Make the Ordinary Extraordinary

The success of any group of people depends upon the allegiance of its members to the goals and values they share in common. It follows, then, that leaders in any organization must take the time to imbue every aspect of the organization with the qualities it holds dearest.

In the case of my companies, our focus is on revitalizing the art and science of medicine. We realize, of course, that we cannot take the same approach as other health care companies have taken and expect a different result. So, we strive in every area of our individual and collective function to provide the uncommon touches that make the ordinary nothing less than extraordinary.

This manifests in many different ways, but one of the central keys to our success thus far has been our insistence on identifying, hiring and training leaders. We realize that the better we become at surrounding ourselves with high caliber people or alternatively, people with high potential, the more likely we are to succeed. With this comes the necessity to develop effective strategies for leading the leaders, but that is the subject of another post.

As a family of small companies, my team works in an environment where, as in a small town, everybody knows everybody. It is perhaps obvious that the corporate culture is defined by the texture of a company’s relationships (internal and external), but it is perhaps less recognized that from the standpoint of the individual every relationship affects you in one way or the other. Positive, healthy, reverent relationships constrain to increase, while negative, unwholesome and discourteous relationships invariably lead to decrease.

I imagine I could write volumes on this topic, but I have to get to work! Have a great day and think about why you are doing what you do as much as you can. If what you’re doing or how you’re doing is not aligned with the “whys” of your organization, group or tribe, then it’s probably time to find a way to make the ordinary extraordinary!

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.


Creative Impulse, Creative Field: A New Corporate Structure

I spent a little time thinking about organizational process flows and corporate structure the other day and realized that although the two are often depicted as being linear and flat, the reality of both is that they are multi-dimensional and often conditioned by a fair degree of uncertainty. The formal models taught in business school appeal to the left-brained, but reducing this consideration to such models overlooks the subtle nuances of the actual dynamics at work in an organization.

Organizational behavior is as intuitive, thoughtful and subjective as it is logical, analytical and objective. Viewed from a distance, a business is an ecosystem not unlike a small corner of a rainforest. The more efficiently its component parts work in concert to sustain the corporation by adding value to the larger environment in which it is set, the greater the chances of its survival.

One of my companies, Energetix Corporation, markets dietary supplements and homeopathic drugs to doctors. I’ve come to learn that our value is determined solely by our ability to add value to the lives of the doctors and patients we serve. As such, our livelihood depends on our ability to innovate, not just in the sense of regularly coming out with new and better products (which we will be doing extensively in 2012 and 2013), but also in how we realign ourselves to meet the ever-shifting needs of the market we serve.

My mind drifted a bit to high school chemistry and physics as I pondered this topic, and it occurred to me that organizational theory could benefit from a review of the principles behind atomic theory. Part of us is, after all, an intelligently organized collection of atoms! It makes sense, then, that there might be something to learn from the parts which go together to make the whole.

I recall that the atom is a basic unit of matter composed of a positively charged dense central core that is surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons bound to the nucleus by electromagnetic force. Its structure is forever in motion, dynamic in nature and a little bit hard to explain, because of the uncertainty built into the movement of some of its parts.

Likewise, a product company has at its core thought leaders, innovators, who are surrounded by a cloud of infrastructural elements – sales, marketing, accounting, finance, operations, etc. – that provide a negative complement to the positive, creative impulse emanating from the core of the organization. The product company, as you can see, is not unlike the atoms that compose physical bodies of a company’s individual members.

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.

A Healthy World

While I am incredibly grateful for the education I received at the Carroll Graduate School of Management at Boston College, I must admit that there was one area of function that I was not adequately prepared for as I moved on from school to the “real world” of owning and managing small businesses. I was immersed in the well established sciences of finance, accounting, economics, statistics, marketing, information technology, tax, ethics, management and organizational development, but there was little, if any, focus on the matter of vision.

As it turns out, this ability has proven to be the most important capability a true leader can possess. I absolutely agree that every manager or leader should possess a balanced understanding of the areas of business knowledge described above, but these are really the “hows” of the organization, the means by which the “why” – the core purpose of the organization – is translated day by day into the “what” of the organization, that is, its products.

So what is the “why” of the organization? You’ve likely noticed that many companies work to develop mission statements and concise lists of core values. While these certainly point in the direction of the “why,” they are naught but refracted versions or shades of the original and central “why.” Companies rarely articulate the “why” because those responsible for charting its course are not typically aware of the importance of (1) articulating it and (2) displaying it in plain sight of staff, investors, customers and competitors.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the “why” that sits in the center of the various businesses I own and manage and I’ve come up with a simple yet complete definition of the core of my vision for each and every one of them:

I believe in a healthy world.

This is my “why” for everything I do. I truly believe in the possibility of a world free of disease and conflict. We are, admittedly, a long way from that goal, but I have a vision and I am taking steps to implement that vision through every decision made in my organizations. There are obstacles to overcome – commonly held beliefs, years of evidence to the contrary conditioning human consciousness, innumerable competing interests, etc. – but I know that each time we successfully meet these obstacles in miniature in the small business setting, we give incontrovertible evidence that it can be done to the doubting aspects of our own consciousness as well as to the naysayers beyond.

So what does this mean to you? Vision is just as important to the individual as it is to the corporation. Why do you do what you do? What is the central “why” to which you have dedicated your life? If you haven’t defined it yet, you’re probably bouncing around from “why” to “why” – consciously or unconsciously – and you may even find yourself on occasion operating on two or more contradictory “whys” at the same time.

This is the source of the unrelieved tension in the consciousness of man. This is the source of the checkered progress of mankind through the ages. This is the central reason why you have not lived up to the high standard that you can in every aspect of your life.

Take the time to let your “why” form in your consciousness – the “why” that is unique to you – and you will be well on your way to a productive, fulfilling life.

Where there is vision, the people flourish.