Let me drop the bottom line on you:

you’re going to become better because of the struggle.

It’s going to serve you better than anything else. That’s why it deserves a hug when most people want to push it aside.

Look at the stories we’re attracted to. Whether true or fiction. The most compelling stories involve a hero who overcomes severe adversity. But they’re not a hero until they stare down the adversity and refuse to lose to it.

Heroes hug it out with their struggle. And I want you to be a hero. So today it’s Monday, the start of a brand new week. I’m encouraging you to act heroically. You can do it, but you may have to shift how you view your struggle.

“Why me?” is a universal question people ask when things are hard.

What if we flipped it around though. If our potential hero status is determined by the struggle, why not instead make a declaration of gratitude, “Hello, Struggle. I’m happy to have you.”

It’ll sound ridiculous to some. It’ll resonate with a few. Very few. And I know why.

Not everybody has the stuff necessary to be a hero. Do you? Maybe it’s time to find out. Or maybe you already know.

Mostly, I suspect people know they’re not a hero and they live every day with doubt. Doubt they can do it. Doubt they can overcome. Doubt they can endure. Worry. Doubt. Anxiety. Fear.

Have you noticed that in every great hero story there’s courage? And in that courage, there is no victim thinking?

Heroes aren’t victims. They don’t see themselves as victims. Instead, they accept what’s happening and put their energy toward figuring out their best course of action. They’re always pursuing their ideal outcome.

Are you up for a fun challenge? Come on, go with it.

Think about a favorite hero movie. It can any that you really love. I’ll only put one restriction on this exercise. Make it a person. You don’t have to, but if you do it’ll be more powerful to help you I think. For instance, you could see Arnold’s character in the original Terminator as a hero. But he’s not human so there’s a bit of a disconnect. I don’t want there to be any disconnect.

If you’re having trouble figuring out somebody, then just think back to the last movie you saw. Who was the hero in the movie? Pick them.

They weren’t perfect even though they were the hero. For good reason. Every hero has to endure the struggle to figure it out. They sometimes get it wrong. Sometimes things go south in spite of the best efforts of the hero. No matter though because in the end, the hero wins. So will you.

It’s an endurance test. Success is always an endurance test.

Think about this character, your movie hero. Every single day you’re writing your own screenplay! YOU are the hero character. The exercise is to write that story the way you want it to turn out. Curveballs are coming your way. It’s fine. Better yet, it’s necessary. How are we going to know the hero is the hero is unless we see the hero overcome the struggle? That’s exactly what makes them a hero. That’s what will make you a hero, too.

Hugging it out with the struggle isn’t an embrace saying, “Don’t leave me. Don’t ever leave me.” Rather, it’s a hug of appreciation. Hugging it out with struggle is recognition that without it, you can’t learn, understand and grow. It’s the force that brings out your best. Struggle is the competing force that fosters your growth.

You’ll still have fear. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s the determination to do what you need to do to succeed in spite of fear. It’s your refusal to let fear, or anything else, defeat you. You versus Struggle.

Consider this. Struggle wants you to wilt. Struggle is banking on your feeling sorry for yourself. Struggle is also relying on you to join the masses who feel victimized by the universe and everybody in it. When you hug it out with Struggle you disarm Struggle. It’s a major step in defeating Struggle because that’s not how ordinary folks behave. But you’re no ordinary person. You’re a hero, writing your own success story!

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

By now you’ve certainly figured out that leadership and entrepreneurial success rely on LEARNING. Achievement, accomplishment and success don’t happen immediately. They take time. Largely because we have to figure out what works. That means we spend time doing things that don’t work. No way to know until you try.

As we push forward to figure things out our learning increases. Knowledge piles up. And with it, we’re able to distill things down into a more clear picture. We see what won’t work, and we often see why. We find out what does work, and if we’re fortunate, we’re able to figure out why so we can replicate it. Otherwise, we just roll with it and embrace gratitude that good fortune smiled on us.

Knowledge can simply things because the more we know the more we’re able to distinguish between the essential and non-essential. Knowledge enables us to start eliminating things. It also gives us the power to become more efficient and effective.

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.” – Bruce Lee

Your flashlight dies. You open it up and pop out the batteries, then you slide in a pair of new ones. You put the flashlight back together, but it won’t turn on. You open it back up, pop out the batteries and turn them around. Presto! Now the flashlight works. The batteries have a positive side and a negative side. They’re simple. And easy. But knowing which way they go makes it simpler. Put them in wrong, the flashlight won’t work at all. Put them in correctly and it’s as bright as it ever was.

Failure. Success.

Sometimes the line between the two is thin. Just another big reason why you need to be committed to learning. It makes everything simpler. It works!

Let’s talk about some practical applications for you and your business.

Hack away at the cumbersome. 

Look inside your business for processes that are cumbersome. We’ve all got things that are more difficult than they need to be. We instinctively know it. But sometimes we ignore it. Maybe we don’t want to take the time to wrestle with it right now. Whatever the excuse, jettison it. Take the time to hack it apart. It’s time.

A common area where cumbersome exists is in an extra step. Or more than one extra step.

Speed it key. Extra steps slow things down. Slow is cumbersome. Speed is lean.

Identify and eliminate the cumbersome. All of it. Rally the troops to help you. They will happily engage in helping you because these bottlenecks impact their lives every single day.

One battle cry that I’m fond of – and one I’ve used for years inside companies I’ve run is to challenge the team to make the company…

highly maneuverable

Cumbersome is the enemy of highly maneuverable. You won’t get any resistance from the people most negatively impacted by cumbersome processes.

Don’t make customers pay the price for simpler.

Know what customers want and need. Knowledge makes things simpler. Unfortunately, sometimes companies get into protection mode and make things more difficult because they’re afraid of being taken advantage of. Why should customers pay the price for your inability to make things simpler, or for your paranoia that somebody may take unfair advantage of you.

Some fast food restaurants don’t make napkins readily available. They give you a certain number of them with your order. Need more? You’ll have to ask. There are none to be had out in the restaurant.

What do you wanna bet that some brainiac at corporate figured out how much money could be saved by eliminating the ready availability of napkins to the customers? That’s making the customer pay the price. It’s ridiculous.

Simpler should benefit the customer and the company. If it doesn’t benefit both, question it. Something is wrong.

Simpler creates happier employees.

Not because they lack intelligence, but because they have intelligence. Simpler makes more sense. It’s less insulting. And the speed makes people happier.

Somebody says, “Yeah, but we simplified a process and it eliminated a job. That person wasn’t happy.”

Make them happy. Find them another job. If they’re not worth keeping, it’s not the simplification that’s the problem. It’s that you allowed the complexity to disguise their ineptness. If the employee is valuable, then they can provide value in a new spot and you can likely make them happier in the process. Try it.

A chief frustration of employees is that nobody is paying close enough attention to the work they’re doing. And nobody knows what is broken. Where things are painful because the systems, workflows and processes are so broken.

This pursuit fixes that. Employees quickly see that leadership is actually devoted to doing things to help them do their work better.

You can’t do it if you don’t know about it though. So stop putting the batteries in backward. Learn which way the positive end should go and it’ll change everything by making things simpler. It’ll help things in your company work better, faster and more profitably.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

The following screen-shot is taken from the online definition at the Merriam-Webster website.

Without empathy, you can’t get to compassion. And without understanding, you can’t get to empathy.

You can be the boss without any of these, but you can’t be a leader.

The formula is pretty straightforward.

Be open and curious to learn because that feeds everything. Without it, you’re destined to get stuck. Growth demands it. Guage how curious and open you are to learn by listening. If that’s a problem, start working to improve that. My best advice is to urge you to consider the high price you’re paying to be the smartest person on the planet. Your ignorance is costing you greater success. If I were sitting down with you I’d be encouraging you to treat yourself better. Take advantage of the collective knowledge of others. Try harder to understand where people are coming from, and why they think the way they do. It doesn’t mean you have to convert, but growth, improvement, and transformation are positive things that will only happen if you commit yourself to learn and understand.

Remember my formula: LUG.

Learning + Understanding = Growth

Since we’re talking about leadership today, it should be obvious by now that you can’t be a leader (at least not an effective one) without growth. Leaders are dedicated to improvement. First, their own. Then, the growth of those around them. Invest in yourself. Make time to learn, understand and grow. Don’t make excuses. Make time.

I choose COMPASSION rather than EMPATHY because of those ideas you heard expressed at the Merriam-Webster website. This isn’t my first rodeo. I understood those differences many years ago. Empathy gets all the press though. Business people can get queasy when people start using words like love and compassion. We shouldn’t though because they’re really important words. They’re important actions!

That’s right, actions. They’re not merely touchy-feely things. I tire of people slamming emotions. “Don’t be so emotional,” they say. And they’re not referring to an emotional meltdown or an outburst. They’re just talking about somebody who expresses feeling something! It’s ridiculous.

Would you rather people felt nothing?

We have terms for that. At best, such people would be described as being apathetic. That is, they’re just filled with apathy. They could care less. It’s an appropriate term I think. Because such behavior is pathetic. A-pathetic.

At worst, we’d describe them as psychopaths. Is that what you want? To be surrounded by a bunch of psychopaths or people filled with apathy. Boy, that sounds like a high performing team, huh?

No, instead companies spend insane amounts of money to measure employee engagement. They spend seemingly less money to do anything about it, which has always baffled me – but that’s likely because the money is in the assessments. “See, here’s how you’re doing.” And we love data. Nevermind that we’re clueless how to make it go up. But I digress.

Employee engagement is largely driven by leaders capable of demonstrating compassion. It means employees don’t feel apathy. They’re not psychopaths. They’re emotionally, mentally and physically engaged in the work they’re doing. They feel something positive about who they are, and what they’re doing.

Compassion’s role is a top-down deal. It’s not bottom-up. That means YOU have to lead the way.

Don’t expect your team members to be engaged, or to exercise compassion with one another (or the customer) if you don’t exercise it first with them. Your organization may experience pockets of it, but it won’t be widespread. And it certainly won’t become the culture of your place. Your organization needs leadership. They need YOU. YOU need to learn, understand and grow your compassion.

It’ll change everything in your world for the better. I guarantee it.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

P.S. Would you consider making an investment in yourself to drastically ramp up your learning, understanding and growth? Then check out ThePeerAdvantage.com. It’s an exclusive peer advantage group designed for just 7 U.S. based small business owners. If you own and operate a company doing $1 to $100 million dollars, then I hope you’ll check it out. We’ll meet twice a month online, using a video conferencing platform – so it’ll be super convenient. Our purpose is singular – GROWTH. We want to grow our businesses, our leadership and our lives. We’ll help each other improve our learning by sharing our experiences, seeing things from various perspectives so we eliminate as many blindspots as possible and we’ll caringly push each other to achieve more than we ever could all alone. Please take a few minutes and check it out, or better yet, just make a jump to complete a short survey so you and I can get on the phone to talk more about it. Go to BulaNetwork.com/apply. You’re not obligated for anything more than a phone conversation with me so we can chat about your business and so I can answer any questions you may have. Trust me, there will be no sales pitch. You’ll either see the high value of this or you won’t. My goal is to simply expose you to the opportunity. You hear me say it constantly, because it’s true: “You’ll figure it out for yourself.”

Yesterday morning our local sports talk radio station, 1310 The Ticket, had Troy Aikman on. When asked about the competitiveness of the NFL he said the Dallas Cowboys, with the same owner and GM for a few decades now, are puzzling because it’s unclear what they believe. A few years ago it was defense. Then it was the quest for a more explosive offense. Aikman said he believes the consistently top teams in the league have a philosophy, a set of core beliefs from which they won’t deviate. Teams like New England.

In recent weeks I’ve talked to you quite a bit about the importance of beliefs because I know they drive our behavior. What we believe – our core beliefs as Troy termed them – determine the choices we make and the actions we take.

It’s interesting to me the beliefs people hold, which are nothing more than assumptions. It’s like all those click-bait headlines folks read, and think are 100% true. People base their opinions, which morph into beliefs based on such nonsense. And it can be difficult to influence them to believe anything different. Misinformation must come with a little shot of close-mindedness on the backend. 😉

“Nobody does that,” she said.

“Nobody?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know anybody,” she corrected.

“Do you know everybody?” I smarted off.

“No, of course not,” she replied.

“So you assume because you don’t know anybody who does that, that nobody does that?” I inquired.

You can see how that conversation is likely going to peter out unless the person can find some better logic to deploy. She couldn’t. So the conversation wound down to a halt. Such is the finale of a closed mind. But today it’s not about a closed mind (don’t worry, you know I’ll get around to that). It’s about what core beliefs we’re dedicated to. And yes, they can include (they DO include) our assumptions, whether true or false.

You can wrestle down your core beliefs. I’m not here to tell you what they ought to be. They ought to be whatever you need them to be to achieve high performance in your organization. I am here to share some ideas and stories in hopes of helping you wrestle them down.

One of the big challenges I face in serving business leaders is to push them to think through and properly defend their beliefs. It’s not the most comfortable work, but it’s among the most valuable work for people willing to embrace it.

“Our customers don’t visit our website from their phones.” She believes it. She’d dedicated to it. And it’s hindering her organization. So I challenge it.

“How do you know that?” I ask. After some stammering and stuttering, she tells me, “They just don’t.” See, that’s the kind of logic we deploy when we’re dug in on a belief, especially a false belief. But she clearly believes it.

I’m not trying to change her mind as much as I’m trying to open her mind. Because I know it’ll help her. I know she’ll find an entirely new level of success if she can pry open her closed mind. It’s a challenge I don’t mind, until it grows too frustrating (which happens sometimes). I don’t push water up hills. It’s fruitless work so I refuse to do it.

“Do you care what your customer’s experience would be if they did go to your website using their phone or a tablet?” I ask. She doesn’t know it, but it’s a loaded question because I need to understand her beliefs better. Does she even care about her customers?

“I’m sure it’s fine,” she says. Immediately I know her belief is that she’s always right, never wrong and she honestly doesn’t much care about the customer’s experience. And that’s why her company is stuck and struggling.

“Thank you for the conversation. Have a good day!” (I’m like Flash. I’m gone!) 😀

But I’m sad for her because I’ll give her every benefit by embracing the idea that she really, really believes it doesn’t matter. I’m left to wonder what else she may feel doesn’t matter. What you don’t know are the other parts of the conversation where she clearly displayed resistance to any sort of change (i.e. improvement or growth). Puzzling when the conversation goes from “I need help” to statements that indicate, “I’m good.” Beliefs in action.

Let me leave you with two things to ponder.

First, the limiting beliefs you may hold. Those beliefs that hold you back. Like the ones I’ve just described.

We all have them. Spend some time considering what yours may be. You won’t likely be able to spot them all without deep thought and perhaps some outside help. Somebody to press you with tough, but caring questions.

I know people who believe earning more than $60K a year is super difficult. How do you suppose that belief is going to impact them? Of course! They’re going to struggle to ever achieve it. It’ll hold them back until they can overcome it.

The salesperson approaches the meeting thinking, “They’re never going to buy.” When the meeting doesn’t go well, they conclude, “See, I was right.”

Question what you may be believing that doesn’t work in helping you achieve more. What’s holding you back?

Very few of us think big enough. I admit it. I don’t. And I know why. I’m often too practical and I’m often guilty of minimizing my talents and skills. And experience. I have such strong convictions against pride and arrogance that I have a deep belief that I’m not better than anybody. That can cause me to take a false view of my value. So I have to constantly remind myself that my service to others hinges on my talents, experience and uniqueness. It’s not a matter of being better…it’s about my uniqueness to see things, connect dots and influence people to achieve more. That’s a belief I can get behind (and do).

What about you? What notions or beliefs are slowing you down or holding you back? Be honest with yourself.

Second, the core philosophy of doing business. How you go about doing business and why. These beliefs also contribute largely to determining your destiny.

I’ve described a leader who doesn’t believe a customer’s experience with her company’s website on a mobile device matters. That philosophy drives her decisions to give no credence to the thought that an improved web presence might help her company. Until she changes her beliefs, she’s not about to change her website.

She doesn’t believe she’s wrong. Worse yet, she doesn’t leave any possibility that she even could be. I don’t know for sure, but based on my experience I’d suspect she is surrounded by people she won’t listen to. She knows more than everybody. She’s able to admit a degree of being stuck, but when challenged she hastily retreats to, “I’m fine.” Nothing in her life is going to ever improve because she believes she’s already got it all figured out and under control.

Life long learning is a core belief. You and me and the rest of this crew listening to this podcast, we all believe that. It’s a core philosophy that directs our choices and actions. We know we don’t have all the answers. In fact, we rather pride ourselves in just trying to formulate better questions. Because we believe the quality of our questions determines the quality of our business.

We also believe that curiosity is a super fuel. That’s why we roam about our organizations in search of ways to make things better. Because we’re curious if we do better.

We believe people can improve, starting with ourselves. When others lament, “They’re doing the best they can” we question it because deep down we believe with encouragement and coaching they can do even better.

Your core philosophies of leadership and doing business. What are they? Distill them down.

They serve like true north on your life compass. They keep you from waffling from one idea to another. Always searching for the latest, greatest, hottest, trickest tactic.

Troy Aikman told that radio show that the NFL looks at the spectacular offensive prowess of the Los Angeles Rams and teams will abandon what they’ve been doing in an effort to copy the Rams. They’ll do it because they believe it’ll work, but it’s not a core belief or philosophy. It’s a tactic or strategy they want to copy. It was evident by Troy’s interview that he believes teams should establish an identity based on their core beliefs and commit to them. I believe Troy is right. What do you believe?

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Beliefs drive actions. Some choose to believe that when something is working good enough, then it’s alright. Leave it alone. No need to improve it. Others of us (my hand is in the air) choose to believe that everything can be improved. I have an additional belief – it’s way more fun to pursue making it better than it is to sit back and rely on it continuing to work reasonably well. Status quo isn’t fun. Pressing to make things better is!

What do you believe?

The specifics of your business are always changing. Try keeping up with strategies and tactics. Impossible. People will always chase tools. Chasing tools is for fools. Chasing improvement isn’t.

But tools do improve things, you may argue. They can. But not necessarily.

Be careful what you fall in love with. The safe money bets on constant improvement. Sometimes subtle tweaks pay off big. Sometimes big projects backfire costing us thousands. Press for improved results. Don’t get fancy.

Find the speed bumps in your operation.

There are constraints in your business – those roadblocks, or at least those speed bumps that slow things down. Work is slowed down or stopped somewhere in your operation. Start looking for those. Identify them and figure out why it’s happening.

The first rule of business is to fix what ails you. But that’s an improvement. A major improvement.

Ask your people where they’re stuck. Ask them why they’re stuck. “What are we doing that’s a royal pain your butt?”

It can be something as innocuous as people having to enter a customer’s information twice during some transaction. When you call customer service did you ever wonder why the agent needs your name and account or pin number or phone number, then minutes later they need to ask for your phone number again? You know why? Their system is asking for your phone number in two different areas because their leadership is too inept to figure out they need to change that. They need the system to auto-populate the second phone number field with the first input. But nobody is paying attention. So day after day the poor agents are stuck asking customers for their phone number, then minutes later they have to ask for it again. You don’t think that agent is going to memorize your phone number, do you? Hello, speed bump. How are you today?

It may as major as some safety issue that nobody is watching. Until some disaster happens. Don’t wait for that.

Go hunt down these issues and problems. None are too small. Find them all. Don’t stop looking. When you think you’ve found them all, start over again. It’s like cycle counting inventory. You’re never done. Commit to the effort.

You won’t fix them all at once. Vet them. Figure out the ones that absolutely must be fixed pronto. Things like safety, customer experience and others should get top billing. Things like idiotic processes that take longer than necessary can come later. But get to them all. In quick order.

Communicate to the people what you’re doing. And why. Get the dialog opened up and keep it open. Ask better questions as time goes on. People are going to be reserved or whiny. Drill down to get the best intel possible. You need to know exactly what’s broken or not working as well as it should.

Find out where unintended consequences are killing you, too. You think companies are intentionally making their agents ask for your phone number twice in a conversation? No. They’re just not paying attention and somebody made it a necessary field to proceed without realizing it had already been asked and answered.

Stop being stupid.

Aim next at what’s working the very best.

This is counter-intuitive. People want to attack thinks in order from worst to next worst. Tackle everything that’s bad and broken. All that stuff in the middle, leave that for last. It’s ordinary and average. It won’t kill you for it to remain that way for a bit.

What’s remarkable? Look under the hood of that to find out why it’s working so well, and to examine if you can make it even better. A small incremental improvement in superior results is a much bigger needle moved than quantum leaping something that’s average. Go big or go home.

Learning. It’s all about the quest and what you’re learning along the way. As you dive more deeply into those things that are working a pattern will emerge. You’ll notice there are some things you can likely deploy in other areas where things aren’t so spectacular. And by trying to improve those things that are already working well you’ll also display a positive dissatisfaction with the status quo. You’ll begin to create a culture where everybody questions, “Can we make this better?” That’s when the ideas and creativity start to really pop because people know how committed you are to the cause.

It’s also fun to test your skills of improving when you tackle something working really well. And you do figure out a way to improve it. You show yourself and the organization that everything can better.

Mostly, you show people that we can each be better. And that’s the quest. For all of us, individually and collectively to grow, improve and transform.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!