Archive for the 'Business' Category

Against All Hope

     In his business classic, Good to Great, author Jim Collins recounts the remarkable story of Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest ranking U.S. military officer to be imprisoned during the Vietnam War.  Tortured over 20 times during his eight-year imprisonment, Stockdale is quoted as saying, “I never lost faith in the end of the story.  I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

     The title of the chapter – one I’ve read many times – conveys its central theme: “Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith).”  In other words, you don’t deny your present circumstances; but you don’t accept them as final.  Stockdale continued, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

       This is an important message for us all.  Rarely are things the way we want them to be.  In many cases the truth of our situation gives cause to fanciful delusions on the one hand, or a throwing in of the towel on the other.  Ironically, it was the optimists who never made it out of the infamous Hanoi Hilton.  These were the ones who refused to face the facts and made baseless claims of impending release.  Tragically for them the day never came.

       There is another historical figure that faced a similar challenge.  Being the recipient of an extraordinary promise made to him by God, the Hebrew Abraham anticipated a son, upon whom the promise rested. Yet the years passed by and the time came when neither he nor his wife, Sarah, were physically capable of having children.  The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans recounts Abraham’s posture:

        “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver. . .” (Romans 4:18-20).
        The reality is that many people’s hopes and dreams are being shattered these days. Long-standing companies are going bankrupt, investments are disappearing, and jobs are being lost.  Others are severely tested in other ways.  These are the brutal facts.  Yet they needn’t be final, providing we believe that we can and will prevail in the end – even if there seems to be no basis for doing so.  Like Jim Stockdale and the biblical figure Abraham, we’ve got to have faith in the “end of the story.”

Regress – or, Progress?

     A question we all need to be asking ourselves these days is whether we’re going to buy into the mentality of fear, lack, bailouts, and bankruptcy.  Or, if what is going on around us simply represents great opportunity; challenges that if overcome will move us forward to becoming the individuals and companies we want to be.  Will we cower in fear and pull back?  Or, will we lurch forward with determination?

     Borrowing from a good friend of mine, Kevin Berry, I’d like to present three things that will enable us to move beyond being just survivors to becoming victors in this present economy.  I should say too that these three actions can apply to any area of life, not just business.

1) Look up.  I know it’s not politically correct but it’s what virtually everyone does when they’re in a tight spot, and that is pray.  Surveys consistently show that most folks pray on a regular basis, and I guarantee they pray when in trouble.  So the first and best thing to do when facing the challenges of the day – individually or corporately – is to pray.  When we do this we’re taking our eyes off ourselves and our circumstances, and placing them squarely where they ought to be to begin with:  on God, who is quite capable of providing aid in the most difficult of situations.  History is replete with examples of men and women, including the most prominent, who turned to God in times of distress only to find a listening ear and a helping hand.  So the fist step toward progress is to look up, pray, and expect God to answer.  And we must not forget to give thanks when help arrives, directing it to the One who provided it!

2) Hook up.  There is a Proverb that says, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety.”  Another states, “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.”  All of which is to say there is no substitute for good advice.  The second thing we must do then – if we want to progress, is to hook up with others who, by virtue of their character and experience, can help us through to the next level.  This might be on a one-to-one level with a trusted business associate, a paid coach or consultant, or perhaps the context of a group of others whose collective wisdom exceeds yours.  Too, the value of listening to seminars on your CD or MP3 player cannot be discounted.  The idea is to connect with others that can help you.  In fact, oftentimes answered prayer comes in the form of other people.  So look up to God and hook up with others.

3) Keep up.  More often than not, our individual battles are won by pure and simple perseverance.  We never know when the next breakthrough is coming, and if we give up we may never find out.  How many successes have not been realized by people who have quit just short of the finish line? The idea of quitting ought not to be entertained for a moment! Unfortunately, the business climate is such that, not only are we sometimes tempted to give up, but the legal system in the United States seems to encourage it.  After all, why keep going – with all the attendant risk and potential for failure – when you can walk away and be protected from your creditors?  But “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.” So then, the only way out of this economic predicament is through it.  It’s a race that can and will be won – not by the fainthearted or easily discouraged, but by those who are determined to move forward with endurance.   

     In summary, then, ours is a choice as to whether we will regress – shrink back, even give up – or progress – move forward toward our goals and aspirations.  Remembering and acting on these three principles, look up, hook up, and keep up, will help us do just that.

Beyond the Buck

Booker T. Washington once stated that the essence of success is not goals met or achievements made, but the obstacles overcome in the process.  For the entrepreneur, then, this means there is more to small business than just making money.  There are intangibles that  – in the long run – can be worth far more than the bottom line.      

     Take for example the impact you can have on others.  I believe it was 1983-84 when I heard the late Bob Klineman (RBK Building Materials) speak.  He had recently been recognized by the local chamber for his accomplishments, and was placing the praise where it belonged – to God.  What inspired me was a comment he made about the ‘bully pulpit’ – that is, the platform you have as a business owner for influencing others.  What an incredible opportunity we have to add value to lives of our employees, customers, and vendors!  
     Closely related are the life long relationships that are forged through the venue of business.  While there are too many to list, one such relationship in my case was with a man named Jim Russell (RBF, Inc.).  Russell, who passed away in 2005, took me “under his wing” in 1985, and for the next two decades poured into my life the things he had learned in the corporate world.  Not only that, but he and his lovely wife, Phyllis, became the closest of friends, inspiring us by their faith, love, and good works.  I will forever be indebted to Jim for the positive influence he had on me and my family, not to mention, my company.
     And then there is the issue of character.  Being in business can make you a saint or a crook, depending on how you choose to fulfill the role.  There is ample opportunity for doing what is right or doing what is wrong – and plenty of occasions for that gray area in between.  I’ve met men whose accomplishments made them greedy and proud, forgetful of how they got there and who helped them along the way.  Then there are others whose dreams have been dashed and their lives devastated by failure.  Character is the stuff of which we are made; it’s what we do with what happens to us. It is the choices we make when under the gun. Being an entrepreneur can make you a better person – or, it can destroy you.
     Finally, there is charity.  All too often successful organizations are criticized for making money.  And the rich are vilified for being so. Yet rarely are their contributions to the welfare of others recognized.  Without benevolence, without philanthropy, where would the funds come from for fighting cancer, providing for the homeless, or feeding the hungry?  Charity is the greatest motive for success; we make it so that others might make it too.  Personal and corporate achievement paves the way for others to advance in life as well.
     This is where the buck comes in.  Earnings are not just ends, but the means to greater good.  Income not only provides for corporate growth and advancement, but for those organizations that rely on the generosity of others for their support.  All benefit, and the sum total of the positive is far greater than the dollar that drives it. 
     Way beyond the buck.

Why the Detroit Lions Don’t Win

     I am not a sports fan but happened to be watching the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.  My son John, who is a sports fan, was watching with me.  I asked him:  “Why is it that the Pistons win, the Redwings win, and the Tigers can win, but the Lions never win?”

      The response he gave was one I could be thankful for.  He is a finance guy, and the issue, he said, really boiled down to money.  The owners simply don’t pay to get the talent they need.  For sure, they have one or two outstanding players, but they need a team of outstanding players.  That they don’t have. 

            Whether this is correct or not, I don’t know; but what I do know is the principle I got from that brief discussion: If you want to be a winning team, you’ve got to have a winning team. Put another way, if you want to win you must have a team of winners.  Not just one or two.  Not half the team – the whole team.

            This point was brought out by Jim Collins in his best-selling book, Good to Great.  His analysis of great companies – winning companies – was that they had the right people ‘on the bus.’  In fact, he said that before you do anything else, you’ve got to have the right people in the right place on the bus.  In other words, you’ve got to have a bus full of winners.

            Most small business owners are a work in progress.  I don’t know of any who want to lose.  At the same time, there are certain things the entrepreneur must do in order to develop a winning team. 

            First, you’ve got to have the right attitude.  Arguably, the ownership and management of the Detroit Lions don’t care whether they win or not.  This may be debatable, but its truth is apparent in that they rarely ever win.  Compare that with other franchises whose sole aim is the Super Bowl – every year!  The point is, you’ve got to want to win; losing is simply not an option.

            Second, you must act. The desire to succeed is one thing; doing what is necessary is another.  Developing a team of winners may require that you make some hard choices. Decisions such as rates of pay and benefits, training, providing proper resources, plus trimming non-productive people all play into the process of building a group of men and women who can make it in the marketplace.

            Third, there needs to be a culture of winning.  No one likes to lose, and few like to play on losing teams.  In this culture of winning, everything in the organization is geared toward ending the game with the highest score.  Every policy, every program, every tool, every role, every keystroke of the computer, all is designed to play its strategic part in coming out on top. 

            Somehow I don’t think the Detroit Lions have got hold of these basic truths. If they did, imagine the excitement their long-discouraged fans would exhibit.  Imagine the excitement of winning virtually every single time.  Wow!

December 2019
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