s high carries over into the workweek, posing a safety issue in the workplace.  

2.  Dangerous to society.

A bane to workplace safety, marijuana users behind the wheel of a car are just as dangerous on the road as those under the influence of alcohol.  Last I checked there were over 834 traffic deaths in Michigan—many the result of alcohol use.  So we want to add to the numbers those killed by drivers high on pot?

3.  Unnecessary.

While I understand the problem of chronic pain, with myriads of over-the-counter as well as prescription pain killers, medical marijuana is unnecessary.  And, as anticipated, cards issued for medicinal use are being abused, with people obtaining the drug for simple headaches, upset stomach, and other non-reasons.  

4.  A legal quagmire for employers.

Marijuana use for whatever reason presents a legal mess for business owners with employees. 

Not long ago I interviewed a potential worker who possessed a medical marijuana card.  He was issued it because he feared taking other pain killers and claimed he used it only occasionally.  Since we have a clear substance abuse policy in place and a claim a drug-free workplace, I had to consult an attorney to determine the legality of hiring or not hiring the individual.  Not surprisingly, with most laws fresh off the press, there are few legal precedents.  How this plays out in the courts—and how it impacts the workforce remains to be seen.  

Think about it:  Your doctor or nurse, lawyer, dentist, plumber, grocery check-out clerk, bank teller—high on pot.  Worse yet, your bus driver, school teacher, or fire-fighter!  The move is on to legalize pot, and if it goes where I think it is going, we’re in for a stoned society.  

Bad idea no matter how you look at it.

Lessons Learned from Near Bankruptcy

Most times its the things you learn when you’re down that stick.

Having begun in business in 1985, I built a larger, viable commercial painting company that grew from nothing to 60 employees and $3 million in sales. We had systems, procedures, a good grasp on the market, and even bought land and constructed a 10,000sf office/warehouse.

Then the market tanked and T. L. Hart, Inc. was left holding the bag of considerable debt, declining sales, and a building that lost half its value. In 2010 the bank called all our loans, including our mortgage on the property.

The good news is, we survived the storm, averted bankruptcy, and came out the better for it. On top of that, I came away with some valuable lessons. Here is a summary of what I learned during tough times.

1) Your business model must fit the locality in which it is located. My son John, an investment banker, told me this many years ago—but I didn’t listen to him. My business model would have worked well in a large metropolitan area, like Chicago or Atlanta, but not Lansing, Michigan.

2) You have to have the ability to adapt to an ever-changing marketplace. The bigger the ship the longer it takes to turn it around. I had accumulated so much overhead that when sales dropped by 2/3’s, I couldn’t unload it fast enough. Times change, and you’ve got to be ready for change whenever it occurs.

3) Use credit wisely and pay your debts quickly. It is hard to avoid using credit in today’s world, but the mistake I made was to rely on it. Not only did I fork out tens of thousands of dollars in interest over the years, but when things got bad economically, I had a difficult time making payments. Currently, we have virtually no debt and pay cash for everything—and it feels great!

4) Choose your employees carefully. I look back over my 29 years with T. L. Hart and wonder how I hired some of the people I did. I once heard a reputable contractor say, “Your only as good as the people you work for.” It is equally true that you’re only as good as the people who work for you.

5) Pray and believe God for good things. This really should have been first, but it certainly proved valuable when going through the loss of everything I worked hard to earn. In fact, it was faith and prayer that got us through, and not just by the skin of our teeth, but victoriously!

6) Don’t give up. When our banking official advised me to file bankruptcy—and file it fast, I told him I didn’t believe in bankruptcy. Had I quit I would have owed the bank and others close to a million dollars. As it turned out, I not only didn’t file bankruptcy, 2010 was among the best years T. L. Hart ever had!

7) Always make a profit. My mentor, the late Jim Russell, used to tell me this all the time. I would always respond (in my heart—I didn’t say this to him!), “Yeah, but. . .” Well, he was right. You have to make a profit every single month, even if it is a dollar!

8) Be aware that seasonal aspects and fluctuations in the market can affect your business. I struggled with the ups and downs of business cycles for decades. Finally, I faced the reality that ski resorts and golf courses face: you make your money when you can, when the weather allows. There are seasonal cycles, construction cycles, economic cycles; you’ve just got to come to grips with it. And. . . make sure your business model compensates for it.

9) Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. This was a hard lesson! I made the mistake of casting aside even the good things we had going for us during our fight for survival. Now, four years into a great recovery, I’ve still not put back into place many policies and procedures that helped grow T. L. Hart to begin with.

There are likely more, but these are the things that stand out to me as being the most significant. I am grateful that God not only led us through and of out of those difficult 7 years, but He taught me some valuable principles in the process.