“Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice” by Bill Browder just became one of my all-time favorite books. It combines almost everything I like reading about all into one book. In this post I give a brief outline of the book and describe some of the lessons I learned from reading it.
Over the last two years I have been on the organizing committee for GIVE Salt Lake, a conference that promotes collaboration between non-profits and business leaders. Interacting with these leaders has got me thinking about my own philosophy about time, money, and service.
Businesses often have a life cycle similar to people. Starting up is like infancy. Clean slate. Innocent. Impressionable. Learning rapidly but not accomplishing much. Lots of messes.
Thank goodness the mortality rate is much lower in humans than startups!
If a business survives infancy and makes to toddler, it starts moving forward, albeit a bit shakily. Through the tween years growth is slow and steady. It still has some innocence without full exposure to the big bad world.
The inflection point where sales start to take off is like hitting puberty. It’s a time of rapid growth, rapid change, and a lot of uncertainty. In those teenage years it can get away with being a bit wild and crazy. It can do dumb things because it doesn't know any better. It defies conventional wisdom. It can focus on the fun stuff and sluff the boring stuff.
Growing sales like crazy is fun. Putting systems and processes in place is not fun.
In business, the teenage stage is a good thing. There won’t be much of an exciting business without that period of wild and crazy growth.
However, if the business wants to make it in the world, it eventually has to grow up. It needs systems and processes to catch up to the growth.
Otherwise, the business may implode on itself. At the very least, the business will struggle to continue its growth trajectory.
It’s a common theme in any businesses I look at. The entrepreneur is focused on growing sales and doesn’t want to be bothered with the boring details. He will use minimal processes to get the job done, but will hesitate to make the investment of time, money, and attention to put robust systems in place.
But how do you know when it’s time to get serious? Here are some signs to watch for:
Waste becomes painful. When you’re small, mistakes don’t cost very much and are easy to catch and fix. A mistaken shipment, some missing inventory, or a billing discrepancy might not be a big deal when you’re selling $1000 per month. Waste is compounded when you’re selling $1 million per month.
Customers satisfaction drops. A small number of customers are easy to keep happy. You can personally make sure 10 customers are all well taken care of. It takes good systems to keep 1000 customers happy.
Employee satisfaction drops. This is similar to customers. When the team is small, you hire and work closely with each team member. You need good systems to maintain employee satisfaction when the team grows too big for you to personally manage.
You don’t know what’s going on. When you first start up, you know everything about everything going on in the business. You know about every order. You are involved in every new hire. You know what customers are complaining about. As you grow, you can’t and shouldn’t know everything. You need good systems to be confident everything is going okay.
Now you know it’s time to grow up, but what do you do about it?
Stay tuned to find out in my next post!
Question: How do you know when it’s time for your business to grow up?
I spent the last week at Disneyland with my family. I tried to unplug from work as much as possible, but I couldn’t help but notice aspects of my experience that I could apply to the businesses I am helping to build. Disney gets a lot of attention from business writers for good reason. At the risk of tackling a cliche topic, here are five lessons I learned about building a business from my Disneyland experience:
1. Stand out from the competition Traditionally, my wife and daughters spend five days in Disneyland, and my son and I take one of those days to do something else. Last time we went to Legoland, and this time we went to Universal Studios.
Those would be incredible parks when experienced on their own, but they don’t measure up when experienced during the same week as Disneyland. Even though we had fun, we wondered if we would have preferred an extra day at Disneyland.
Businesses have to stand out from their competition in a significant way to attract loyal customers.
2. Be present with people Disney characters are masters at being fully present with the one child at a time. Meeting their favorite characters creates much of the Disney magic that kids experience, and the characters make sure each interaction is memorable.
Meeting Elsa and Anna from Frozen is one of the most popular attractions. It requires waiting in line to get an assigned time to wait in line again later in the day. Only one family at a time is allowed in the small room with Elsa and Anna. The interaction only lasts for a few minutes, but the characters are fully present. They make kids feel like they are the only people in the world at that moment.
3. Enforce the rules In most cases, Disney “cast members” are extremely friendly, kind, and accommodating. However, they are not afraid to enforce the rules when a guest’s behavior infringes on the experience of others. We watched as someone cut to the front of the Disneyland Railroad line and jumped on the train. The conductor loudly called him out as a line cutter and ordered him off the train. The one man was probably offended, but it enhanced the experience for the many people watching.
To build a high-performance business, some rules need to be strictly enforced. Of course, unethical or illegal behavior can’t be tolerated. Lackluster performance by one member can also bring down an entire team. It’s often better to deal firmly and swiftly with one person that let an entire team suffer.
4. Bend the rules On the flip side, rules should be bent when they don’t infringe on others experience.
At the Haunted Mansion a person appeared to be cutting in line before approaching the nearest cast member. At the first the cast member good-naturedly called her a line cutter, but he let her through as she explained that she had been separated from her family who were now further ahead in line.
5. Get out of the comfortable routine This last point is not directly related to Disney, but it’s something I learned on the trip.
My family’s default is to find a hotel when we travel. There are many options, we know what to expect with the brand we choose, and it’s easy to book and cancel as needed.
We had a hotel booked for this trip, but someone mentioned they found a vacation rental through VRBO for their last Disneyland trip. My wife and I settled on a townhouse that is over 50% bigger and 60% cheaper than the hotel we had booked. It was immaculately clean and nicely decorated with Disneyland themes.
I also tried Uber for the first time. Our townhouse was about 1.5 miles from the Disneyland gates. I would drop them off every morning and pick them up every evening, which added 3 miles to my daily walking distance.
After one particularly tiring day, I wasn’t looking forward to walking back. I could have tried to figure out the bus routes or paid for an expensive taxi. Instead, I decided to try Uber. The app showed a few drivers in the area, so I requested a pickup. Within a few seconds a driver called me from across the street. I was back to our townhouse within 5 minutes, and the app automatically charged me $4 so I didn’t have to worry about payment or tip.
We often get stuck in our comfortable routine. There are many ways to rethink conventional wisdom. Consider virtual assistants instead of full-time employees for some roles. Build a virtual team to save on office space and find the best talent regardless of location. Use VRBO or Airbnb instead of a hotel. Take Uber or Lyft instead of a taxi or bus.
It’s important to take time off and unplug from work. During these times our minds can be freed from the usual distractions, making us more open to lessons we can apply to our careers and other areas of our lives.
What a wild start to the year it’s been already! I’m writing this 3 weeks into 2016. The markets are in turmoil. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, a good indicator of the stock market as a whole, finished 2015 at 17,603.87, down 2.2%. Yesterday it closed at 15,766.74, down 10% in just 3 weeks.
Oil has dropped more than 50% in 6 months, which has contributed to the Canadian dollar dropping over 20% against the US dollar in that same time period.
Obviously oil companies have been hit hard by the drop in oil, which hurts local and regional economies dependent on the oil industry. Those who buy US goods and services with Canadian dollars, like a business I’m involved in, have seen their costs go up by 20% over 6 months and 50% over about 3 years.
No one can consistently predict shocks to the market like this, but there is one thing we can always expect: the unexpected.
Unexpected events are a part of life. Our success and happiness depends on how well we plan for and then deal with the unexpected.
I’m reading Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Build a Company One Cup at a Time by Howard Schultz, the Starbucks founder. It has many great lessons about the challenges of building a business that is now ubiquitous throughout the world.
In 1994 the price of green coffee, which closely tracks the price of their raw materials, went from $0.80 to $2.74 in a short time. The price increase was caused by an unexpected freeze in Brazil, the largest supplier of green coffee. Starbucks' stock price tanked, threatening its ability to continue its expansion and even survive.
Schultz and his management team struggled for months with when to raise prices and by how much, how much inventory to buy and when to hedge against continued price increases, how to manage shareholder expectations, etc. They made mistakes, such as buying millions of dollars in inventory right at the peak price, but they had built so much goodwill with their customers, suppliers, investors, and employees that they were able to survive the crisis and continue thriving.
By definition, we don’t know what unexpected events will be and when they will happen. But we can design our lives and our businesses to be ready for the unexpected.
The first step is to simply expect the unexpected. You won’t get too comfortable if you always acknowledge that the unexpected will happen.
By nature we think that the status quo will continue. If our business is thriving, we tend to think the good times will never end (talk to anyone involved in the housing industry in 2006). If we’re going through a struggle, it’s hard to imagine life without that struggle (ask them how they were feeling in 2009).
However, we need to fight against our natures and remind ourselves that anything can rapidly change.
Although we never know exactly what is going to come, we can think through the possible scenarios. It may help to consider both likelihood and impact.
It's not very likely that you will die young, but if you do, it will probably have a huge impact on your family and business. The solution is cheap and simple: life insurance.
It's likely that the various financial and commodity markets will experience periodic shocks. What impact will that have on you? How can you prepare? Minimizing debt, diversifying, keeping a cash reserve, and hedging all help prepare for financial shocks.
Leave plenty of margin
We usually think of margin in terms of the money left over from selling a product. It’s important to have margins as high as possible in business so we can cover our fixed costs and leave cushion fluctuation in sales and costs.
Margin is a helpful concept for many other applications. Don’t plan your schedule so tightly that you have no room for health challenges, family crises, etc.
Don’t give up
Do be shocked and discouraged by unexpected events. Don’t give up. As Winston Churchill said, “if you’re going through hell, keep going” and “never, never, never give up.”
Our character is strengthened more in hard times than good times. People who achieve their dreams are the ones who persevere through challenges. The businesses that thrive are ones who survive the lean times.
Unexpected events will happen. Your success and character will be defined by how you plan for and react to these events.
Question: What helps you prepare for and react to unexpected events?
Using a virtual team to carry out at least part of your business can provide greater flexibility, cost savings, and access to talent when compared to an on-site team. My last two posts have been about why you should consider building a virtual team and how to build a virtual team to take advantage of these benefits.
I will continue on that theme in this post by writing about how to lead a virtual team.
Leading a virtual team isn’t much different from leading a traditional on-site team. However, some leadership and management principles can be implemented a little differently.
The following are some thoughts about how these principles can be applied to leading a virtual team.
Invest in documentation and training
Business owners and managers build a team so they can leverage their time. As their businesses grow, they can’t do everything themselves. They need to hire and train people who can take some of the workload.
The best-run businesses have well-defined roles that need to be filled and operating procedures for carrying out those roles. The E-Myth is a great book about building a company that relies on roles and procedures rather than specific people.
Having well-defined roles and procedures may be even more important for a virtual team compared to a local team.
When business owners are in the same location as the rest of the team, the owner can model correct performance, observe team members directly, and provide training and feedback in person.
These dynamics are different for a virtual team. Clear written procedures are important for virtual teams. Team members can primarily learn how to do their job by reading and following these procedures. Owners can monitor results and provide feedback.
Good documentation also makes turnover less disruptive. A virtual team gives you more flexibility to grow and shrink your team as needed, but that flexibility goes both ways. You may have more turnover with a virtual team than a traditional team. Having written procedures makes it much easier to insert someone else into that role.
I just started using a combination of Sweet Process and Snag It for documenting procedures, and I am happy with the results so far. I can write out steps and attach screen shot images and videos with annotations.
Track status and review promptly
On site, you can check the status of a project by walking around. If revisions are needed, it’s easy to pass the work back for quick edits. It’s not that easy with a virtual team.
With a virtual team it can be tempting to do the work or make revisions yourself rather than incur the overhead of status updates and revision cycles. Especially if your team is on the other side of the world, the revision cycle can take 24 hours.
However, you can handle status updates and revisions easily easily with technology tools.
Email is not a good tool for managing tasks and projects. Files, status updates, and instructions can get scattered across several email strings, and it can be time-consuming and difficult to stay organized.
I prefer to use Basecamp and Google Sheets checklists for managing tasks and projects.
With Basecamp you can create projects, task list categories, and individual tasks. When I need something done, I will assign a task in Basecamp to a team member and add instructions and files to the task. The team member can make comments on the task with questions. When they are done, they assign the task back to me so I know it’s ready for my review.
For recurring and multi-step tasks, such as month-end accounting procedures, I use Google Sheets checklists. This allows me to check the status at any time.
As you assign tasks, it’s important to review and provide feedback quickly. I’m guilty of not reviewing tasks right away, and sometimes mistakes get repeated if I don’t catch them early.
Communicate regularly and clearly
Since a virtual team is out of sight, it’s easy for them to be out of mind. To be an effective leader, you need to keep them in mind just as much as an in-person team.
If team members are working on a long project or if their duties only require periodic action, it’s easy to neglect them. Just like a good in-person leader, check in regularly, even for no reason other than to see how they’re doing.
Don’t just dump tasks on them and expect them to figure it out. Provide clear instructions along with prompt and patient responses to questions.
Provide regular feedback, preferably using the sandwich approach. Start with something positive, provide constructive feedback, and then end on a positive note. People are people everywhere in the world, but some people and cultures are especially sensitive to negative feedback.
An effective method for maintaining morale can be to frame mistakes as your fault. “I’m sorry, I must not have given very good instructions” or phrases like that.
Principles of leadership are the same whether those you lead are in the same room or on the other side of the world. However, it’s important to adapt your leadership practices to effectively manage a virtual team. As you lead effectively, you can take advantage of the flexibility, cost savings, and access to talent possible with virtual teams.
Question: What practices have you found helpful in leading a virtual team?
In my last post, I wrote about why you should consider building a virtual team to grow your business. In this post I’ll cover how to actually build a virtual team.
Technology has made building and leading a virtual team easier than ever. Many websites connect available talent with those who can use it, and free or inexpensive tools make virtual collaboration easy.
The following are steps you can work through as you build your virtual team.
1. Decide what kind of team will work for you
There are many different ways to to build a virtual team. Full time or part time. National or international. Specialists or generalists.
If part time, do you want the same people consistently or would you hire for specific projects?
National team members give you the benefit of native language skills and similar time zones. International team members are usually less expensive and can get work done while you sleep.
Of course, your team can be a mix depending on the needs for each role.
You can do some research to help you think through your options.
Chris Drucker is a prominent thought leader around building a business with virtual teams. He wrote a book, Virtual Freedom : How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive and Build Your Dream Business, and a weekly New Business Podcast.
Michael Hyatt also writes about building virtual teams, including his book The Virtual Assistant Solution.
2. Find and hire
Once you decide what kind of team member you are looking for, it’s time to find the right person. Many online services can help.
eaHELP specializes in helping you find US-based virtual assistants.
onlinejobs.ph specializes in matching employers to full and part time Filipinos. You can hire full-time, skilled people for $200-$1000 USD per month.
Freelancer sites like Upwork (created by the merger between oDesk and Elance) help you find a variety of skills from all over the world.
Sparehire specializes in high-end finance and consulting projects that range from $50 to $300 per hour.
3. Train and delegate
Once you find the right person, you need to effectively train them to do their job and then delegate tasks to them.
It may be tempting to throw a bunch of tasks at them and expect them to figure it out. However, it may take time to gauge their skill level and how they work best. Expect to spend a lot of time with them up front to make sure they understand your expectations.
4. Lead effectively
Sometimes out of sight means out of mind, but it’s important to remember that these people are part of your team. To help them feel good about doing their best work for you, you need to build a relationship with them just like you would with an on-site team.
Praise them for good work. Find out about their family, interests, and future goals. Acknowledge and celebrate life events, such as birthdays and the birth of children. Let them know how important they are to your team.
Building a business with a virtual team can be cost-effective and give you access to a large talent pool. However, it can take just as much work as an on-site team to find, hire, train, delegate to, and lead your virtual team.
As you invest the time and effort required, your virtual team can help you build a successful business.
Question: How have you gone about building a virtual team?
Have you ever wanted to give up? I have. Many times. Any time I face challenges and the end result is unclear, I am tempted to quit. Any time I am tempted to quit, I think about the importance of resilience.
No business, no family, no cause, nothing worthwhile is easy. All worthwhile endeavors have periods of challenge that make us wonder if it’s worth it. We won’t accomplish anything worthwhile without resilience.
I’m blessed to be surrounded by incredible examples of resilience. Many of my colleagues have faced and continue to face incredible resistance to their goals. But they don’t give up. They keep pushing. They inspire me to keep pushing.
Like any character trait, resilience comes more easily to some than others, but it can be learned. Chances are, the most resilient people you’ve observed built their resilience over time as they faced and overcame challenges.
Here are 4 ways to become more resilient:
1. Gain experience over time (and start young)
You can build resilience at any stage of your life, but it helps to start young. Over time, whether or not you’ve always been a model of resilience, you will recognize patterns. You will notice good things only come into people’s lives after pushing through challenges.
Why do many parents spend so much time and money on youth sports? Only a small percentage of athletes get college sports scholarships, and an even smaller percentage are able to retire on pro earnings.
Sports give kids something fun to do and keep them out of trouble, but I believe building resilience is one of the biggest benefits of youth sports. This resilience can benefit the rest of their lives.
I distinctly remember being at the end of close high school basketball and football games. I’m so exhausted I can hardly see straight. I want it to be over, but I can’t give up. I have to play my heart out until the buzzer goes, or I will let down my team and our fans. If I give up, the coach probably won’t give me the chance to play in a close game again (or any game!).
Parents who want to raise kids to become great adults should look for ways to teach their kids resilience. Sports aren’t the only way. Music, theater, service, school work, and part-time employment, for example, can all help.
2. Level your emotions
Sometimes we want to give up because we can’t handle the emotional roller coaster. I wrote a previous post about how to level the roller coaster.
Life is never as bad as we feel during down moments and never as good as we feel during high moments.
Our emotions are coded for survival. The fight or flight response is meant to keep us alive in life or death moments. In our day we rarely face such moments, but our ingrained emotional response can make tough situations feel like life and death. This is a good thing if it motivates us to do all we can to get through the situation, but we shouldn’t let fear become debilitating.
Controlling our emotions can be difficult, but it helps to take a step back and think about why we’re feeling a certain way at a given moment.
3. Talk about your feelings
It can help to talk through our feelings.
We can talk to someone removed from the situation. Whoever you talk to might have some objective advice for handling the situation. They may give you the encouragement you need to keep going. Just having a listening ear might be enough. Sometimes expressing our thoughts out loud helps us recognize when we’re thinking irrationally.
Talking to someone involved in the situation can help provide perspective. They may correct misconceptions you have about the situation. They may have additional information or insight that you weren’t aware of.
We should be careful not to discourage those around us, especially if we are in a leadership position, but healthy relationships and a healthy culture should allow for free expression of our feelings.
4. Intentionally practice resilience
Michael Hyatt has mentioned on his podcast the story of his friend who runs marathons. He ran the Boston Marathon with his daughter, who asked at mile 21, “Dad, please remind me: why are we running this stupid race?” He replied, "Because we are practicing not quitting."
We can choose to participate in activities that allow us to practice resilience. Maybe marathons are not your thing, but you can find other ways to practice resilience. Choose to take on a challenge in your career that scares you. Commit to a demanding role in a non-profit organization.
Resilience is an essential character trait for those who want to accomplish important things in their life. Nothing worthwhile comes without challenges, and the resilient push through challenges and enjoy the rewards.
Question: How do you build resilience?
Do you ever have days when you can’t seem to get yourself moving? Days when your energy and motivation are shorter than your to-list? Days that you look back on and wonder if you accomplished anything? I am normally highly self-motivated, but I experience maddening stretches when my motivation doesn’t live up to my expectations. I recently struggled to motivate myself to be productive through two days in a row, which got me thinking about how to lift myself out of a motivational slump.
Self motivation is extremely important. One big difference between leaders and followers is that followers need leaders to motivate them. Leaders can’t depend on others to motivate them.
Here are some ideas for getting out of a motivational slump:
1. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise has a long list of benefits, many of which directly contribute to increased motivation. For example, exercise causes our bodies to release endorphins, which triggers positive feelings. Counterintuitively, exercise actually increases energy levels. High energy combined with positive feelings is a nice recipe for motivation.
I find a noticeable difference in motivation between days I exercise in the morning and days I don’t.
I wrote a post relating my experience of stopping running for a year and then starting again. After a few years of running led to widespread improvements to my life, I listened to “experts” who said that “chronic cardio” (i.e. frequent running) is bad for you. I became convinced that I would be better off with less frequent, more intense weight training.
During the year I stopped running I gained weight and noticed a significant drop in energy and motivation. In the few months since I resumed running 3-4 times per week (while still weight training twice a week), I have lost weight and regained my energy and motivation.
Exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous every time. The subdivision I live in surrounds a large man-made lake with a network of asphalt trails. A brisk walk around this lakes feels almost as good as a run.
2. Structure your schedule
I find the strength of my motivation to be correlated with how effectively I plan my time. I struggle on days that are wide open without a clear plan. On these days I spend more time reacting to email and checking social media than proactively tackling my to-do list.
I like to plan my next day on the night before. I review my to-do list, identify my top priorities, and decide the order in which I will tackle them. In this way I avoid wasting precious morning brainpower trying to figure out what I’m going to do that day.
It helps to tackle the most difficult or least enjoyable tasks first. I struggle with motivation when I have dreaded tasks hanging over my head throughout the day. It’s better to knock them out first when I have the most energy and willpower, and then I can spend the rest of the day on more enjoyable tasks.
Whenever possible I prefer to block out certain days or periods of time for related tasks. Rapid task switching is unavoidable at times when running startups, but it is draining and unproductive, especially when those tasks use different parts of the brain. It’s difficult to solve a customer problem on the phone and then go into a strategic planning meeting and then build a financial model.
For example, I try to schedule conference calls for Tuesday, focus on technical tasks Wednesday, have on-site meetings on Thursday, and tie up loose ends on Friday.
Everyone has a different situation, but you can experiment with structuring your schedule for maximum motivation.
3. Set short-term milestones
I struggle to motivate myself when the tasks I work on today don’t get me noticeably closer to an end result.
I learned this through an experience I had while going to university. I took a PhD prep track within my masters degree because I was considering an academic career. During one summer I worked part time researching for a professor and part time programming for a startup software company.
I found myself struggling to motivate myself to work on the long-term research project while looking forward to tackling the short-term projects at the fast-paced software company. After that summer I abandoned the academic path and for the last several years have worked with startups.
Looking back, I don’t think an academic path was necessarily the problem (although I’m happy with the direction I chose). Rather, I should have broken down the long-term project into short-term milestones.
Milestones should be set so that the work on any given day will bring you noticeably closer to it.
4. Make a change
So far I have focused on how to motivate yourself in your current circumstances. However, sometimes extended lack of motivation is an indicator that it’s time for a change. Sometimes the path we set out on is not the best one to continue on.
Before making a change, we should carefully consider our motives. We should consider whether or not the previous steps will get us back on track. The grass usually isn’t really greener on the other side, and any worthwhile pursuit will have periods of boredom and difficulty and seemingly impossible obstacles.
Self-motivation is an essential trait for leaders. But even the best leaders face periods of time where they struggle to motivate themselves. However, what makes them leaders is the ability to pull themselves out of motivational slumps.
Question: How do you motivate yourself?
I recently listened to The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea by Bob Burg and John David Mann. The authors package the five laws of stratospheric success into a brief, engaging, and easy-to-read parable.
Multiple books have been written about each of the five laws, but the authors effectively illustrate these laws in a story about Joe. Joe is a relatively successful sales executive who feels like he is stalling in his career. He is about to miss his quarterly sales quota, and he desperately turns to a wise old co-worker for help. This co-worker introduces him to “The Chairman” who in turn introduces him to five successful people. The five people each teach him one of the laws of stratospheric success.
The format reminds me of Andy Andrews’ Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success. The main character, David, is transported to seven key points in history where historical figures teach him the seven decisions.
The five laws of stratospheric success are as follows:
1. Value: give more in value than you take in payment
This is a principle not easily measured by traditional accounting methods. Accounting seems to dictate that businesses should extract maximum payment from customers while expending the minimum cost.
However, this law defines value much more broadly than can be measured by dollars and cents.
In a successful transaction, one that will lead to more transactions, each party must feel they are better off than before. The customer must feel that the product or service they receive brings more value to their lives than the dollars they spent. On the other side, the seller must receive a price higher than it cost to provide the good or service.
Money is simply an echo of value created. As Dave Ramsey likes to say, banknotes are “certificates of appreciation."
This law must be followed to create any successful business, but it is easy to see in some relatively new business models.
Many online software companies use a “freemium” model. Their pricing may include various pricing levels, including a free version. Those using the free version are obviously getting more value than they’re providing in payment if they find any value at all. It also provides a risk-free way to decide if the additional features in the paid version will be of more value than the cost. This is a major improvement from the old days where customers made large and long-term software purchasing decisions based on a demo.
Many professional content creators (bloggers, authors, etc) offer most of their content for free. As they prove the value they can provide, some percentage of their followers are willing to pay for books, courses, conferences, etc.
2. Compensation: your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them
This reminds me of Zig Ziglar’s famous quote, “you can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want."
Some of the perceived inequity in the world results from this principle. It may seem unfair that famous musicians or sports players get paid millions while many beloved teachers barely make enough to live on. Like it or not, these famous people are paid more because they are able to reach more people.
In The Go Giver, a teacher realized she would be able to serve more people if she created an online education business. As a result, she was able to provide value to more people and earn more compensation.
This law doesn’t mean that it’s not honorable to serve within a small sphere of influence. But the law does mean that the compensation will be more limited when compared to serving a larger audience.
3. Influence: is determined by how abundantly you place others interests first
In order to influence those around us, we need to shift our focus from I or me to others. When others can see we have their best interests in mind, they will trust us and therefore allow us to influence them.
Of course, the interest must be sincere, and the reason for desiring for influence must be to serve. Many influential leaders have used their influence for self-serving and even evil purposes, such as Hitler and Stalin.
For one of the most influential works on influence, see the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.
4. Authenticity: the most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself
You will serve best by being yourself and not who others want you to be. You have unique gifts and talents to bless the world with.
Bronnie Ware, a nurse who worked for years with dying people, wrote a popular blog post about the top 5 regrets of the dying. The top regret was "I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
Being yourself doesn’t mean being who you are now without improvement or progression. That’s just complacency and stagnation. Being yourself means becoming who you want to be.
5. Receptivity - the key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving
This may be the hardest law for many of us to follow. We know that giving to others is a good thing, but we have a hard time receiving. It may be that we don’t want to put other people out. It may be that we don’t want to admit that we could use help.
It takes two to tango. For us to be able to able to give, someone needs to receive. Sometimes that receiver needs to be us.
Kids love receiving gifts. Christmas is an especially magical time. But as we get older, we find much more joy in giving gifts than receiving them. Finding joy in giving is a good thing, but as a receiver we can allow others to feel the joy of giving.
These five laws are more about who we are than what we do. Sometimes the best way to change who we are is to first change how we act. If we are sincerely trying to change, we really can fake it until we make it.
As we follow these laws, we can make our way toward stratospheric success!
Question: How have you applied these laws?
I loved playing Little League baseball while growing up. As an 11-year-old I was excited to move from "Triple A” (age 9-10) to the “Majors” (age 11-12). I was big for my age, and thanks to many hours playing catch with my younger brother, I was a decent player. Our region had two leagues for the Major age: the regular league and the farm league. I should have recognized that a farm league is for those not ready for Major League (like professional baseball), but at some point I got the relative prestige of the leagues mixed up.
As a result, I desperately wanted to be part of the farm league. My parents and friends probably assumed I wanted to start with a more relaxed league before advancing. They probably tried to explain the difference in leagues, but I must not have listened. I knew what I wanted to do.
I realized what a mistake I had made soon after the season started. We played in the more rugged diamonds and with no standard uniforms. I watched my friends in the main league playing more competitively in well-manicured diamonds and nice uniforms.
Much later in life I heard Andy Andrews say a phrase that brought me back to this experience: “don’t believe everything you think.”
This phrase also reminded me of other experiences where I confidently made decisions based on flawed thinking.
A few years ago I made a series of poor decisions regarding family vehicles. Within 2 years we bought and sold an Accord, Trailblazer, Odyssey, and Tahoe because after a short time with each I became convinced that we needed something different. We lost money each time, and I was never more satisfied with the next one. I don’t even enjoy the process of buying and selling vehicles!
I have tried to learn over time that I can’t believe everything I think. The following tips have helped me look more critically at my thinking and hopefully led to better decisions:
1. Be patient and skeptical
My worst decisions have been the ones I made the most quickly. Impulse purchases certainly fit in this category but usually don’t have as much impact as choosing a career, making a job change, hiring people, expanding a business, etc.
Most decisions do not need to be made quickly. The urgency we feel is usually created in our own impatient minds. We should take time to make decisions, and during that time, we should be skeptical of our own thoughts.
2. Gain experience
Sometimes the only way to recognize flawed thinking is to recognize patterns over time. We all think differently, so it’s difficult to provide universal rules. We can try to reflect on the thought process that has led to good and bad decisions in the past.
3. Follow a life plan
In several previous posts I have referred to my life plan, which was inspired by Michael Hyatt. Creating a life plan gives us a vision of where we are now, where we want to be, and the goals and habits that will get us there. This life plan can be created and modified over time while we are thinking clearly and are free from the pressure of a pressing decision.
When we have new ideas, we can compare our ideas with our life plan. If it fits into our overall vision, it’s likely a good idea. We don’t need to automatically disregard an idea that doesn’t fit perfectly, but we should look at it more critically.
4. Have a trusted advisor
We all need confidants with whom we can share our deepest thoughts. We need people who will be kind and patient while also challenge our thinking. This adviser can be a spouse, parent, child, friend, or even a professional life or career coach.
Sometimes it takes someone objective to snatch us out of our flawed thought process.
5. Recognize that the grass usually isn’t greener on the other side
We should be skeptical of thoughts that are negative toward our current situation and positive toward a different situation. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should always be complacent in our current situation. Progression is a good thing, but we should be careful about how we think about progress.
We might think a different job, a different business, a different location, or different friends will solve our problems. And sometimes we will be correct, but we should first try to improve our current situation before jumping to a new one.
It can be hard to recognize that sometimes our thoughts are flawed or flat out wrong. After all, they are our thoughts. But not believing everything we think can save us from bad decisions.
Question: How do you recognize and correct flawed thinking?
I recently finished the book, Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet. The author was appointed captain of the submarine USS Santa Fe. At the time, it was performing at the bottom of the fleet. He tells the story of how he turned the submarine performance around with the leadership style he developed. The leadership methods he learned also apply to building and turning around companies. Startup founders in particular can benefit by using these principles from the beginning rather than trying to change the culture later on.
The main premise I got from the book is that leaders should treat those they lead as other leaders rather than followers. He calls it the leader-leader model rather than the traditional leader-follower model.
Here are four ways to implement a leader-leader model in our organizations:
1. Use empowering language
Words have a strong impact on our culture. Every organization develops unique methods of communication, such as acronyms and common phrases.
The author gives examples of phrases that indicate disempowerment (said by those who are led to their leader), such as “I would like to…” or “could we…” or “what should I do about…” These are passive phrases that require the leader to dictate, or at least contribute to, the solution.
On the other hand, empowered phrases include, “I intend to…” or “we will…” These types of phrases encourage people to think and decide for themselves. If the action requires the leader’s permission, the leader can simply reply, “very well,” or ask questions if clarification is required.
We can empower those we lead to act and not be acted upon, and that empowerment can start with the words we use.
2. Have a servant mindset
Leaders should consider themselves servants to those they lead. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:11, "But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant."
My job as a leader is to make it easier for those I lead to do their jobs. I can help solve problems, provide coaching, and give advice from my training and experience.
3. Specify goals, not methods
I am guilty of not following this principle. I am system-oriented, and as a leader I think it’s my job to specify the step-by-step processes for others to follow. Sometimes I think I’m the best qualified to know the best way to do things.
Periodically I'm reminded that I’m not usually the best qualified to specify the how. As a leader, I do need to work with other leaders to define and communicate priorities and goals. However, I need to let those I lead develop the methods to achieve those goals.
A few years ago I was given responsibility for the operations of a factory. The team was struggling to load outgoing trucks within a reasonable time, and they often made mistakes by loading the wrong products. As a new leader, I thought I could save the day by dictating the methods for reaching the goal of loading quickly and accurately.
I worked out of a different city, but I would spent at least a full week every month for a few months on the ground, working side-by-side with the team, showing them what I thought was the best way to reach the goal.
Before leaving, I would document the process and encourage them to follow it. Invariably, the process would break down after I left, and I would go back the next month and try to fix it again. Frustrated, I couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t simply follow the process.
After a few months I gave up. I simply told them I didn’t care how they did it, but we needed trucks loaded quickly and accurately. Miraculously, within a few weeks trucks were being loaded quickly, and mistakes were rare. Several years later, I still oversee that factory, and I have no idea what the system is for loading trucks.
4. Don't be missed after you depart
Why do we want to lead? So we can be in a position of power? So we can have a secure job? So we can make more money?
Leaders who lead followers make sure their organization and people can’t function without them. If the leader leaves, the organize is worse off, at least until another leader steps in.
On the contrary, we should lead so we can leave our organization and those around us better than we found them.
It’s hard to think that way. As a leader, I like to think of myself as indispensable. They can’t do it without me! However, this attitude is self-serving.
By following the leader-leader model, we can build an organization full of leaders. Leaders who make good decisions when left on their own. Leaders who take good care of the customer when the supervisor isn’t watching. Leaders who identify and solve problems without being directed. Leaders who continue to build a great organization after you are gone.
Question: How do you build a leader-leader culture?