The Litmus Test Questions – Season 2020, Episode 20

Technically, a litmus test is used to test the acidity or alkaline content of something, but we often use it more generically to mean a decisively indicative test. Some means of determining the validity of something.

Eight or nine weeks into this global pandemic have shown us the best of us and the worst of us. Maybe you’ve seen John Krasinski’s YouTube channel, Some Good News. He’s Jim from the hit TV series, The Office. Well, more currently, he’s Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime. His weekly YouTube episodes are just what they claim – some good news. There are lots of good news stories of people behaving with extraordinary kindness and generosity.

Then, there’s politics. Or coronavirus opinions. Just today the Speaker of the House called the President “morbidly obese.” The hateful language runs both ways. Wide-open. As does opinion on COVID19. It’s all a hoax. It’s going to kill us all. One extreme spews hateful sentiment toward the other extreme.

Weeks ago I began muttering a question that has since become one of my litmus test questions for any human interaction on any topic. Hint: I’ve got three of them now.

“Is this helpful?”

But that’s just the beginning. We need to embrace it more deeply.

Let’s take all the political jaw-jacking that goes on in our nation’s capital. I don’t care how you vote. I don’t care who you support or who you oppose. The problem isn’t one party or the other. It’s everybody. And it proves how insensitive we can be to those we oppose and how sensitive we can be to those who oppose us.

I’m not naive about positioning, marketing, and leveraging media coverage. There’s another game being played under the surface by both Democrats and Republicans. Both sides know the importance of visibility and air time. That’s largely why the rhetoric continues to escalate. Being quotable trumps NOT being quotable. Even if the quote is hateful, foolish, or downright idiotic.

Is it helpful? Well, they think it’s helpful to their agenda. And those who agree with them think it’s helpful. That’s why we have to go a bit deeper and ask, “Helpful for what?”

It’s not likely very helpful for running the country, but it’s very helpful for trying to gain a political advantage.

Yeah, I know. It’s all so big and so out of control, there’s not likely much reining it in. It’s just a grand illustration of poor behavior among people who enjoy wearing the title “leader.”

Okay, enough about politics. I hate politics. I’m a Capitalist. 😉

During this pandemic, I’ve heard lots of people comment about the strife and contention. Personally. Professionally. In many areas of life. I’m hearing complaints, “They won’t engage in an honest discussion.” Hot topics have long been difficult subjects in which to have an open, honest dialogue, but this pandemic has given some greater opportunities to dig into viewpoints and opinions they don’t want to be challenged. It’s not helpful.

When we think about leveraging the power of others in our lives we’re really focused on surrounding ourselves with people willing and capable of helping us grow, improve, and become better. I realize not everybody wants that. Mostly the highest achievers among us do. I’m optimistic that others will see the value and pursue it more vigorously, which is why I’m dedicated to evangelizing the message through this podcast, and in every other way possible.

Who you surround yourself with matters a great deal. 

As you take a closer look at your circle of friends and influence the litmus test question may be useful if not invaluable.

“Is this helpful?”

“How is this helpful?”

Let’s personalize it though. Unlike national politics or sports debates for entertainment, let’s make it as personal as possible. Ask the litmus test question about YOUR life. Remember, we’re interested in our growth, improvement, and opportunities. And we’re mindful that the noise in our lives has an impact on us. Surely I don’t have to convince you of that fact.

I’ll tell you some things I’ve done during this pandemic to help myself. I didn’t do it right away, but by the time we entered week 3 of staying at home I’d had enough of the social media grand-standing close-mindedness. I unfollowed, unfriended, muted, unfollowed, or whatever else I needed to do to silence the people who proved unwilling to engage in open, honest dialogue. For me, most of these people were hollering loudly about how the pandemic was fabricated and not real. Others were constantly complaining about government overreach. Still, others decided it was the right time to further their viewpoint about everything from climate change to having children vaccinated.

After a few weeks of being bombarded by it all I started asking myself – and some of these other people who surrounded me in social media – “How is this helpful?”

That only sparked further vitriol. An unexpected surprise that I should have seen coming. To be fair, I asked that question only of myself at first. I simply tried to understand the highly opinionated viewpoint. Mostly I wanted to know why people felt the way they did. Why did the conspiracy theorist think the coronavirus was totally made up? Why did others think when the governor of Texas gave “stay at home” orders that it was government overreach and violation of our liberties? Mostly, I was very curious why so many seemed devoid of understanding and compassion – even for government officials who were clearly up against something so colossal and unforeseen.

My initial notion was that people were under enormous pressure. Perhaps their businesses were heavily impacted. Maybe their personal income was negatively impacted. But that wasn’t the case with the most highly opinionated people. I began to scroll back through the social media of these people, intentionally going back months prior to the pandemic. Turns out, the highly opinionated people – many of them – had largely been behaving that way before. I just hadn’t been so sensitive to it I reckoned. Until now.

That caused me to take a serious look at people, one-at-a-time. And I asked myself, “Are they helpful? How?”

Care to guess what I concluded about almost all of them? There were only a few exceptions and most of them were folks I just found entertaining because I found their commentary kinda funny. And my new-found sensitivity wasn’t based on my own viewpoints because it was week 3 and I honestly didn’t have any strong opinions about much…which isn’t shocking because I can be largely indifferent about MANY things. It’s a talent. 😉

I concluded that most of these voices weren’t helpful to me in any way. They contributed nothing to my personal growth, improvement, or opportunities. But I dug one level deeper before ditching them. “What will I miss if I walk away from them?” When I concluded “nothing,” I began to knock them off my list one by one.

Simultaneously I began to get more finicky with Linkedin. Lately, 9 out of 10 requests hit me with a sales pitch immediately upon approval. I used to think it was snotty to not accept Linkedin invitations, but I’ve changed my position on that. “How is this helpful?” I started asking that question of the connection requests. And I was willing to give people the biggest benefit of the doubt. Sadly, most connection requests still blitz me with an overt automated sales pitch the second I accept their invitation. Oh, well.

By week 4 I was really getting into a groove of looking at the voices that influenced me in social media, my content consumption patterns, and the people in my real life. You know what I mean, the actual people with whom I have some relationship.

It was time to distill the questions into something more than on being helpful. There was something more valuable to me when it came to the people who were physically in my life. It was a question that was congruent with the other two and it gave me a great trifecta of litmus test questions.

“Are they safe?”

I’ve got people in my life who are unsafe. Many of them have never proven safe, which is why my relationship with them is very casual and shallow. I keep them that way because unsafe people – for me, at least – are people who I don’t fully trust. I shoved this litmus test question to the top when I started to closely examine the people who know me personally. That is, unlike social media connections, these people know who I am and I know who they are. We know each other by name. That’s what I mean when I say these were people I know “in real life.”

What does it mean, to be unsafe? For me, you can determine what it means for you, it means they’re harshly judgmental, critical and don’t have my best interest at heart. It means they’ll readily use how I feel or what I think against me. Safe people are just the opposite. They exercise understanding and compassion. They won’t betray me or relish my failures.

Are they safe?

Are they helpful?

How are they helpful?

That became the sequence as I examined this circle of people. You may think, “Well, if they’re not safe, how can they be helpful?” Good question, but I have at least one answer. Contrarians or people who you know oppose you can serve to help you grow, improve, and spot opportunities. Not all of them, but some of them. Maybe.

Some in my unsafe circle are helpful. They give me an idea of what their peers are thinking. By staying in touch or staying connected with them I’m able to know what’s important to them. It helps me better understand them and what they stand for, even if they are unsafe for me personally. That’s valuable to me. That’s HOW they’re helpful.

If the answer to that second question is, “They’re not helpful,” then I’m happy to politely steer clear of them as much as possible. The reality is that in order to say “yes” to the people who make us better we must say “no” to those who don’t.

I suspect we not often enough think about these things choosing instead to simply accept the facts of those who surround us. I’m guilty. But we all know we have people in our lives who are toxic, hurtful or worse. We just keep moving on with them in our lives. Likely because doing something about it means having a conversation or confrontation we’d rather avoid. But maybe not. It’s up to us to decide. It’s also up to us to figure out if the price for that pain is worth ridding ourselves of the person is unsafe and unhelpful.

In our quest to improve the people who surround us it’s important to note this isn’t based on some superiority on our part. It’s about taking individual responsibility for ourselves. Wisdom is getting it right in real-time. Making smart and wise choices in the moment. Smart and wise are determined by thoughts, decisions and actions that make us better. Not selfish, or self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. That’s why every wise parent urges their kids to select quality people to be their closest friends. We ought to embrace that behavior in our own lives…all of our lives.

These litmus test questions can help us as we figure it out for ourselves. Next time we’ll focus on how we can be a person for others – a person who can make sure we pass the litmus test questions for them.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Opportunities In Leadership – Season 2020, Episode 19

During the past seven weeks as we’ve mostly been sequestered to stay-at-home due to the Covid19 pandemic, my conversations have organically focused on one big question.

Where are the opportunities?

As I’ve worked with business owners and other executives who are part of larger leadership teams, it was understandable that everybodyincluding me – needed time to process what was happening. For the first 2 weeks, most of us were stunned. The second we had to close up shop, we jumped into action to figure out what we needed to do. For those who didn’t have to close up shop, we jumped to figure out how to leverage our business for as much success as possible.

I’m blessed. And thankful.

While my clients were disrupted, they have all found ways to thrive during this time. Not so surprising really because one of the things I’ve found fascinating in the past 11 years of coaching executives and leaders is that high achievers are the ones most prone to seek the assistance of a coach.

Putting the pressure on the truth reveals the validity of it. Putting pressure on leadership reveals the truth about it. It’s our opportunity to shine. Or not.

Questions provide the path toward satisfying our curiosity. Our curiosity determines our understanding. And without understanding, there is no compassion.

Judgment is easy. Understanding and compassion are hard.

This current pandemic is providing all of the opportunity to elevate our leadership, if only in our own lives. It’s really allowing us extraordinary opportunities to serve others in powerful ways. The question is, will we see the opportunities and take advantage of them?

Let’s talk about just a few things we can all do with the opportunities.

One, look through the wide-angle lens.

Much of the time we rather enjoy zooming in. We enjoy zooming in on the weaknesses, problems, and wrong-ness of others. Bringing them into clearer focus while simultaneously blocking out weaknesses, problems, and wrong-ness in our own lives. The frailties of others can make us feel stronger about ourselves.

Resist that. Instead, opt for zooming out to take a wider view. You’ll have to willingly give up whatever temporary positive feelings you get by thinking worse about others. In its place, you’ll get something that has more lastly value – understanding. And if you put in the work, you’ll gain something even more valuable than that, compassion.

Looking through the wide-angle lens affords you the first major positive of making a wiser decision. That decision is making up your mind to see things more clearly. That alone makes it worthwhile, but that’s just the beginning.

Are you afraid somebody might change your mind?

Are you fearful that your opinion may change?

What are you afraid of? Why wouldn’t you put the wide-angle lens on the camera of your own vision?

There’s more information in a wide-angle shot than a zoomed-in shot. More information gives us a broader view with improved data so we can see how to best frame a viewpoint or an opinion.

Narrow views, represented by zooming in, rob of us vital information that might help us see more clearly. Besides, how will you know where to zoom in if you don’t first zoom out?

Two, embrace curiosity.

Without curiosity, you can’t get to understanding. And without understanding, you’re never going to achieve compassion. So there’s your motivation.

How do we embrace curiosity? Focus on the other person, not yourself. Let yourself wonder WHY. Why do they think what they do? Why do they feel the way they feel?

These actions are all habits that many of us just haven’t embraced. Or we’ve neglected them for too long.

All children have these. Look around at the kids in your life. If you don’t have any kids in your life, then be careful. Don’t be a creep, but you’re surely able to see enough kids behave to watch how curious they are about most things. And how broadly they view things. They can go from one activity to another in the blink of an eye. All that flittering around looks frenetic at times, but it’s mostly kids being kids. Going wherever their curiosity or interest takes them.

There’s a lesson in curiosity. Be interested. Be interested enough to find out.

Three, lean into understanding. 

Understanding doesn’t require you to agree. Agreement or disagreement is still the right of every person. Here’s the thing about understanding…it helps us reduce our disagreeableness!

I don’t understand men who put their hands on women. But I don’t understand men who may be violent with other men.

Joe grew up very differently than me. He grew up in poverty, drug addiction and abuse. There was also crime. I can’t relate to any of those things because they’re not part of my personal experience. But hearing Joe explain the circumstances of his childhood and young adult life helps me understand how his life evolved. It doesn’t matter whether I agree or disagree. Whether I approve or disapprove. It just is the way it was for him. And it helps me understand how people could embrace bad behavior. And how people might make choices that seem foolish to me.

Right is right. Wrong is still wrong. But understanding can help looking at the challenge or problem with something more productive than judgment in mind. Namely, how can we learn and improve the thing now that we better understand it?

Like everything else so far, this is a habit. We benefit greatly in establishing and maintaining these habits. By embracing these behaviors we foster continuing in these behaviors. And we’ll grow increasingly more accomplished at these things with repeated practice.

Four, say hello to compassion.

Here’s where the rubber really meets the road because this is where we can begin to really serve one another better. This is where improvement and growth are found.

I’m not merely sympathetic to Joe’s story as he tells me about growing up watching his mom being beaten by his father. Or by telling me how horribly abusive his father was to him. I feel compassion for everybody involved, including Joe’s abusive father, who himself was abused.

Compassion is sympathy in action.

Now I can’t take any action – except in my mind – toward anybody other than Joe. I don’t know the other people, but if I know Joe then I can engage my compassion toward him. But let’s not underestimate the action taken only in our minds. Nothing is more powerful than our minds. What we think matters. What we feel matters. It determines how we act. It also determines the choices and decisions we make.

My compassion toward Joe changes how I approach him. How I approaching talking with and listening to him. And that alters my demeanor toward him. Hopefully, in ways that better serve him. In making him feel safe, rather than harshly criticized. In making him know I care about him enough to want to help him break the cycle of abuse in his own life.

When compassion kicks in we see each other as people – human to human. That’s what fosters a connection. And from that connection stems our joint ability to help one another.

Sadly, too often we just want full compliance from others with what we want…and we’d rather forego any discussion. Just agree with me and let’s go with how I think about it. All of us.

It’s why during this pandemic the one thing that has vexed me most has been the highly-opinionated person who insists they’re right and everybody else is a moron. No curiosity. No understanding. No compassion. No value!

Today is your opportunity in leadership. Namely, to demonstrate how urgent and important it is that we behave more kindly toward one another. That even in our disagreements we opt to avoid being disagreeable. That we avoid strife and contentions as much as possible, choosing rather to try to understand each other because compassion and our ability to help each other is at stake.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Create Smart Rooms – Emotional Health: A Leadership Necessity – Season 2020, Episode 18

The trifecta of business building that I consistently talk about culminates in the third leg of “not going crazy in the process.”

  1. Get new customers
  2. Serve existing customers better
  3. Don’t go crazy in the process

I’m not a mental health professional, nor do I claim any expertise in the area. However, I’m very accomplished in building and leading organizations. I’m an expert in human behavior and interaction. And I’m well-acquainted with the impact of stress, anxiety, and fear. I know how universal these are for everybody, especially business owners and leaders.

I also know how bravado works. Especially in the ownership or C-suite. Leaders can falsely believe they’re superhuman, impervious to the dangers of stress on physical and mental health. I’m rolling all that into one phrase, “emotional health.” I’m using the term holistically to include the whole of who we are as human beings. You’re not merely your education, experience or skills. Nor are you just your intellect and logic. Any more than you’re just feelings, thoughts, opinions, and viewpoints. You are ALL of those things. At the same time.

Now may be a great time to look in the proverbial mirror. Intently. Not just a glance. Lean in and look at yourself very hard.

Self-deception is always lurking close by. Ready to pounce on us. Especially when it comes to our strengths and weaknesses. We’re all prone to overestimate our strengths while we under-estimate our weaknesses. Simultaneously, we can do the same when we’re looking at others…except in reverse. We underestimate their value (all everything that makes them who they are) and we overestimate their faults or weaknesses. Funny how that works, huh?

As our country begins the slow process of emerging from this coronavirus pandemic, leaders in every sector need to make sure their own self-awareness has a high degree of accuracy. I can see the skepticism in your face. 😉 But deep down you know this is right. And very useful. No, beyond useful. Necessary.

We’ve seen how all kinds of people have reacted to the added stress of something as enormous as this coronavirus. Truth is, most of us aren’t nearly as effective under stress as we are under more calm conditions.

Over the years my church work has involved working with younger men in publicly preaching. Sometimes I’ll encounter a young man determined to work from very limited, card-index type notes. It’s an easy challenge to meet. I simply tell them about how the most effective public speaking world leaders carefully work on what they want to say. Winston Churchill, for example, would carefully craft his words. It’s easy to argue that when we’re preaching the Word of God we’d want to handle it as carefully and in the most prepared way possible. I’ll then ask the question, “Do you suppose that you can craft better wording while you’re home preparing, or can you better think of the best wording on the fly in real-time?”

I’ll make the same point with you regarding your behavior and decision-making as a leader.

This pandemic has certainly shown all of us the power of preparedness. It’s much better to prepare then to react.

So much of our daily lives require us to react, doesn’t it seem smart for us to prepare as much as we can to reduce the things that demand a reaction?

And doesn’t it make sense that we should take care of ourselves so we can better leverage our whole self?

You’re uniquely you. But that doesn’t mean we don’t share some very common challenges. Challenges like fears, worries, and anxiety. Mine may look different from yours, but they still exist in some form or another.

While it’s true that some perform well under pressure and others…not so much — preparation is where the rubber meets the road. Besides, the things that can make or break success in every moment remain the same: talent, opportunity, ability, confidence. Because we’re talking to about leaders, then I’m going to assume a degree of competency. Talent can vary, but you unquestionably have sufficient talent. But you may not always have the confidence you need in your talent. And you may not always see the opportunities to best leverage your talent. See, it still comes back around to your emotional health.

That whole “not going crazy in the process” is very important to your leadership success. And your life. And your organization.

Clutch. We all want to be clutch. We’d like to be able to shine when we most need to shine…during very stressful times. When things really count.

Today I just want to give you a few things that can help. I’m going to cheer you toward taking better care of yourself so you can shine today and in the days to come.

Just yesterday the governor of Texas announced that his “stay at home” order for our state will expire on Thursday, April 30th. Beginning Friday, May 1st many businesses including restaurants and retail can open up with 25% capacity while maintaining social distancing practices. Bars, hair and nail salons are still forbidden from opening, but there’s optimism that they may be able to open by mid-May. So this week leaders are working hard to figure out how to conduct business and meet the government mandate. Still others, who are not yet able to open, to busy trying to figure out how they can hang on.

Preparation isn’t practical or possible. We’re about 6 weeks into this thing so the time to have prepared is long past. But here’s something we can do. Stop lamenting about what we didn’t do. Stop pining about what we wished we’d done.

Let’s think about doing two things at the same time. While we tackle the reality of today let’s grow increasingly more determined to prepare for a better tomorrow!

What’s our reality? Legally. Morally. Ethically. We all want to conduct business safely – for our employees and our customers. How that looks will depend on the business you operate. Overkill is in order so you can display that you’re going to do everything in your power to protect people. It’s also your opportunity to show your staff and the public how dedicated you are to doing the right thing.

Many of you have been smart in assigning these tasks to small teams whose duty is the focus on sanitization and health. These team members are constantly making sure that all workers and customers are properly protected.

Here in Texas, beginning Friday, 25% capacity rules is going to require more thoughtful strategies. If your business has a people capacity of 200 then you now have to limit it to no more than 50 people at one time. So now we have to manage our traffic flow – incoming people and outgoing people. Customer service and happiness need to remain at the forefront trumped only by safety and the current rules in place by the government.

These and many other solutions need to be created by listening. I use these specific business activities to illustrate how much better our solutions can be when we include others…as opposed to us sitting in our space trying to figure it out alone. If you want to be clutch, then decide to be clutch in leading others to help you figure out what to do. Here’s how…

Gather the team members you feel can be most helpful. Make sure you include front line people. Don’t select team members based on title or seniority, but based on their viewpoint and perspective because of what they do. The people who have to perform the tasks are ideally suited to help you form the strategies. Those health and safety teams that many of you have formed are people who are especially detailed oriented with a high degree of sensitivity to client happiness. This is where your leadership may be able to shine most. You can ideally find the people best suited for the tasks that must be done as you begin to open your business.

And there’s a big area where you must shine as a leader. Orchestrating where and what team members can best do to serve.

But you can best do that with the help of others, too.

The Dallas Cowboys are getting rave reviews for this year’s draft class. NFL teams have a large scouting staff. They have analytics people. They have substantial coaching staff. Lots of people who work together to help figure out the best players to draft each year. With a brand new, Super Bowl-winning coach, people inside the Cowboy’s organization have reported how well they worked together this year to have one of their best drafts ever. Somebody, the leaders, has to make the final call, but that call isn’t made in isolation. Don’t make your calls in isolation either. You need intel and input. Don’t be bashful where you get it. Be bold. Be clutch. Open your eyes and ears to whomever you feel can best help you. Cast the net even wider than you might normally because it’ll help you make better decisions AND it will serve to make people more enthusiastic about the solutions you implement.

Stop putting pressure on yourself to have all the answers. This is the time for you to maybe at long last learn a very important lesson in leadership. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. You just have to make you lead the parade to create the smartest rooms possible as you navigate this crisis. And you need to create smart rooms so you can prepare for the future.

That’s your best path forward to protect yourself and your own emotional health. To avoid going it alone. To put yourself in the smartest rooms possible so you can improve your vision and thinking.

Be well. Do good. Grow great.

Randy

Overcoming The Shock Of Global Disruption – Season 2020, Episode 17

Here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we began to be safe at home five weeks ago. Many Americans didn’t think March would ever end. Now it seems like April won’t either. Just today Dallas County’s city council voted to keep the stay at home order in place until May 15th. This global coronavirus pandemic has stunned all of us, providing this surreal daily existence none of us could have imagined.

Shock.

Stunned disbelief.

Panic.

Dread.

Fear.

Daily we hear these words describing how people feel about the current state of things. Business owners are just as prone as anybody else, maybe more so, to feel these things. Those of us who serve business owners have been busy doing whatever we can to help entrepreneurs face the challenge. Along the way, we’ve listened to heart-wrenching stories of business owners who risk losing everything, including the companies that were soaring high just six weeks ago.

Let’s focus on the opportunities, positives and high-potential moving forward. It’s easy to dwell on what’s wrong. I mean, much of it is very obvious. Which is why the throngs are likely going to spend their time there. And it’s why we have this extraordinary opportunity – an unprecedented opportunity for our lifetime – to make something special happen.

I agree with Mark Cuban who has said in a recent podcast interview that now is a great time to start a business. Click the link below to the interview he did with YOUR FIRST MILLION with host Arlan Hamilton.

Cuban has always been a fan of sweat equity and forgoing debt as much as possible. Sound advice for existing businesses and start-ups. However, if you’re operating a small business and you’re able to leverage the SBA packages offered by the U.S. government, which could be morphed into grants (instead of loans) if you use the money according to the rules…then, by all means, jump all over that if you haven’t yet.

Part of the reason Cuban is such a fan of avoiding taking on investment is our ability to develop our own vision for the future. Business owners mostly love control and hate having to answer to others. It’s why we carved out the path to do our own thing. Debt makes us beholden and we hate that.

Cuban is a contrarian against the two prevailing business thoughts of the moment. One is double down and work super hard while others are sitting back trying to figure out what to do. Two is to rest and regroup while the whole planet has been disrupted. Cuban has a third alternative. Take small steps. Get and keep your priorities where they most likely belong – on your family’s welfare. Simultaneously take small steps to advance and move forward. As the saying goes, “Inch by inch anything is a cinch.”

Six weeks ago people weren’t likely taking things all that seriously. I know I wasn’t.

Five weeks ago things began to change. Suddenly, the NBA shut down, followed quickly by March Madness being canceled. That got our attention.

Then the other sports leagues followed suit. And many of us were in areas of the country where our local governments ordered us to stay at home. Suddenly, businesses were shut down, or they shut themselves down before the government did it. Apple Stores, for instance, closed up shop.

Then the mad dash for paper towels, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Suddenly, within less than a week our local grocery stores looked like they had been missed a week’s worth of deliveries. Shelves were bare. Everything from meat to eggs to paper products…GONE. Nowhere to be found.

It became very real very quickly. It was shock and awe for all of us.

Then the furloughs and terminations began. And the unemployment soared. Many of us were likely impacted because business owners whose doors were shut could no longer make payroll for work that couldn’t be done anyway. And our lease payments were coming due with little or no revenue coming in. Now it was time to panic. So most of us did.

For some, the panic is still in full swing. For others, we figured we’d best get busy trying to figure something out.

Universal Vulnerability To The Rescue

A funny thing happened on the way to isolating ourselves at home. We weren’t able to single ourselves out from the herd. The entire herd of humanity was experiencing the same thing. For the first time in our lives, everybody was in the same boat. From famous Hollywood actors to pop stars to billionaire business people, we were all huddling with our immediate families inside our homes. Nevermind that some had nicer digs in which to isolate themselves. For the first time in our history of being alive, we had one big thing in common.

Our common challenges gave us a gift.

Vulnerability. The vulnerability of being human.

“It’s going to be brutal. There’s no way to sugarcoat it at all. And when we get to the other side, companies are going to be operating differently,” Cuban said on Fox Business Network just this morning (Wednesday, April 22, 2020). Cuban predicts 2 to 3 years to get back what most of us considered “normal.”

Wait a minute, didn’t you say you weren’t going to dwell on the bad? Yes, I did. And I’m sticking with that notion. What Mark said isn’t negative as much as what many of us believe is the truth. But none of us, including Cuban, know for sure.

He’s right about one thing, based on information I know firsthand from various CEOs and owners. Companies with more than 500 employees are hit as hard, if not harder than small outfits. The companies with revenues in the hundreds of millions and more than 500 employees need more. They need more capital, more revenue and more profits. Size matters. Big animals need to eat more than small ones. Companies in the wild are no different.

Whether you believe in what Cuban says or not isn’t the point. You absolutely believe in the uncertainty and in that uncertainty is the high value of vulnerability. Universal vulnerability.

Just yesterday I spoke with a Vistage Chair in Boston, Phil Holberton. You can watch or listen to the conversation Leo Bottary and I had with Phil for our joint podcast, What Anyone Can Do.

Phil commented on what I’ve heard from a number of people involved in mastermind or peer groups – people are coming closer together. Now more than ever!

It only took a global pandemic to make it happen.

But hey, it DID happen. So that’s a good thing. Not the pandemic, but our universal (mostly) realization that we could use some help. And that maybe we could help somebody else.

Maybe you’ve seen this heart-wrenching story about Ken Bembow, a British veteran, who has been sleeping with a photo of his late wife Aida following her death nine months ago. A caregiver made a pillow with his wife’s picture on it so he could sleep with that instead. The video is sure to make you tear up. It speaks to our collective humanity during our collective vulnerability.

Scroll through Instagram. You won’t find the normal stuff there. Go back 6 weeks ago and it was the same old crap. Fancy cars. Fancy locations. Just all FANCY. People showing off. People fronting. People faking it. Little to no vulnerability. Just mostly fraudulent posing. Aimed at making others envious or jealous.

Gone.

Done.

Now kindness, compassion and service have bubbled to the surface where they always belonged.

Now business owners once cocky and sure are surrendering themselves to peers admitting that they’re clueless about what next step to take. The fear of not knowing what to do has finally trumped our fear of looking smart. ‘Bout time.

I HATE that it took a global pandemic to get us there, but here is where we are. And I’m during you and me to seize the moment. Let’s make full use of this disaster. Let’s refuse to go back and start hiding again behind our false bravado and arrogance. Let’s wise up and keep the wisdom move forward. Let’s step on the accelerator and get moving faster than ever in leveraging our humanity.

Because there are bound to be better answers found together than those answers we find by ourselves. 

Shortly after things grew very grim I made a decision with my own professional services. For starters, I slashed my rate. I’ve never been a “by the hour” guy, but I went to a $50 an hour Zoom video conferencing rate just to try to help as many people as possible. Next, I decided to launch The Peer Advantage by Bula Network free of charge. Both seemed like good ideas at the time and neither of them was aimed at any sort of money grab (obviously). But both backfired magnificently. 😀

The global disruption was so pervasive. The fear was so widespread. The panic was so real. Nobody – and I mean NOBODY, including me – was ready to do anything for what seemed forever. We collectively stood around like deer in headlights. Not knowing what to do.

The lesson was learned though and I have no regrets. I was like you, just trying to figure out what I could do that might make a difference. My business is likely very different from yours though. I’m a one-man-band. That’s by design. I have no inventory. I have only my wife and me to worry about. This affords me the aim of my business design – the ability to focus on the work and those who might benefit from my services. I was fortunate in that I could squarely aim at how I might be of greater service to more people. I wasn’t being altruistic, just practical. Keep in mind, I’m an INFJ so “counselor” is my natural wiring. I was merely leaning more heavily into who I am.

People were too afraid. My empathy compelled me to fully understand it, too. In those first moments of wanting to be helpful, I had neglected to understand the scope and depth of the uncertainty and fear. Honestly, I hadn’t even come to grips with my own anxiety, worry, and fear. Like news of sudden death, we all needed time to process what was happening to us.

So here we are about 5 weeks or so into the stay-at-home routine. Most of us.

Even essential businesses have been disrupted. Mostly in a bad way, but some in a good way. Walmart and others are experiencing quantum leaps in demand for their goods and services. Cuban is likely right when he predicts we’ll learn of 30 or so companies who will make a name for themselves during this ordeal – or the outgrowth after it’s over.

As days rolled into weeks and weeks have morphed into a few months, thankfully the shock wore off. Hopefully, most of us “came to ourselves” realizing that we’d best get on with figuring out what to do next. Enter that vulnerability again.

Some have confessed for the first time in their professional lives they’ve opened up and been willing to ask for help. And many have wondered why they didn’t do it before…after experiencing such positive results when they realize others with a different viewpoint have quite a lot to offer. Nevermind berating ourselves over past neglect. Who cares? What matters is this is where we are today. And while it’s bad, it’s not all bad.

We needed to overcome our shock. We do not need to overcome our newfound vulnerability and willingness to lean on each other.

Your company has employees. You have suppliers. You have partners – banks, real estate people, advertising people, etc.

Leverage all of them.

Huddle with your employees. Invite them to join you on a Zoom call to simply let them know you care about them as people. Lean into humanity…your own and theirs.

Share with them your challenges and ask them what they think. Lead productive conversations about what your new normal might look like. Allow them to be part of the solution and opportunity. You need it. They need it. Worst yet, your company needs it.

You’ve likely already had many conversations with your landlords. Figure out ways to make it work so everybody minimizes the downside. Maximize the opportunity together.

Same with suppliers and other partners. Remember, everybody you talk to is going through the same ordeal. You’re going to find – maybe for the first time in your life – that you’re able to have the most open, transparent conversations you’ve ever had with all of these people. The result? You’ll get closer!

You’ll also likely develop some answers you wouldn’t otherwise have found. And some opportunities along the way.

I’ve heard quite a few stories of employees who have helped owners identify newfound opportunities in this crisis. And I don’t mean just making masks and other products useful during this time. I mean companies whose employees have figured out new products and services to offer. Things congruent with their existing business.

In recent weeks I’ve seen a theme emerge among some innovative leaders and their teams. They’re looking past the shock to begin to think, “What are we really good at that might provide new opportunities for us?”

Is your company great at sales? Logistics? Manufacturing? Quality control? Service delivery? What?

Most of us operate businesses where we get stuck thinking we’re in the car business or the widget business. Reality is often very different. We’re just do deep into our industry we can’t see it. Now is the time to venture out beyond the bounds of your limited vision and leverage the power of others to see if there may not be an even bigger opportunity for you.

Do not go it alone. You’ve been there, done that. It didn’t work so well.

You thought you had it all figured out when times were great. You – like most of us – felt it would never end. Sky was the limit. Until the sky fell.

So don’t retreat back into the same behaviors that may have prevented you from future-proofing your company like you should have. Time to saddle up and ride ahead. Go slow. Go fast. That’s for you to decide for yourself. But GO. And make sure you’re riding alongside people willing to help you – and people willing to let you help them.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Randy

Bula! Doing My Small Part To Help Small Business Owners – Season 2020, Episode 16

Last week I made the decision to open up The Peer Advantage by Bula Network to SMB owners without any financial cost to members. I also decided to open it up globally to English speaking SMB owners. Those major changes were made due to the current coronavirus pandemic. I want to be a valuable resource for SMB owners.

So let’s talk about leveraging the power of others especially during a time like this.

Something almost magical happens when people help each other. We’re seeing it worldwide right now. Communities, towns, cities and entire countries are coming together. Some in ways like never before. Prompted by an over-arching need that has dwarfed other concerns.

But it has sparked other concerns. Especially for small business owners.

Pain. Fear. Anxiety. Uncertainty.

I know you’re afraid. We all are. Because of all this uncertainty.

How long is this going to last?

Will I be able to hang on until things return to normal?

What do I need to be doing today to protect myself, my business, my employees…and I’m just talking about protection from this virus?

Decades ago I realized that business building could be summed up in 3 activities that I eventually dubbed, The Trifecta of Business Building.

I know that you’re very worried about the first two because revenues are a top priority right now. This is a cash flow crisis for just about every business.

Permit me to flip this order upside down given the present distress. And I’ll tell you why.

Your mental health is THE most important thing right now. Keeping your wits sharp and your emotions properly under control so you can make the best decisions possible – that’s what will impact the other two. So I’m urging you to avoid not going crazy in the process of caring for your business. And I want to help.

So I’m doing two things…with the biggest thing being completely FREE.

Let me first address small business owners. You’re a major priority for me because you’re my people. This isn’t based on a dollar amount or an employee headcount. It’s mostly based on how close you are – as a business owner and operator – to the work. Small business owners are close to the work, to employees and customers. So I’m putting in the work to serve you in small peer advisory groups of no more than 8 with me personally serving to facilitate each group. You can find all the details at ThePeerAdvantage.com.

Click that APPLY NOW button and complete the short Google form. Once you do that I’ll call you on the phone. We’ll visit about this opportunity and decide how we’ll move forward.

I plan to start meetings as quickly as possible so I urge you to go apply right now.

Here’s a recap of the important details:

• We’ll meet weekly instead of twice a month as originally planned. For now, I’m planning on these being 1 hour each week, but honestly, I’m going to leave it to each group to decide with a maximum time being 2 hours.

• There’s no cost whatsoever during this crisis. Zero investment. Zero obligation for any future investment. This is completely free.

• Members will be required to make a commitment to the group to be present, to share their insights, to share their experience and expertise, to help each other and to be helped.

• When the crisis is over you’ll be able to decide what you’d like to do moving forward. I have zero expectations of members once this crisis is over. My only objective is to help as many small business owners get through this as successfully as possible. I believe our great advantage is one another – this truly is the power of others.

The second thing I’m doing is providing online, virtual one-on-one coaching to any business owner, leader, entrepreneur or anybody I may be able to serve. Yes, I’m going to require a nominal fee for this. Partly because I need to make a living to provide for my family, but I also want to make myself available to more people who otherwise would never be able to afford my services. This service will be available using a video conference platform. Each session will be one hour. Multiple sessions can be purchased individually. I’m only charging a small percentage of what I normally would charge. I’m hoping this puts my services within reach of many more people.

The availability will be Monday through Friday from 7 am to 3 pm and Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm.

One Hour – $50

Note: After you submit payment via PayPal you’ll be directed to a page where you can select your time slot.
If you encounter any technical problems, use the contact page to reach me and we’ll work it out.

Let’s talk briefly about this one-on-one coaching so you can decide if it’ll be helpful to you.

My coaching isn’t an hour of you listening as I spew forth advice. No, it’s about spending a profitable hour together so I can help you figure it out. You get to define what IT is.

We’ll begin our hour with you telling me what you want to get done. I’m going to want to know what you’d like to do. Together we’ll work hard to figure out how you can figure out what you should do to make it happen. And I won’t just take your money then run. We’ll have some follow up via email. I’m going to want to know how you’re doing so you can be certain to move forward. All I’m going to ask is that you be respectful of my time.

Before I leave you today I want to give you something to help you this week.

Unprecedented challenges are the hardest because of the uncertainty. Known problems are difficult. Unknown waters are especially problematic. They drive up our fear. Driving down our confidence. And our optimism.

The stress doesn’t make many of us better. Or more effective.

Leaders react differently under the strain.

Some are more prone to outbursts. Patience with employees can run thin. Anger, frustration, and even rage can overwhelm us. These are understandable but unacceptable. They don’t move us forward. It’s important that we maintain a thoughtful, professional demeanor as we remember that people are looking to us to show them the way forward – even though we may be very uncertain about how.

Now, more than ever, we have to concentrate on showing calm confidence that even if we lack answers today…we’ll continue in our search until we do figure it out. Today and every day forward, I encourage you to remember your responsibility to your organization and all the people affected by it. Great leaders see the future first. You need to see a future beyond this present crisis. Be optimistic. Focus your work – the work of your entire organization – on what yous can do (and are doing). Don’t get sidetracked with things beyond your control.

Your leadership is being tested. Probably like never before. Now is your time to shine. Greatness emerges during the toughest times so seize the moments to prove yourself to yourself – and to everybody associated with your organization.

Yes, you should put on a brave yet human face with your employees, but you must – I reiterate, you MUST – find somebody with whom you can be completely candid with any fear of judgment or consequence. That’s a large component of my personal coaching. I’m such a person. Somebody to whom you owe nothing. Somebody with whom there is no strings. I’m a person with only one aim – to help you move forward. To help you accomplish what you most desire. Without judgment. Without fear of betrayal. Without consequence.

It’s urgent for your emotional and mental health that you have somebody who can serve as a sounding board as you investigate various solutions. You need somebody able and willing to ask you tough questions to help you gain clarity. Again, this is a major component of my coaching. Asking you questions that can serve you. And questioning answers you may have.

In short, you need somebody to help you through this. Somebody with whom you can be completely free to say whatever you’d like. Nothing will stiffen your resolve more than having such a person. That’s why I’m now offering this low-cost answer for you. I want to provide this level of service to as many people as possible. I’ll continue to offer this service for the foreseeable future as we endure this present crisis.

Whether you choose me or not isn’t important. What IS important is that you choose somebody with whom you feel safe. Remember, let’s flip my trifecta of business building on its head and put it at the forefront of our emotional and mental health. Make it a top priority and let the other issues be addressed from there.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Randy

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