Not Going Crazy In The Process

Battling Misery & Dread: Find Your Friends #5002

My Biggest Challenge Is Battling Misery

Business owners are almost always candid when I ask, “What’s THE big challenge facing you today?” Even though they’ve never talked with me before, it’s rare for a business owner to avoid engaging with me in an honest conversation about their life. For starters, within seconds they can spot two of my super powers: empathy and curiosity. It takes a bit longer for my other super powers to show up: intuition and communication. That last one is the most tenuous because these conversations are always on the phone and I have no history with this person. I’m weak¬†at many things so I have to leverage these few super powers to the max. ūüėČ

He’s a small business owner more than 1000 miles from me. We’ve only exchanged a couple of messages via Linkedin. He’s in an industry that intrigues me. That’s why I connect with him. My curiosity is elevated by the time we jump on the phone. Within 3 minutes I’ve asked him, “What’s THE biggest challenge you’ve got right now?” He doesn’t hesitate. He says, “Battling my misery.” I’ve heard this before, but not quite so boldly and candidly. I’m sad for him, but impressed with his honesty.

“Tell me about it,” I say. He spends the next few minutes telling me the various sources of his misery. None of them are extraordinary. They’re all too common among small business owners. Unfortunately, he’s stuck in his misery. It’s been lingering with him for too long. You can sense he’s tired of it.

He’s successful fought his way through cash flow, getting new customers, operational issues, personnel issues and all the other things that plague us. There are elements of those creating some of his misery, but mostly it’s more personal stuff. Marriage stuff. Head stuff. Heart stuff.

It’s no lie when I tell him, “I understand.” But I quickly follow that up with the big question, “What are you going to do about it?”

He gets quiet. I embrace the pause. I know it’s hard for him, but I also know it’s my opportunity to prove to him how much I care – and that I’m not calling to make a pitch on our first date. I’ve got a bigger picture in mind before I ever connected with him. I’m not about to change course now. Patience is another power I’ve got. It’s not quite up to super power status, but I’m still working on it.

After a few seconds of silence he says, “I don’t know. Battle through it I guess.”

I want to help him shift into a different gear – one that I know can serve him better. “What have you done that’s worked in the past?” I ask.

“Well, that’s just it,” he says. “The things that once worked don’t work now.”

Misery loves company because misery is lonely. Actually, that mantra, “Misery loves company” isn’t true. If by misery we mean complaining, whining and making excuses…then yes, misery does love company. We love to find people who will listen to us moan and groan. We enjoy telling people why something we did failed. Or why we didn’t follow through on something we said we’d do.

But when it comes to really honest, genuine misery and dread…we mostly deal with it in our own head. Small business owners often feel the burden of keeping it to themselves. Trying to figure things out alone. It’s easy to feel that we don’t need anybody helping us. We sure don’t want¬†anybody trying to tell us what to do.

We proudly wear our “Happily Unemployable” t-shirt. Working for ourself is a big driver for us. Over time we’ve confused being an owner with going it alone.

Misery has no respect for anybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner, a creative, a scientist or a student. It doesn’t matter if you’re an amateur or a pro. Misery can afflict anybody. At any time. And it does. Bringing along a close pal, dread.

This business owner was in a bad place, Dreadland. He hated it, but wasn’t sure what he should or could do to escape. We’ve all been there. Sometimes just momentarily, other times longer. It’s like a bad losing streak. And our head doesn’t help us. All those things that got us success in the past now seem to be working against us. Like a professional athlete in a slump who tries harder and harder hoping that more effort will help…we can find ourselves pushing too hard, failing even more.

THE PEER ADVANTAGE is leveraging other business owners willing to help us through this misery.

Jim Rohn said, “You‚Äôre the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Sadly, some of us are spending time with losers. Other people filled with their own misery and dread. People who lament who is in the White House. Others filled with¬†industry gripes. Still others willing to blame the weather, competition or customers for their misery. It might be fun to chime in with them, but we know it doesn’t help us. Just ’cause it feels good doesn’t mean it’s good for us.

The universe isn’t against you. Or for you. It doesn’t care one way or the other. We have to figure our way out of it and into higher success. Pushing harder to go it alone isn’t the answer, but sometimes it’s all we know. That’s why we stick with it.

Every person I know filled with misery and dread is surrounded by people who enable it, foster it or at the least, tolerate it. Which is why the first thing you have to do when you find yourself steeped in misery and dread is to evaluate the people who surround you. Is your misery amplified by them? Do they contribute to make you feel good about being miserable? Do they agree with you on why you’re the victim of somebody or something? (And is that somebody or something always beyond your control?)

Your misery and dread have found company. That company is wrecking your life, professionally and personally.

Friends, But Not In The Traditional Sense

Business owners and CEOs are notorious for surrendering to a false notion about friends who can help them. They incorrectly believe that such friendships must be completely organic. That is, they happen in the wild…all on their own, without any effort. They think it’s like when we were in 4th grade and got close to a kid one street over, and over the summer we became good buddies. It just happened. We don’t remember how. It’s amazing how UN-strategic small business owners can be when it comes to finding friends who can help them be their best.

No wonder most small business owners don’t have a single person who can help them grow and improve. Some day never comes.

Ironic, isn’t it? We’ll be strategic about most things in our business except in forging friendships with people who can really serve us. But I’m not slamming anybody because how do we go about it? Who do we recruit? How do we know who will do a good job for us? You can see the difficulty…and the reason so few people have a close circle of people who can help them.

That’s precisely why I have pivoted my entire business and career to be a player in the peer advantage space serving small business owners. Because the need and the opportunity for exponential growth for small business owners is real. So few small business owners know and understand the opportunity. That’s my fuel. My energy. To give a few small business owners exposure to a quantum leap opportunity for business and personal growth by putting them in the company of other business owners equally determined to accomplish their desired outcomes.

It’s individual and personal. Some business owners want to grow much larger. Others want to sustain growth and develop a solid exit strategy. Small business owners are unique individuals with unique goals and objectives in life. Some are young. Some are older. Some are in high-tech and others are in tried-and-true spaces. That diversity empowers us to serve each other with varied points of view, resulting in powerful feedback fully capable of catapulting us to higher altitudes than we’ve ever experienced.

All three actions of effective business building – getting new customers, serving existing customers better and not going crazy in the process – are achieved more fully and faster when we surround ourselves with other business owners who will help us. The Peer Advantage is found only when you grab hold of the opportunity for yourself by allowing yourself to join forces with a small group of other business owners. Courage, candor and openness are the ingredients of those willing to elevate their businesses and their lives.

Misery is easy. Success is hard. But worth it.

Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance,¬†please¬†leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking¬†Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

Battling Misery & Dread: Find Your Friends #5002 Read More ¬Ľ

Tuesday Happens (A Quick Hit) -GROW GREAT

Tuesday Happens (A Quick Hit)

Tuesday Happens (A Quick Hit) -GROW GREAT

Over the weekend you made a decision. Maybe it was a solution to a problem. Something you think will work. Or something you’re dead solid certain will work.

Or maybe you spotted an opportunity you plan to exploit. You can see it working. In your head it’s a game changer.

You’ve managed to elevate your optimism in the past 48 hours. And it feels great. You think, “About time!”

On Monday morning you hit the ground running. You deploy your optimism and it’s contagious. You’re feeling pumped.

Then Tuesday happens.

A new problem erupts. A “gotta handle it now” situation happens. Maybe nothing major…just business as usual. A distraction. A fire that requires your fire fighting skills.

Gone is that weekend epiphany. And the energy it delivered. You’re back at it. Doing what you’ve been doing for years. Fighting the fight.

Life in business is an exhilarating grind. It fuels you while sapping you. All at the same time. The paradox of being a small business owner. The price paid by every true operator.

Tuesday happens every week. It close enough to the beginning of a week and the ending of a weekend. Close enough to be destructive and dangerous. Close enough to sucking us back into the same rut that envelopes us every other week.

We’re no different than other people who endure the mundane, common occurrences of life. We’re also no different in what it takes to push us to change – or improve. Most often something dramatic has to happen to push us to consider doing something differently.

Friction Points

I wasn’t out of my teens when I learned the power of friction in selling. Or I should say, the power of reducing friction.

In retailing, if you want to make sure it won’t sell (except for fine jewelry where it’s always been expected), then put it under glass. Make it difficult for shoppers to check it out and you’ll make it difficult for them to buy.

But friction, in context of what we’re talking about today, has big power in our daily and weekly habits. It’s just too easy to keep doing what we’ve always done. There’s too much friction to change. We keep going in the same direction. It’s the power of Tuesday morning.

We need to utilize friction for our benefit, not our stagnation. But how can we do that?

Well, you might be able to do it alone, but not likely. If you could have done it by yourself you’d likely have figured out how by now. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m saying it crazy hard because the friction is so powerful against making a change.

People. Connection with others. Collaboration focused on achieving your most desired outcomes – that’s the answer. But that has a friction all its own.

How do you achieve that? How do you put yourself in the company of people who can help you battle – and win – against Tuesday morning?

You’ve likely tried it before and failed. You talk with your wife or your husband. You confide in close friends. You have conversation with other buddies who are also business owners. Mostly those conversations just deepen your sense of dread…even despair. Because everybody has their own version of Tuesday morning. They’ve got their own stuff. They care about you, but they’re not sure how to help you. And there’s no process or system in place to help them…or you. It just is what it is. You march on. Toward Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

One foot in front of the other. Day after day. With moments of optimism as you head toward yet another Tuesday morning.

Processes, Systems & Workflows

Like anything else in your business, or life – you need a solution that works. Repeatedly. Consistently. Predictably.

Tuesday morning will still happen, but you can keep going it alone and living in Groundhog Day like Bill Murray, or you decide the make the friction more intense against NOT improving or growing. Make it easier to grow and change. Make it harder to avoid growth and improvement.

Accountability is the answer. Be accountable to others. People who can safely, securely and confidentially hold you accountable for the decisions you make the grow.

Every business owner on the globe wants to grow and improve. Most don’t know how. They work hard. They push. They grind. Growing more frustrated by the day.

They embrace social media and pay close attention to the phony messages of a world gone amuck with success, high achievement and out-of-the-world accomplishment. Then they look at themselves and are dissatisfied. The lie of the world takes a heavy toll on life. We don’t measure up. We look like a loser compared to what we see happening all around us.

Because it’s a lie. We’re holding up our life against a false reality of fakes. It drives up our expectation only adding to our frustrations.

The reality is that there are millions of other small business owners just like us. Accomplished, high achieving, but sometimes struggling. Driven to succeed and reach higher altitudes, we know if we just had a little bit of support and help by people who understood us — if we could find people like us — then we’d be able to reduce or completely eliminate the friction of Tuesday morning. The friction that prevents us from growing.

Ripe is rotting. It won’t help us build a business where we’re growing great. It won’t help us build a great, growing business. Ripe is stagnation. It’s a refusal to change or not knowing how. All the same.

Growth is thrilling. Improvement is exciting.

Ditch the people in your life who don’t contribute to your energy. Embrace the people who most challenge you to grow. Value the people who care about you, but are willing to hold you accountable. They’re your true friends.

In every realm of life it’s the people around us who elevate us. Your very best antidote against Tuesday morning is surrounding yourself with people who can push you to get past it. People who have their own struggles with Tuesday morning and need you to do the same for them. You don’t think it’s possible.

What if you’re wrong?

Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance,¬†please¬†leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking¬†Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

Tuesday Happens (A Quick Hit)

What Are You Chasing In Your Small Business? Part 3 #4065

What Are You Chasing In Your Small Business? Part 3 #4065

What Are You Chasing In Your Small Business? Part 3 #4065

In episode 4063, part 1 of this little series, we talked about pursuing confidence. Then in part 2, episode 4064, we talked about chasing delusions. Today, I want to wrap up this series with a conversation about chasing the things that will propel you forward while simultaneously ditching the things that will drag you down.

‚ÄĘ Pursue optimism over¬†pessimism
‚ÄĘ Pursue collaboration over autocracy
‚ÄĘ Pursue humility over hubris
‚ÄĘ Pursue learning over having the answers
‚ÄĘ Pursue growth over stagnation/loss
‚ÄĘ Pursue accountability over never answering for your choices/performance

WARNING: It’s more difficult to choose what’s profitable. That’s why you’ll be in select company should you make that choice. The majority of the world takes that path of least resistance where things are easier, but where success can never be found.

The formula is lots of hard work plus leveraging your strengths/skills plus embracing the need to make adjustments all along the way equals your best shot. You need patience while you also elevate your expectations that success and growth can happen today. The paradox of it is intentional. You need to succeed today and you want to succeed even more tomorrow.

Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance,¬†please¬†leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking¬†Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

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Business Owners Sometimes Find Themselves In The Dark

The darkness overtakes all of us. Some of us remain in the dark for a long time. Others are able to climb out of it more quickly.

Get up in the middle of the night when your house is pitch black. One small light (of any color) can make all the difference in the world in helping you navigate the room. It provides a reference point and just enough illumination to help you find your way.

Without that small little light – a light no larger than a pen light – you blindly feel your way without quick success. It takes longer and requires you to go slower.

About 8 years ago my career came to an abrupt fork in the road that I didn’t see coming. It happens. Welcome to the wilderness. The darkness.

In a flash my identity was gone. Or so I thought. I read a book by Marci Alboher where she talked about the slashes behind your name – all the different roles you have in life. For decades my identity had been something that I now wasn’t. I started thinking of the most important roles of my life, the ones closest to my name.

Randy Cantrell, Christian/Husband/Father/Grandfather

For 3 years I was completely lost in the darkness, struggling to regain my confidence. And my identity.

These more important roles – the ones having nothing to do with work or business – were far more important than the one identity I lost. But it was more than identity that I lost. It was self-confidence. It was belief in myself.

People closest to me didn’t help. They didn’t know how. And over time I could see them lack confidence in me. I took it hard until I realized what it really was. They weren’t lacking confidence in me. They knew I could find the light switch in the dark. But they wondered if I ever would. It wasn’t them. It was ME.

Like most people who love us and are closest to us, they just don’t often know how to help us. We just need a very small light to give us a reference point, and just enough illumination to find the light switch. We need people able to do that for us. Usually it’s somebody who isn’t too close to us emotionally because those people aren’t often able to provide the feedback and accountability we need.

Don’t stay in the dark. You can find your way out. The switch is there. You just have to know where you are relative to the switch. Find people who can provide the pen-light you need. Incorporate them into your life. They’ll need you at some point to do the same for them. It’ll make all the difference in the world by helping you navigate out of the darkness much, much faster!

Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance,¬†please¬†leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking¬†Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

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Serving Others (And Yourself) By Sharing Your Story

Some people are more open than others. We’re not all driven by our natural wiring to share. I am, but even guys like me have a reservation sometimes. It’s appropriate.

Today’s video is less than 7 minutes long, but it can help you better understand how valuable it can be for you to open up and share your story. Yes, you want to have a safe place to do it, but as a business owner (or leader) you owe it to yourself (and others) to find a place. Few things will help elevate your mental wellness and fitness as much. And it’s absolutely true that if you’ll put yourself in the company with others who can help you achieve higher performance…you’ll find yourself serving them to perform better, too. Everybody wins.

Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance,¬†please¬†leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking¬†Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

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The Best Decision-Making Tool On The Planet Is Not A Computer #4058

The Best Decision-Making Tool On The Planet Is Not A Computer #4058

The Best Decision-Making Tool On The Planet Is Not A Computer #4058

I’ve now spent over 40 years in the business world. Small business owners are my people. Some operate companies that do under $5 million. Others are at the helm of companies that generate well over $100 million. Every single one of them have paid some prices to be where they are. We all do.

As we’ve grown older in our business careers we’ve often discovered that we were paying a price we didn’t ever consider paying. I was 27 and at the helm of a $14 million retailing company. A wife and two small children…I knew the price I was paying at the time. Forfeiting more dinners than I can count. Cancelled plans. Tardy appointments to social gatherings. Eighty hour weeks. Those were the prices I knew about. Older business people would often tell me, “Stress will kill you.” I was young and I’d chuckle under my breath because the stress gave me adrenaline. It fueled me. I loved the non-stop action of retailing and the blistering pace. Taming chaos was the juice. And I was good at it. It was the price I was paying.

One day an acquaintance who worked for a supplier found himself in the hospital. He was suffering chest pains. He was just a few years older than me. Like me, he was running hard and fast. “Are you kidding me?” I said to the person who called to report the news. We both assumed he’d had a heart attack. Turns out the doctor told him he was lucky. It was an event caused by too much stress. The doctor sent him home to rest and stay away from work for a week. He also gave him some sort of diet to start and some moderate exercise regime. That was only after spending one night and nearly two days in the hospital scared out of his mind.

We were all paying a price in our pursuit. Time rolled on and we all grew older, along with our kids. It wasn’t long before news of a divorce here and there popped up. More and more divorces. And by the time the kids were hitting teen and college years, increasingly there were stories of drug abuse followed by rehab. Sometimes many, many instances of rehab. Every now and again we’d be stunned with news of suicide.

The price we were paying was far higher than any of us imagined. It wasn’t merely a few missed dinner dates. Or a few missed ball games. Or school plays. It was wrecking our marriages. Destroying our kids. Breaking our families. And costing some of us our very lives.

That was then. In the 1980’s.

And things have only grown worse because the pace has picked up steam. The intensity, too. Along with the competition. Owning a small business has always been tough. Doable, but tough.

Lonely. Isolating. Some days filled with anxiety, dread and fear. Mostly, days not knowing any other way to operate. We did what we had to do because it’s all we knew at the time. You go it alone. Nobody wants to hear your problems. You sure don’t want to share your opportunities with anybody. So it’s all piling up on your desk and in your head.

America grew increasingly interested in physical health during this time. Jogging and biking was the rage. Gyms started popping up. We got health conscious. That was good.

But nobody was paying attention to the mental health of the small business owner. Not that we’d have listened. Thankfully, today is a new day. A better day. One where we can leverage technology and relationships. Look at your Linkedin profile and count how many connections you have with people you’ve never met face-to-face. Never before have we been surrounded and connected with so many people yet remained so ridiculously isolated and lonely with our own stuff.

Dump it on your family. That’s hardly fair to burden them with it. Besides, could they really relate? Not likely.

Dump it on your friends. That’s no better. For you, or them.

Dump it on your employees. Well that’s not even an option. That would only make matters worse.

And now you know why I hit the record button today. Mental health of small business owners has been a lifelong interest, but one that I didn’t know to make a contribution to until a few years ago. I began to look at community. And I looked carefully at my natural abilities coupled with my personality. I read. I wrote. I podcasted. I talked with people, often quizzing them¬†about their experiences as small business owners. What I found wasn’t surprising. And it was almost universal.

Except for the most pompous (who simply refused to admit it), the rest of us were yearning for community. Some safe environment where we could get some solid feedback and other perspectives as we navigated our problems — and our opportunities. We wanted to connect with other small business owners, but none of us knew quite how to go about that without involving people we already knew – people we already had relationships with. That wouldn’t work.

It was time to look at the problem in a new way.

Do you like tools? I don’t necessarily mean wrenches or screwdrivers. I mean technology tools like Evernote, Slack, Skype or Basecamp.

We love software and apps. I just looked at my iTunes app storage. I have 251 apps that I’ve downloaded. Thankfully, not all of those are on my phone, but each of them have been — at some point. At this very moment I have almost 70 apps on my iPhone. These apps are tools ranging from Snapchat, Waze, Instagram and Facebook to Shazam and DropBox. Some I use often. Others I hardly ever use.

It’s nice to have so many tools at our fingertips. We’re always finding new ones, too — that we never knew we needed until somebody comes up with one. Then we don’t know how we ever got by without it. Or we don’t know why we’d ever go back to an old tool that isn’t nearly as good. Since Waze, I confess I never use Google Maps.

Small business owners are tasked with doing one thing (mostly)…solving problems.

Sometimes solving the problem means finding the best opportunities. Sometimes it means hiring the best person for the job.

It may mean finding the ideal location for a new store. Or maybe it’s repairing a broken culture that’s killing productivity and creating too much turnover.

Problems, opportunities. It’s all the same. It’s figuring what best course of action to take based on the data at hand.

Business owners¬†rarely get to make a decision with complete, full knowledge. We have to work with confidence, knowing that if we’ve about 70% of the information — then we’re not likely going to have time to ferret out the remaining 30%. Time waits for no owner¬†to get to 100%. It’s just how we live our lives.

What’s your current decision-making tool?¬†

It’s probably not a tool as much as it’s a process. What does it look like?

I’ll describe mine – at least, the one I’ve used for over 30 years. I won’t bore you with the details. We’ll just take a high elevation look at it.

First, I gather all the real evidence. The data. The numbers. It may be sales, or a price. It may be units, or years. It’s likely got many numbers attached to it. Let’s use a lease as an example. Most owners¬†have negotiated leases or real estate deals. Or at least been the final say in them.

There are terms and conditions that include how many months or years, how much rent, what’s included in the rent, what’s not, common area maintenance costs, taxes and other costs associated with it – the ones you’re responsible for (and the very few that your landlord is responsible for). All kinds of numbers. All kinds of conditions.

It’s important to have them in writing so everybody has a clear understanding of what’s at stake. Part of this evidence gathering is to hire or have a real estate attorney who is an expert. Unless the owner¬†is such an expert, we all rely on somebody else to help us navigate the legal jargon that might otherwise trip us up.

Again, this is all part of getting the known facts down as securely as we can. It’s always my step one. I want to know what’s real before I start entertaining what might be possible, or even probable.

Second, I’m going to involve my team (if they’re not already). We’re going to meet to discuss the pro’s and con’s of this deal. I’m going to encourage team members to debate it openly, with vigor. I want every position challenged. If somebody is in favor, I want somebody who is opposed. Then I may encourage them to switch sides and continue the debate. This is almost always impossible because people want to behave as they think I want them to…not as I really want. Understandable because they’ve got jobs to protect.

At this point, I’ve involved an expert – a real estate attorney – and I’ve involved my team (it could be a few people, or it could be many people). These are people I rely on for input and advice. I need their perspective. Rarely do I get much of a contrary position. And I’m never going to be tested, except perhaps by the attorney.

Third, I’m going to use these human resources to form a strategy for the very next step. These people will have given me suggestions and recommendations. It’s up to me to decide what I’m going to do.¬†This is where the process goes from being people intensive to being very lonely. All along the way people have been involved, but they’ve all got some interest to protect and I’m smart enough to know that impacts what they say and how they say it. They’re always on guard, even if they don’t mean to.

It’s at this stage that I’m likely to huddle alone and think about it some more. If I’m really brave I may reach out to a friend or trusted person in the space (in this case, commercial real estate) to get some perspective that is specific to the issue. It might be a long-time business acquaintance, or a closer friend who deals in commercial real estate.

When I’m done getting their input I’m right back to being Mr. Lonely. What should I do?

Sometimes there’s a clock ticking, some looming deadline. That pressure can mount and make the decision even more dreadful. If we delay too long we may lose the opportunity. Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing? How can I know?

These good people need something from us.

Sure, they need us to make a decision and keep them involved, but they need something else. Something that inadvertently gets in everybody’s way. It’s not intentional, or even conscious. It just IS.

That real estate attorney needs our business. That’s a good thing because hopefully he’s skilled and capable. He’s driven to do a good job for me because he wants me to use him on the next deal. But he can unwittingly handle my business because I’m a client. He needs my business. There are the numbers of the deal, but there’s also the psychology of the deal. He wants to please me, to make me happy. That may alter his strategy depending on how badly I want this deal, or how badly he thinks I want it. As the owner¬†I’m not immune from having preferences. Fact is, I have preferences I make known every single day and my attorney is no different than everybody else around me. He wants to please me. And protect me.

My team is in an even deeper situation. Their jobs and careers hang in the balance. As part of my team they want me to like them, to think they’re smart and capable, and they all want more responsibility and authority. They know that’s the road to bigger salaries and all that goes with it. I know some of them are building resumes to get bigger jobs – jobs I’ll never be able to give them, but that’s okay. I’m proud to have them, and to help them – as long as they do remarkable work for me.

Each of them is affected by this employee/employer relationship. It can’t be helped. They’re beholden to me. They certainly don’t want to get on my bad side. They want me to view them as highly valuable, and that can alter what they say and do. Even if they don’t think it does. Coming to work, side by side, day after day, they grow acclimated to the culture and my preferences. Even contrarians who start out quite contrary, grow more compliant over time. It’s just how things go.

Then there’s the friend or business acquaintance who I reach out to. He’s got a social relationship or a semi-business relationship. He’s not likely to push me in any direction other than the one he senses I most want to go. Unless he thinks I’m making a really colossal mistake, but if I were making a colossal mistake I wouldn’t be reaching out to him at this point. Others would have piped up.

As the owner¬†our toughest decisions don’t normally involve a choice that’s a colossal mistake. It’s usually the decisions that have a much smaller degree of separation — not option A, which is of course the way to go if you want to be safe, or option B if you want to blow the place sky high. Our choices are usually far more subtle than that, which makes them even tougher.

There is nobody else. Or is there?

I never had anybody else. Armed with all these great people around me, involved in the process — they all needed something from me. A job. A client relationship. A social relationship, or a business relationship. Something. And I fostered dissenting opinions, but that’s difficult when people have spent any time with you. It’s only natural for us to communicate with people, and form opinions like the people around us. Especially when they’re in charge. It truly is a case of nobody able (or willing) to tell the Emperor he has no clothes. Even Emperors, or owners¬†who don’t suffer severe bouts of vanity or arrogance, will influence the people around them to be like-minded. Mostly, that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not ideal for the very best decision-making.

I was just a teenager when I first read Napoleon Hill’s Think And Grow Rich. The Internet hadn’t yet been invented. So I had never heard of a “mastermind group” before. It seemed like a terrific idea to me, and I wasn’t even a business guy at the time. I was just a stereo sales guy. But I saw the power of it.

I participated in small groups formed either by industry associations or industry related groups. Those were really enjoyable. It was great to sit around a room with other people in the same industry. I enjoyed hearing what other people were doing about industry specific challenges or problems. Swapping ideas and stories was always worth the time I invested.

When Honda Motorcars arrived in America with the first little bitty car I had a buddy who bought one. It was a lot of fun. Then the Accord arrived. That was a game changer. It took the world by storm and if you wanted one, there was a waiting list. I know because I tried to get one.

Within just a few years Detroit starting making cars that looked just like the Honda Accord. It dawned on me that group think (we didn’t use that term back then) was prevalent in every industry, including mine. It’s why you never saw much innovation. We copy each other. We attend the same conventions. We read the same industry trade magazines. We buy the same inventory. We mostly do what the rest of the industry does. In time, we’d make ourselves feel better about it by calling it “best practices.” I’m not sure it ever was BEST, but it’s what we all did.

Fast forward to my time away from the C-suite. I’m working with a client who is an elder law attorney. I had never heard of elder law, a specific area of law aimed at serving seniors or the children of seniors tasked with protecting their assets and seeing to their needs. It was a noble profession and I had an epiphany – what if I could get a small group of elder law attorneys together virtually in a mastermind group. I’m not an attorney, but I could facilitate helping them each grow their practice by introducing them to each other and having them focus on just one goal — to help each other grow their elder law practice.

Elder law attorneys are geographic specific. They have to practice where they are. They meet clients in person. They’re licensed in the state where they operate. So getting a few of them together using online technology wouldn’t be problematic with them competing against each other. Fact is, they don’t compete against each other. I thought, if I had one elder law attorney here in DFW, one in Houston, a few scattered around California, and others from any state you can name — then we’d have something very powerful to help each of these attorneys grow their practice and improve their business.

I even had a great name for it, Elder Law Elite. This was about 4 years ago.

Sadly, I never got it launched because I could never crack the code to even give my idea a proper test. I found most of them were focused on practicing their area of law, not on their practice. It was understandable, but it didn’t alter my view of how valuable it would be to put a group of birds in the same nest together. It’s trite, but we’ve all heard the African proverb…

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

I had been a longtime fan of the moniker, “Together Everybody Achieves More” – TEAM – and I had used it through the years mostly in coaching kids’ sports. It was more than a moniker. It was completely true.

I still think Elder Law Elite was a great idea, but if the target group can’t see it, I wasn’t terribly interested in pushing water up a hill. So I abandoned the idea, but never gave up on the value of a group of people who could help each other without any agenda other than to help each other grow their business, and their leadership.

I was a bit jealous really. Any time I’d hear people talk about being in a mastermind group that delivered high value I was always envious. I’ve never experienced it. I’ve been invited to be in mastermind groups before, but they never gained traction. Mostly, because they’re tough to assemble, and many people wanted to join one for free. In my experience, they were worth exactly what I paid for them – nothing.¬†And the people trying to assemble these groups seemed mostly clueless about how to organize a group and make it worthwhile.

But the pain of small business owners kept looming over me. I’d see it every week. Listening to the pain in their voices. Hearing the stories of loneliness and defeat. It wasn’t hard to measure. I could call a business owner I’d never met before and ask just one question – “What’s one problem you wish somebody would help you solve right now?” – and then I’d shut up and listen. Some would talk for 20 minutes. Many more would talk for 45. And I was a complete stranger they’d never met before.

It fueled me. Week after week connecting with lonely business owners who had never had anybody ask them that question. Or take the time to actually listen to their answer. Just somebody who cared. And didn’t judge them.

This is the driver behind all my work – to be that guy with whom top leaders can be transparent. It’s a safe space for candid conversation about the issues confronting small business owners. Small, intimate groups are often helpful. People helping people grow as leaders. Owners helping owners overcome the challenges preventing them from being as successful as they might otherwise be.

I know as a business owner¬†we’re accustomed to making decisions with only 70% information (often less; sometimes more). Most have little to no awareness of working with a coach, or relying on a group of peers to help us grow – and to help us grow our companies.

It’s not for everybody. That’s why it’s such high value. It’s extraordinary. Remarkable. Only the remarkable and extraordinary will see the value. It’s a self-selecting kind of a deal. Which is good.

Kinda like explaining Evernote to somebody who has yet to see it. Know what I mean?


P.S. I’m planning to launch the Bula Network Owners’ Alliance – the first group of just 7 small business owners. Members can be located anywhere in America because this is a virtual, online group. Speed and convenience are key. Are you interested in finding out more? Then visit this page and let’s have a brief phone conversation. No sales pitch. No pressure. Just meaningful conversation to see if we’re ideally suited for each other.

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