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Small Business Holiday Wish List

Each year I receive Christmas wish lists from both of my sons and my wife. They all have very lofty expectations for this holiday season. I will do more than my part to stimulate the nation’s weak economy by the time I am done shopping and will be deep into government-like deficit spending by year-end.

I know that many of you have yet to complete your own holiday wish list and I would like to provide several suggestions. Here we go:

  1. A portrait of your best customer. This would hang right behind your desk to remind you and your followers why you are in business. Having a hard time making a tough business decision? Just turn around and consult the picture. What’s in their best interest? Trying to make a difficult hiring decision? Would you want this job applicant spending considerable time with this customer?
  1. A Greyhound Bus miniature. My wife gave me a little red sports car miniature several years ago because she said she could not afford to give me the real thing. Why a bus? Just a reminder of author Jim Collin’s (Good To Great) suggestion of your role as the bus driver in your company. As the bus driver you must make very important personnel decisions. It is your job to decide who gets on your bus (should you hire them?) and where they are to sit (which job?). You must also decide who doesn’t get on the bus.
  1. The book “Good To Great” by Jim Collins. I believe that this is one of the best management books of our generation. Keep it close to your desk for frequent reference. Consider how you measure up as a Level 5 Leader.
  1. A mirror. Every once in a while we need to remind ourselves who is in charge. Sometimes we forget and allow the patients to run the asylum. When things are going well, look into that mirror and take credit. Likewise, when business takes a turn for the worse, pose for a brief time in front of that mirror and take responsibility for strategic action.
  1. A subscription to Inc Magazine. I consider Inc Magazine to be consistently the best reading for small business owners. Dare you plan on joining the Inc 5000 this year?
  1. A set of Dumbo elephant ears. It pains me to suggest that small business owners in general are not good listeners. We tend to listen with our mouths open and lips moving. The Dumbo ears, strategically positioned in our office, will remind us to make better use of our ears and less of our lips. Steven Covey said it best when he suggested that we should “Seek first to understand and then to be understood”.
  1. Walking shoes. We are spending way too much time behind our desks wading through endless streams of electronic mail. Tom Peters prescribed many years ago that the best leaders should “MBWA” (manage by walking around). Set aside a certain period of time each day just to walk around your office, sales floor, or factory and see what’s going on. This can send a very powerful message to the troops that you are sincerely interested in their work and can open up lines of communication that may never be opened otherwise.
  1. A picture frame. Find a picture that best illustrates your passion outside of work. Insert the picture into this frame and place this picture in a very conspicuous position in your office. This is a reminder that there is life outside of this office. It may be a picture of your family, the 18th hole at your favorite golf course, or your Harley.
  1. Personal note cards. When was the last time you send a personal thank you note to a customer? An employee? A supplier? We have become much too comfortable with electronic messaging and have forgotten the power of a personal touch. I know some CEOs that make a habit of sending at least one personal note a week to a key business stakeholder.
  1. I have saved the best gift idea for last. It’s a gift certificate to yourself. You fill in the amount and the store of choice. Why? You have worked very hard this year under very difficult economic conditions. While recognizing all of your employee’s efforts this year, you may have overlooked the highest performer of all…yourself. Hence, treat yourself to something nice. You’ve earned it. FYI…next year will be no easier.

Happy Holidays.  

David and Goliath written by Malcolm Gladwell

It seems I have always been an underdog. 

Playing sports as a child, I was never quite as fast or as agile as most of my friends. I was never as smart as many of the students in my classes. My favorite football team, The Miami Dolphins, were the worst team in professional football when I purchased my first set of season tickets in 1970.

When I went away to college, Tulane University, I had lower test scores and a lower gpa than many of my incoming freshmen peers. Our football team would regularly go up against larger more powerful teams and lost more games than they won. I came from an upper middle class family and I was even outspent by most of my friends in school.

My first business was an independent tire store and we competed against the Goodyears and the Firestones. Next, I owned a travel agency and once again I was up against much larger competitors such as American Express and Carlson Travel. Even today as an executive coach and CEO group leader, I find myself competing against much larger and seemingly smarter firms.

It seems like I have always been an underdog. Underestimated. Taken lightly. Sometimes disrespected…and I have won at almost every level I have played. I have taken advantage of my “underdog” status” to surprise my opponents more times than I can remember.

This is why I truly enjoyed reading best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “David and Goliath”. You remember the story. The giant goes up against the shepherd boy. Good versus bad. Small versus big. And who wins? David of course. Gladwell starts the book recounting this story in great detail. He shares a number of facts about each combatant that I had not heard before. As it turns out, David had a number of advantages on his side that aided him in his fight. He was not nearly the underdog we were lead to think.

In the book, Gladwell challenges the reader to rethink the obstacles and disadvantages we face and consider how they can be used to our advantage. One of my favorite examples in the book is superlawyer David Boies. Boies has appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court on numerous occasions and has litigated a number of the most famous court cases of our time. Boies also has dyslexia. As a child, he struggled learning in traditional schools. He could hardly read. To overcome this handicap, Boies learned to become an incredible listener. He learned by listening. Today, he credits his success as a litigator to those finely tuned listening skills. His “Goliath” was the ability to learn and understand and he has been victorious just as David was.

Gladwell shares a number of similar stories of “underdogs” overcoming their handicaps and achieving greatness. Like in his other best-selling books; “The Tipping Point”, “Blink”, and “Outliers”, Gladwell combines a large amount of research and great stories to convey a powerful message. 

I strongly recommend this book.

The Onion’s Tips for Traveling Over The Holidays

  • You never know when you’ll get stranded at an airport or train station, so make sure you don’t go hungry by packing two large burlap sacks full of steak meat and apples.    
  • Exchange knowing glances with the TSA agent. You’re one of the good ones. You get it.    
  • Buy a one-day pass to the airline lounge, a veritable phantasmagoria of sex, death, and passion where your wildest dreams become reality.    
  • Arrive at your parents’ house several hours early, stake out a concealed vantage point, and use binoculars to study their reactions as you call to let them know you’ll be an hour late.    
  • Avoid long lines at airport security by striding confidently past everyone, displaying your driver’s license, and repeating the words “sorry, folks.”    
  • Don’t let a little adverse weather ruin everyone’s holiday. Get in that cockpit and do your job.  
  • No matter how stressful travel gets, remember that it will be 10 times worse when you’re celebrating the holiday with your family.