The Choice

A good leader realizes that there will be those who are thankful for the provision and others who will abuse it, if not reject it outright. Moreover, he recognizes that both response and rejection can be used to his advantage. It does not matter if it is fission or fusion, for in either case vast amounts of energy are released and are consequently available to be harnessed.

The challenge is with those who are neither cold nor hot. The lukewarm people of the world (be they employees, friends or family) are unwilling to commit to one direction or another; neither are they willing to declare their true feelings or intentions. They hide in a haze of mediocrity, making themselves unavailable when you most need them and fully available when the moment has passed.

In my experience, steady leadership creates a pressure field that, over time, causes the lukewarm people in your field of responsibility to make the choice. They eventually and invariably prove themselves to be either with you or against you.

When they start to make that choice, don’t get in their way! Don’t react to the mounting pressure that will likely be causing them to thrash about as they approach the moment of decision. If your expression is consistent with truth, the sorting that occurs on this basis is a good and necessary thing. Let it unfold naturally and without manipulation and your field of influence will sort out without being conditioned by prejudice, personal preference or narrow vision.

Inspiration or Legislation

I’ve found in business as in life that there are two options for projecting a refining influence into the world around you: inspiration and legislation. The first, my favorite, requires the most out of you and those within your sphere of influence, but also yields the most sustainable result. The second is typically employed more often than the first (it is the easy way out), but it has the negative effect of dumbing down those subject to its constraints.

In my experience people generally sort themselves out into three camps vis-a-vis the process of refinement. There are (1) those who love it, who assume responsibility as a rule and who in fact long for it, (2) those who will engage in the process with the right encouragement and (3) those who could care less about constant improvement. The first group are easy to work with, the second are more work and the third are not worth your trouble.

Those who love refinement will always take the lead when a call to higher function is sounded. They will work with you to inspire others; they are your advocates. You must work with them not to develop a superiority complex, as that can be a real turn off to those who need a little push to get moving and you must also watch for any manifestation of the martyr complex, where leading for the right reason morphs into leading for the wrong reason.

Those who need encouragement are the fun part. They challenge you to master your own emotions, to sharpen your skills and stay focused on the goal no matter how chronic the situation may be or how hopeless it may feel. They may put up resistance or take two steps forward and one step back out of habit, but at the end of the day people in this category – which is the majority of people on earth by the way – have hearts sufficiently supple and minds sufficiently keen to rise and meet the call.

Those who reject refinement and abhor responsibility will reveal themselves pretty quickly in an atmosphere conditioned regularly by refinement and progress. They’ll not only ignore the call but they will usually employ methods – both passive and aggressive – to desecrate the people and things around them (in order to escape the pressure inherent in positive change). You needn’t judge those who seek to take advantage for they judge themselves and if you don’t bite on their bait, they’ll be repelled by those who hold the line with you.

Inspiring Greatness

Your profession is not what brings home your weekly paycheck, your profession is what you’re put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.” – Vincent van Gogh

To my mind, the growth and development of people is the highest calling of a small business owner or a business manager. Every manager has lower level responsibilities, of course, which must be discharged with the least amount of effort possible to get the job done perfectly, but the highest calling of a leader is inspire those within his sphere of influence to  think more, be more and achieve more.

How such leaders go about catalyzing the greatness in others is a deeply personal, if not spiritual matter. Greatness cannot be forced, for force only results in temporary compliance. Neither does greatness typically appear unassisted, for its revelation requires the skillful overcoming of a whole host of impediments to its expression. When it comes to greatness, like treats like, that is, greatness is inspired by greatness.


When the Sage Rules

Dao De Jing – Chapter 66

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed;
When he stands before them, they will not be harmed.
The whole world will support him and will not tire of him.

Because he does not compete,
He does not meet competition.

The attitudes you hold in relation to those to whom you are accountable tend to shape the attitudes held toward you by others. That’s not to say that you are the root cause of every ill spirit directed your way, but it is worth taking an honest look at yourself to make sure you didn’t have it coming to you.

If anything, leadership provides those who rise to the occasion with regular opportunities to refine.

Building Blocks

To master anything you must first master the fundamentals. The fundamentals, those pesky building blocks that stand between the novice and the master, can be found in any activity you might consider. They are the scales and the chords on the piano, the coordination of the ailerons, rudder and elevator in the airplane, and prospecting, presentations and closing in the sales process.

Building a company is no different. The basic infrastructure must be in place and tested before much growth is piled on top of it. A faulty foundation will eventually crack under the pressure if it is not properly set. I manage this oscillation constantly in my companies, the pendulum-like swing between infrastructural growth and sales growth. Too many sales and insufficient infrastructure is just as dangerous as an over-built infrastructure and too few sales. Striking a balance between infrastructure development and revenue generation ought to be a central concern to any business owner.

Beyond knowing it for yourself, communicating which phase you’re in to the entire organization is extremely important. Knowing whether the dominant concern is consolidation or expansion makes decision-making easier. It brings people together. It prevents many of the cross-currents which undermine the effectiveness of a department or an organization from forming. It allows everyone to pull in the same direction.

Refinement is the simple process of getting better at the fundamentals. A master is a master because of his ability to string together a series of perfectly executed fundamentals. In this sense you are never “above” the fundamentals.


The Tough Choices

When it comes to life lessons, the hardest are often the most valuable. I had two conversations yesterday that reminded me of one such lesson I learned years ago and I am pleased to share it with you today.

The principle around which this lesson centers is simple and well-known, but not often heeded: cut your losses. Odds are in life that you will not win every hand. Those who play to win every hand often find themselves sacrificing integrity for expediency or foregoing caution out of ego. They have to win every time and they’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

I know an old card player who advocates the previously described approach. He once told me that if you play to win every hand in cards, you’ll eventually get yourself into trouble. His observation that knowing when to fold was just as important in the long-term as knowing when to hold, and at there was no shame in saying “I’ve done what I can here, any further would be foolish”, provided of course that you have honestly given it your all.

Some hands aren’t worth winning. Some people, for instance, prove themselves unworthy of your generosity over time. To pour good money, time or energy after bad after that line has been crossed is a sign of inefficient management if not poor judgment. As uncomfortable as it may be, when the line is crossed, you must seriously consider severing the connection to prevent further abuse or collateral damage.

Nobody respects a weak leader. If your are weak and in a position of leadership, people will walk all over you in most cases. To be respected, a leader must set the bar, define what is acceptable and what is not and stick to his guns when the going gets tough. Allow too much in the way of abuse of the standards you’ve set and your position as a leader will erode quickly.

This can, of course, be done lovingly, without fear, anger or disrespect. You can be tough without being a jerk, dedicated to an ideal without being a zealot and uncompromising without losing your centering and self-control. It takes work to get to that place, but love has two sides to it in the sense that it can both attract and repel.

Love attracts that which is consistent with its nature and repels that which is in opposition to it. Love is not always warm and fuzzy. Love may manifest as a stern warning, a sharp reprimand or a forceful expulsion, provided of course that you do not lose your centering in love in the process.

Spirit of Joy

Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

One of my chief responsibilities in my role as CEO is to do all that I can to inspire those working with me to serve in a spirit of joy. In my book, work should not be drudgery. If it is, you’ve let yourself and those around you down.

Creative, fulfilling living requires both work and leisure, effort and relaxation. It is the oscillation between the two that allows the vivifying current of life to flow through us and out into the contact points in our worlds. Vibrant, joyful living begets a life worth living.