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THE STATUS QUO SUX – LET’S NOT GET BACK TO NORMAL

If you are reading my words, it is likely that you are a business owner or business leader in some capacity. That means that YOU can make a huge difference. I love what Margaret Mead had to say on this subject: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I believe that when that small group is made up of entrepreneurs, change can happen faster. We have tons of control in this regard. Here’s why I say that:

The SBA reports that there are over 30 million small businesses (defined as having less than 500 employees) in the US. Astonishingly, that means that over 99% of US businesses fall into this entrepreneurial, small biz category. So, if we all adjusted our business policies to pay our people a truly fair living wage, they’d all have the means to buy homes, to buy your goods and services, and STILL have money to save for a rainy day or the vacation they’ve never gotten to take…and yes, we could eradicate hunger.

LEADING IN A “NEW NORMAL” WORLD

The point of this writing is definitely not to suggest what our practices will be going forward, but how we as leaders should lead through this unchartered territory. No matter the situation, empathy and simple human kindness will be essential.

As I’m writing this, it’s April 29, 2020 and our nation is in the grip of a pandemic known as COVID-19. The effects on daily lives of all mankind, globally, has been enormous.

I was in Cambodia back in early February, back when the virus was just beginning its death grip on Asia. I recall arriving at the Siem Reap airport for a flight to Laos, astonished and frightened at a new phenomena: face masks. It seemed that everyone had them…everyone but my husband and me. Thankfully, a few minutes later, someone handed us paper masks and reality set in. We needed to get back home.

WHEN GOOD EMPLOYEES LEAVE YOU

In my last blog post, I commented on the fact people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. So much has been written about THAT phenomena, but not so much about the fact that sometimes people leave good companies, good bosses and good co-workers because it is the right move for them.

How can you tell the difference? When a valued employee is leaving, how do you know if it’s because of YOU, or simply because they are pursuing a new exciting opportunity, something that afforded them more challenging work, or better pay, or a relocation that would be good for their family? And, importantly, how do you react to each?

I’ve experienced both situations.  And I now know which is which and the part I’ve played in each.

HOW DO YOU MAKE THEM FEEL?

“I’VE LEARNED THAT PEOPLE WILL FORGET WHAT YOU SAID, PEOPLE WILL FORGET WHAT YOU DID, BUT PEOPLE WILL NEVER FORGET HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL.” —MAYA ANGELOU

I’ve thought about those words almost daily since a recent conversation with a friend. Two years ago, her company had been acquired and the transition had been tough. A few months back, she told me that the new owners didn’t seem interested in getting to know her or any of her coworkers. They’d swooped in after their purchase and talked a good game, but on their random visits, they’d breeze in, meet with a few of the senior leaders, and then breeze back out, hardly noticing the “rank and file.” But, during our latest conversation about her work, she was hopeful. Why?  Because the company CEO (mind you this man had been the CEO for two years now!) had visited the prior week and he smiled at her. That’s all. A smile. And yet that smile gave her hope. After two years, a single smile gave her hope…hope that she mattered.

I AM NOT ESSENTIAL

In the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 crisis, my current profession of author-speaker, and leader of a company that helps women-owned businesses reach the revenue benchmark of $1M, is considered non-essential. If you get Webster’s input on that, it means I’m not absolutely necessary and I’m not important. Where does your job fall in the “essential” and “non-essential” argument?

If there is a silver lining to the era in which we’re living, it might be in that the pedestal upon which we’re accustomed to placing tech geniuses, CEO’s, lawyers, stockbrokers, and political strategists is nowhere to be found. Instead, the “essential” folks are the clerks at our grocery store, those who are stocking the shelves with toilet paper and cleaning materials, those who are delivering our food and our mail, those hauling away our trash each week….and those facing down the deadly virus against which we are all fighting. But up until six weeks ago, how many of those individuals would tell you they felt invisible, that they didn’t really matter?  Truthfully, how often did you even speak to them or notice them?

LEADING WITH EMPATHY IN DIFFICULT TIMES

If you’ve read my book, Lunch with Lucy, or any of my blogs already, you’ll know I believe that empathy—the ability to see a situation through the eyes of another—is a vital trait for business leaders to develop and to nurture in others. But during especially hard times, our “fight or flight” impulses can take over and we might tend toward self-preservation, creating a situation that makes it even harder for those around us.

What to do?

As a serial entrepreneur, I believe it is the absolute responsibility and privilege of business owners and leaders to put the needs of our employees before the needs of the customer, the shareholders, and ourselves. What does that look like in the days of COVID-19…coming close on the heels of devastating tornadoes in my hometown of Nashville, TN?

NOW, MORE THAN EVER, THE NUMBER ONE THING YOU CAN DO IS LISTEN.

“MAKING IT BIG” BY SOLVING SMALL PROBLEMS

“Big.” “Unsolvable.” “Huge.” “Audacious.” If you’re thinking of starting a business, it’s likely that you’ve been told that you’ve got to find a solution for some seemingly insurmountable problem in order to have a successful launch. But maybe they’re wrong.

Who am I to suggest that this popular wisdom might not be right for you? That pursuing a small problem might be a good strategy instead? Well, I’m someone who tackled a simple problem – a small problem really, but did it in such a decisive, drop-the-mic way that our “solution” launched a company that grew to $40 million, debt free. With only 50 employees.

EMPATHY: THE MISSING LINK IN TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP…AND PROFITABILITY

Have you ever had an aggressive driver cut you off to merge into your lane, forcing you to slam on the brakes? Did you angrily honk the horn at them? Or worse? But what if you knew that the driver was rushing to the emergency room to meet the ambulance that was bringing her husband to the hospital? What if you knew that she’d just gotten back on the road after repairing a flat tire on the way to a job interview after being unemployed for six months?  Would that change your reaction? Would it make you yield more easily and even clear a path for her to get to where she was going?

What’s going on when you consider this scenario? Empathy. Empathy caused you to soften and yield because you can visualize how YOU might be driving in that same situation. And you start caring about her, hoping and praying she gets there in time. You start pulling for her. Oh, the power of empathy.

CAN SHARING THE PROFIT MAKE YOU MORE PROFITABLE?

Can you make more money by giving it away? Yes! Investing in your employees causes a chain of actions and reactions that perpetually create even more profit!

When I started my own business competing with my former employer, I set out to create a culture that would be healthy, happy, and where every employee felt like the company was theirs. As a single mom with only a high school education and no formal business training, I pondered HOW to make that happen – how to ensure that everyone had a vested interest in our success, something that would keep them from becoming complacent…or worse.

THE CUSTOMER DOES NOT COME FIRST!

Can you imagine yourself as the CEO of a fast-growing company, sitting in front of a prospective customer, telling them you wanted their business, and then telling them that they would NOT be a priority to you? Well, believe it or not, that is the strategy I used to build a $40 Million company. How’d the customer respond to such a seemingly brash move?

They leaned in, hanging on my every word as I qualified my bold statement with details of how my commitment was to honor and care for my employees FIRST, and how it would ultimately affect them. Typically, the room was very quiet as I told them of our unique employee benefits. And I watched as they absorbed my words and experienced the inevitable epiphany… that our employee-first business model would enable them to get the best products and service.

THE ROI FROM PAYING A FAIR LIVING WAGE

One of my favorite quotes on the topic of wages is from Robert Bosch: “I don’t pay good wages because I have a lot of money. I have a lot of money because I pay good wages”. Having built and sold a successful company, I couldn’t agree more. I know for a fact that my company, LetterLogic, was successful BECAUSE of our employee-first culture, which included a fair living wage and a monthly, equal share of the profits.

A “Fair Living Wage”- what the heck is that anyway?

PARTNER UP? PART I OF MISTAKES I’VE MADE IN BUSINESS

This is Part 1 of a series about the biggest mistakes I’ve made in business—and what you can learn from them. 

OK, HERE’S THE SHORT VERSION OF MY STORY

I started a company in my basement – funded by a week-long yard sale and cashing in my 401K. Grew it to $40M…and sold it. Sounds so simple and easy. But it wasn’t. It was often messy. I made a ton of mistakes! Especially since I had only a high school education and no formal business training. But here’s the thing: I only regret a few of those mistakes because I learned from them and that made me a better leader. And, it made the experiences I can share with you very valuable. So, I started this series of blogs to highlight some of the worst mistakes I made in hopes my stories will keep you from screwing up too!

LONELY AT THE TOP?

For most of my life, when I heard the phrase “lonely at the top,” I thought of it as a sarcastic remark by someone AT the top, condescending to those they led, pointing out the fact that it was the few, the elite, that made it to the “top” – whatever that was.

Later, as I became an entrepreneur, a CEO, that phrase came to mean something quite different and it began to resonate. I began to see it as a humbler admission, that often, when you’re in the lead, you must fearlessly lead on, even though you are experiencing self-doubt, imposter syndrome, fear, and great anxiety. Here are just a few situations where that feeling of loneliness in my position changed my perception: