Behind the businesses in your community are some of the most interesting, enjoyable, and amazing people you’ll ever meet. Getting to know the person behind the display window of a shop, the inspiration behind a unique restaurant, or the driving force behind an amazing service business will open your eyes, and in many cases, even inspire you.

I think of small businesses as the bedrock of our communities. They’re the hidden engine that keeps the community humming and prosperous. Ayn Rand likened them to Atlas holding the world on their shoulders, and there’s a lot of truth to that.

One of the characteristics of bedrock is that you don’t see it. But you do see the small businesses in your community. You see them every day, don’t you? You walk or drive by them. You shop in them. You ask them to do things for you. You know them pretty well.

But do you really? Do you really know them? Do you even care about them?

Take for example Donut City in Seal Beach California, owned and operated for three decades by John Chan and his wife Stella. John and Stella came to Orange County as refugees from Cambodia in 1979. Since then, they’ve worked side by side every morning to serve donuts at their Pacific Coast Highway shop. They’ve become a fixture and a familiar landmark in the area, and, by the way, their donuts are amazing.

Not long ago, clients began noticing that Stella was missing from the shop. When some of them asked about her, they were shocked to discover she had suffered an aneurysm. She was alive, but weak and in rehab, and she was going to be in rehab for a long time. Every day, John did all the work necessary to keep Donut City humming and its customers happy, and then he rushed home to be with her as soon as the shop sold out of doughnuts.

The regulars expressed their concern and suggested to John that they set up a gofundme page to raise money, but John saw no need for it. He was sure that so long as he kept working at the donut shop they were fine financially. He did express his desire to spend more time with Stella to help her through her long recovery.

Those same regulars weren’t willing to let it go. They decided to do something. Through social media and word of mouth they got the word out that John needed to sell out his donuts early every day so he could return to the rehab center where Stella was recovering. They encouraged people to buy a dozen or so donuts on their way to work in the morning. It worked. The regulars did it, and so did the “semi-regulars.” They began stopping by every morning for a dozen or more for the office. John was often able to shut down as early as 10:00 on some mornings and spend the rest of the day helping his wife.

To John and Stella’s customers, it became more than just buying some donuts. In this time of need, they became friends, who were supporting a great couple and a man who needed to spend time with his wife. And they got to eat great donuts. The customers became the champion and marketing arm, not for Donut City, but for John and Stella. Why? Because that’s what friends do. Talk about a win-win.

You’d be amazed at how many of the businesses that you come in contact with have stories like this behind them. I get to hear these stories from the business owners I coach. They feel the weight of the well being of their employees and their families on their shoulders. They could use the encouragement of someone else coming along and, by word or deed, saying, “Hey, I see you, and I appreciate what you do.”

John and Stella were one of these local small business owners whose faces behind the counter became part of the bedrock of their community. When their time of struggle came, their customers decided to support them in the best way they knew how.

That’s what friends and communities do.
“The most dangerous risk of all: the risk of spending your life not doing
what you want on the bet you can buy the freedom to do it later.” - Anonymous

Why would you ever start a business?

The first reasons are ones we’ve all heard before; be your own boss, get rich, have more freedom. These are valid reasons, but is there more?

Molly and Jeremy, recently married, found themselves at an interesting crossroad. Jeremy, was now a civilian, having just come off his second deployment to Iraq. Molly had finished seminary and was an ordained minister, but didn’t yet have a church to lead. They had no commitment to a community or anything else, other than each other. They were looking for a place to put down roots.

The world and all its possibilities were before them. Now, what to do with it?

Jeremy had long thought about owning his own business after his military service. He spent a lot of time studying business and business models during his downtime in Iraq, trying to figure out what kind of a business he could launch. He had loved teaching leadership at various military schools. Molly was looking for a congregation to teach, build up, and minister.

It was an epiphany -- an “aha” moment, and a big one -- that made all the difference in their lives. It set them in the right direction.

They both wanted to do something worthwhile with their lives, he with a business and she with a congregation. And they both wanted a community in which to grow and build. A minister naturally seeks a community to serve, and they both knew that finding the right community would be central to Molly’s ambitions. But, until their big “aha” they thought a business was simply a way to make money, and a good business would be a fun way to make money. Molly’s ministry would be a source of satisfaction; Jeremy’s business would be a source of money.

Then the “aha” hit them. Not all at once, but over the course of a lot of talking and planning. It started with a question.

How could they start a business that will not only allow them to be their own boss and to be rewarded financially as the business grows but to also design it with the idea of them making an impact in the world through changed lives?

To meet both those objectives would require some serious forethought and planning.

They knew that they wanted it to be a gathering place of people
  • Restaurant? - not really having any experience in restaurants and the complexity of running an independent restaurant - doesn’t seem like the best fit.
  • Bar or brewery - good gathering spot but it really wasn’t their scene or passion and would not attract the people they wanted - not even seriously considered.
  • Coffee shop - now this is closer, a meeting place for a wide spectrum of people, but the market is fairly mature and they would be trying to break into an existing market.
  • Ice cream store, hmm interesting, attracts that youth demographic but it’s also a fairly mature marketplace with lots of entrenched competition.
  • Frozen Yogurt (Froyo) attracts the right cross-section of people, rapidly growing niche, the small city of Holland that they wanted to live in didn’t currently have any froyo shops. 
They started looking and found some attractive franchise companies who had figured out a lot of the logistics and business model. They decided on buying an Orange Leaf Franchise and to take the plunge into business ownership.

Molly wanted a place that she could bring in groups of teen girls for bible studies and a place where they could hire young people and mentor them through working at the business. They found a location and launched.

They went through the usual business startup issues, early losses, competition moving in, figuring out how to run it, figuring out how to hire and train. The business worked and was profitable, not as much as they wanted it to be, but still profitable.

But the question is, did this business add to their life or take from it? There are many in our society who have accepted that their job will suck and will drain the life out of them but it pays the bills and so they grudgingly go to work each morning. But this should never be the case for a business owner, after all, a business owner has more invested, they have taken on a lot more risk and they put up with a lot of extra hassle. So a business should both reward them financially but also help to give them the life they want.

I often tell people that the purpose of your Life isn’t to serve your business but the purpose of your business is to serve your life, to give you more of it.

Molly and Jeremy are the rare entrepreneurs who sat down before they even decided on a business to start and determined what kind of a life they wanted to live. They thought about and talked about what made them tick, what kind of a dent they wanted to put into the universe, what kind of a ministry they wanted to have in the community.

They figured out their core purpose. What makes them tick as people.

Then they very intentionally launched a business that not only made money but also gave them this kind of a life. They made sure before it even opened that the strategic intent of the business matched up to the core purpose that they had identified for their lives.
Entrepreneurship is mentally and emotionally hard. It takes a great deal of self-reliance and deep internal endurance to continue when you want to quit. Being an entrepreneur is hard because it’s on you. Success is on you. Results are on you. Making the call, doing the things you don't like to do...all on you. Making it requires willingness to be uncomfortable yet still push forward. To know that you might be uncomfortable, you might be in pain, you might be embarrassed, and you’ll certainly be challenged, but you’ll still persevere. Any marathon runner will tell you that strong legs help, but what defines a marathoner is the ability to continue running when your body says stop. Your body will rebel and start screaming at you to stop--right now--but your mind tells your legs to keep going. One more step. And another. And another.

I was recently at the Grand Canyon with my family and naturally wanted to hike to Phantom Ranch at the bottom and then back up. But as I talked to the rangers about doing it in one day, they said, “No way. That’s a hike for really experienced hikers.” I mentioned that my 9-year-old son wanted to go with me and they said “absolutely not,” so, being a responsible parent and respecter of limitations that authority figures lay on me, I went right on planning our hike. We left our RV at 5:45 AM and caught a bus to the trailhead. At the rim of the canyon, when we started, the temperature was in the high teens, and at the bottom it was in the 70s, which makes clothing an interesting challenge, especially when you want to bring extra warm clothes for just in case situations. I wasn’t sure if there would be food or water available on the way so I brought enough of both for the entire day of hiking plus extra for safety.

An interesting thing about hiking the Grand Canyon is that you start out going downhill but you end the day climbing uphill. So as we started out Christian was loving it. He wanted to climb ever rock face and explore every little side pocket and trail as any boy naturally would.

So we started a conversation that spanned the entire day, about what it was going to take for him to make it all the way back up to the top. I talked to him about running marathons, how when you are at the starting line and feeling great, but you know that in a little while you will be in pain and beyond tired. At that point it’s up to you to draw down that mental toughness to keep going, taking that next step and the one after that. I talked to him about being prepared for that time so that when it comes he would be ready mentally.

Seriously biased dad here but he was amazing. He handled it like a champ. He was ahead of me for the 9 miles down, but the downhill section isn’t the time that tries men's souls. After Lunch at Phantom Ranch we started the trek up and after a long time came to the final 3 miles of steep switchback trails. This is where your feet feel like you have 10 lbs weights on them. He knew this was coming and knew it would be hard. But he never complained. Not once. We made it to the top with daylight to spare. He was one tired but happy boy. So was I.

Now you can read this and say, Yay Christian good for you! And yes he did great, but what’s interesting is what has happened since that time. It’s been over a year now, and he and I have jogged the stairs up and down the dunes, jogged through the sands, swam roughly ⅓ of a mile in the waves of Lake Michigan, and gone through some gruelling soccer practices. Never once has he said he couldn’t do it, or that he was too tired to go on. Once or twice he brought up the fact that this was tough, but not as tough as the Grand Canyon hike.

That hike did something inside of him. Something deep in him now knows that when the going gets tough he can keep going. He has a mental anchor. He knows he did something hard once and made it through. I think that, in a small but important way, that day hiking the Grand Canyon will stick with him forever.

This past Summer he expressed an interest in making some money. After we talked about what he could do, we made a plan, and I printed some business cards for him. Then came the hard part. We went door to door in our neighborhood and he knocked on every door and told them about his business, leaving each of them with a business card magnet for them to put on their fridge.

In case you’re not aware, going door to door selling your services is HARD.

He’s 9 years old so he still has a little bit of that cuteness factor going for him, but anyway you cut it, it’s hard to muster the courage to walk up to a stranger’s door, knock, and then tell them about your business. Don’t believe me, try it sometime.

I knew it would be hard and that he might not be able to make it on his own (just as he might not be able to make the Grand Canyon hike alone), so I went with him, talked him through it, and encouraged him along the way. I Played up the positive responses and downplayed the negative ones. I never went up to the door, but stayed on the sidewalk like a trick or treating dad, because he had to be the one to knock and give his talk. He didn’t want to do his first house, but that went well so he was ready to try some more. After about 20 he said he was kind of done for the night, so we walked home. We’ve gone out a few other nights and each time it’s easier because he did something hard the first time and lived to tell the tale.

Let your kids do hard things. Let them be uncomfortable. Don’t make it too easy on them. Their future selves need to know that they can do hard things and get through them, that being uncomfortable and in pain doesn’t mean to stop but to keep moving forward, one step. Then another. And another.
I have seen too many people, young people in particular talk about how inconvenient it is to vote.

It reminded me of some tweets by historian Kevin Kruse who while doing research for a book on the civil rights movement, shared these short stories and pictures.

Read these and consider what Americans sacrificed to get full access to the ballot

Reverend George Lee in Belzoni, Mississippi, used his pulpit and his printing press to encourage African Americans to register to vote. For his troubles, he was assassinated by three men with shotguns in May 1955.

A few months later, Lamar Smith -- who had been busy trying to convince local blacks to vote -- was gunned down by three men on the lawn of the courthouse on a Saturday afternoon. A crowd watched it happen, but originally police could find no witnesses to it.

In 1961, voting rights activist Herbert Lee was murdered by a state legislator in front of a dozen witnesses. After a few years, one of the witnesses offered to testify about the murder. The night before he was going to testify, he was killed outside his home.

In Jackson, Mississippi, the family of the NAACP state field secretary, Medgar Evers, stayed up late to see what their father thought of the president's speech and all that had unfolded on June 11, 1963. 

Around midnight, Medgar Evers' children heard the familiar sound of their father's Oldsmobile pulling into the driveway. He got out of the car, picked up a stack of sweatshirts stenciled "JIM CROW MUST GO" and turned to enter his home.

Across the street, hidden among the honeysuckle vines, a white supremacist named Byron de la Beckwith squinted through the scope of a 30.06 Winchester rifle, squeezed the trigger, and ripped a bullet through the activist’s back.

At the crack of the gun, his kids inside threw themselves to the floor, precisely as their father, a veteran of the Normandy landing, had trained them. When no more shots came, they hurried outside to find their dad face down and bloodied in their driveway. In the early hours of June 12, 1963, Evers passed away. After the civil rights breakthroughs of the day before, in Tuscaloosa and Washington DC, and across the country, too, his assassination proved a powerful reminder of just how much further the nation still had to go.

In the summer of 1964, three voting rights activists -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner -- were detained by cops and then murdered by Klansmen in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

During the climactic voting rights protests in Selma, 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson was beaten and shot by Alabama state troopers in February 1965. He died soon after.

Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston, was beaten by white supremacists who attacked him and two other clergymen who had come to Selma to support voting rights. Reeb died two days later.

Four Klansmen murdered Viola Liuzzo, a mother of five from Detroit who had been giving rides to voting rights marchers after the Selma-to-Montgomery march. They chased her in their own car and shot her twice in the head.

In August 1965, Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopalian seminary student from Boston, was arrested along with a Catholic priest for supporting a voting rights campaign in Lowndes County, Alabama. Almost immediately after their release, Daniels was shot to death by a deputy.

In January 1966, Vernon Dahmer, a well-off grocery store owner, announced on the radio in Hattiesburg that he would pay poll taxes for anyone who wanted to vote but couldn't afford it. The

Klan attacked his home that night.

The Klansmen threw jugs of gasoline into his home and set it on fire. As the fire spread, Dahmer fired his gun to scare the Klansmen off and got his wife and kids out of the house. He finally made it out, but soon died from the severe burns and smoke inhalation.

"I've been active in trying to get people to register to vote," Dahmer told a reporter. "People who don't vote are deadbeats on the state. I figure a man needs to do his own thinking. What happened to us last night can happen to anyone, white or black."

These stories are from one short period of just United State history, this leaves out the entire story of the women who fought and struggled to gain the vote or the wars we fought to gain our ability and others the ability to vote.

But, sure, I hear you.

Voting can be a real hassle.

Why bother.

Values Matter...

I recently watched a YouTube video about Jackie Robinson and his experience breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. He did it with a great deal of courage, and with patience for the extremely narrow-mindedness and intolerance of people venting their hatred at him.

Baseball is a sport of extreme mental concentration and focus. Players are easily thrown off their game by even minor distractions. Yet Jackie, in spite of all the off the field (and sometimes on the field) abuse he suffered, was able to play top-notch baseball. He did it with an intensity and aggressiveness that eventually gained him the grudging respect of a nation that, in those days, still harbored deep prejudices. Many hated him for his skin color, but came to respect his skills and the way he conducted his life and played the game of baseball. Eventually, Jackie was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. To this day, he is the only player to have his number retired by all of baseball. One day each year all major league players wear number 42 in his honor.

Watching the YouTube video again reminded me of my admiration for Jackie, but this time my attention was drawn to two key players in the Jackie Robinson story. Branch Rickey was the President and General manager of the Dodgers, and the team owner was Bill Veeck. It was they who decided that something needed to be done to break the color barrier in baseball. They knew it would be futile to try to convince people to change their prejudices, or attempt to legislate change through the baseball commissioners office, so they made a courageous decision.

They just did it. They put a black man on their baseball team.

They didn’t do any market testing. They didn’t mount a publicity campaign to try to convince fans that “colored” people could and should play baseball at the highest level. They didn’t wait until it was an acceptable, normal practice. They put a black man on their team knowing full well that it would create a shock wave in the world of baseball, and that the man they selected would be subjected to extreme insult and abuse.

Why did these two businessmen, already successful and respected, want to disrupt the status quo of the baseball world? Why did they take on such a huge risk that would potentially threaten their already successful business?

They had the conventional goals of baseball team owners -- to own a successful, profitable business, and to prove themselves to be the best baseball club in the world by winning the World Series. But they shared another goal. Really more than a goal -- a sense of mission. They wanted, somehow, to make the world a better place. I don’t know that they ever thought of it as a mission or made any kind of “mission statement.” But that’s what it was. A mission.
It’s commonly understood in the business world that a business is all about making money and that’s it. Standard business wisdom is that businesses should be focused on the bottom line. Maximize profits. Grow the business. Increase value for the shareholders. When management loses its focus on the bottom line, stakeholders become angry, and industry/business experts criticise the business and its leadership.

Is that right? Is that all there is?

Let’s ask a few questions about this basic belief and see if we can find a deeper truth about the world of business.

1. Who are the stakeholders of a business?

It’s common to take a narrow view of stakeholders, defining them as those who have a direct financial interest in the business, such as owners, suppliers, lenders, and, of course, customers. But this narrow definition really limits our thinking about those who want to see the business succeed.

What about employees? Their income depends directly on the business. The majority of their day to day energy is spent in the business, Much of their fulfillment in life comes from the successes they experience in the business, as do many of their disappointments.

In the case of Bill Veeck’s and Branch Rickey’s “noble experiment” with Jackie Robinson, their employees -- baseball players, teammates -- were striving for the glory of November baseball, trying to win it all in the World series. Jackie Robinson increased that possibility dramatically. He led the Dodgers to six World Series.

What about the community? There is a symbiotic relationship between a business and its community. The community is much more than simply a customer base for the business. In many ways businesses are the face of the community for people local and afar. Ask any economic developer and he will tell you that the growth, stability and wealth of a community is directly tied to the businesses in that community.

In the case of the Brooklyn Dodgers, they were part of the face of that community. So much so that civic pride was tied up in their success. The community, not just the diehard fans, wanted to see them win.

2. What do stakeholders want?

I was recently at a conference for entrepreneurs, listening to a panel talking about sustainable business practices. One of the panelists interrupted the flow of thought by stating that when we are talking about sustainable businesses we must never forget that sustainable means profitable. Without profit there is no way that a business can sustain itself no matter what other practices they put in place. Profit isn’t the only motive, but if you lose sight of it the business won’t survive. So, it’s basic that all stakeholders want the business to be profitable. But do they want more than that?

Of course they do. And entrepreneurs need to know what their stakeholders want.

For entrepreneurs, their businesses are extensions of themselves...their baby... their way of making a mark on the world. Much of the impact they have on the world is made either directly or indirectly through their businesses.

As an entrepreneur what do you want? What kind of a mark do you want to leave on the world once you’re gone? How do you want to make the world a better place? Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck had a sense of mission. What is yours? Is the business getting you any closer to that goal? If not, are you in the right business? Are you operating in a way that will take you there, rather than the way conventional wisdom tells you to operate? You’re in the driver’s seat, but if you’re not taking your stakeholders into account, you may be driving on the wrong road.

What do your employees want? You might think they want better salaries, but look a little deeper, ask some deeper questions. They may not be able to articulate exactly what they want because they have probably never been asked this kind of question before, But ask anyway, and look for little clues that they give in the conversation. See how their wants and needs might match up with yours.

What about the community? This one can be a little confusing. Henry Ford once said that if he had asked the market what it wanted, it would have said “a faster horse.” Steve Jobs said that sometimes you just need to show the market what you have come up with and see the reaction. Sometimes the market might not be ready for what you are creating, and you may have to go back and reevaluate.

Pay attention to your stakeholders. Know them. And satisfy them -- make them happy. Your business will be more profitable, more satisfying, and it will create a better impact in the world if you do.

3. What does your business stand for?

Values matter. What you stand for matters. The way you conduct business and the way you treat people matters to customers, employees, owners, and the community in which you do business. Whether or not you have taken the time to think about it, values -- what you stand for -- matter, and they matter a lot.

You’ll find that your business stands for something, whether you plan it that way or not. So make it stand for something good. Something positive. Something satisfying.

How do you do that? Here are a few ideas.

In many ways your employees are your business. The question is, why do people want to work for your business? Pay? Of course, but there’s much more. Employees (surprise!) are people, and people are complex. Yes, they’ll trade time for money, but they need more than that. They need something to move them, something to talk about, something to get them excited about coming to work. Something to make them thank God it’s Monday so they can go back to doing what means something to them. I’m not saying they need to love every minute and every task. We all need to buckle down sometimes and do the hard things, but as Proverbs says “without vision, the people perish.” How can you inspire them and give them a worthwhile sense of mission?

You do it by sharing your own sense of mission. What do you stand for? What does your business stand for? Let your employees know. And if you haven’t figured it out for yourself, figure it out. Then share it with them. Most importantly, make sure that you and your business “talk the talk and walk the walk.” Words mean nothing without action. So make “right action” your motto. Do what’s right, what contributes to your sense of mission. And insist that your people do the same. They’ll love you for it, and your business will soar.

What about the community? Why should they buy from you rather than any of the other options available to them? And believe me, they have options. If you think that some combination of better, faster, cheaper is really going to attract long-term customers, think again. Yes, you will get business that way, but trust me when I say that someone will come along with a slightly better combination of better, faster, cheaper. If all you have to say to your market is that we are better, faster, and cheaper, then you’re simply joining the rat race. It’s time to rethink your approach to business.

Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck had a good baseball team, but they needed to make it better. The best way they could see doing that was to try something unconventional. They plucked a player from a pool that none of the other teams had tapped. They put someone on the field who didn’t look like everyone else. They had already decided that the color barrier was something that needed to be torn down and that doing so would make their community and their team a better place. They embarked on what they considered to be a noble experiment. Yes, it worked but they had no assurance in the beginning that it wouldn’t end in disaster. It was a calculated risk, a daring experiment. If Jackie hadn’t been good enough, the fan base would have rejected him and the team. But they were convinced that for the good of the team, for the good of the community they had to try. It was the right thing to do. Veeck and Rickey shared their sense of mission by walking the walk, by doing it. It took a while, but their team, and later their fans saw the light and wholeheartedly joined their sense of mission. They stood for equality and excellence, and the community joined them.

Values matter. What you stand for matters.

Recently business owners have been testing out different things

A little while ago I read about a tech company that took the drastic step of paying every single employee the same salary. That one didn’t end well. It created a lot of resentment from the employees. What Branch Rickey, and Ben and Jerry, and the tech company did weren’t without significant risks. So you have to be convinced that what you’re doing is the right thing to do.

A client of mine used to remind me of something he learned from the Davy Crockett show back in the 50s when he was a kid. “Make sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Being right doesn’t always mean you will be successful but it can still be right.

Another client of mine owned a very diner serving the typical American breakfast and lunch menu items, but he was dissatisfied. His restaurant stood for the wrong things. Its values didn’t reflect his own values. He knew that what he was selling, while tasty and popular, wasn’t really in the best interest of his customers, so he rebranded, reorganized the menu, retrained his staff and reinvented his restaurant. Instead of heating up frozen, prepackaged meals, his restaurant now serves almost everything made fresh, from scratch, on location, with no food colors or chemical additives. He made Gluten free and allergen free foods a priority. As he said, “what we eat matters.” He thought that there might be a market for this type of diner, but he wasn’t sure. He made the transformation based on the conviction that it was the best thing for his customers and the community. It would have been easy and safe to just continue selling what he was selling. But it wasn’t right for him. He wanted his business to stand for something better because he stood for something better.

You have a business. Your business gives you a place of influence in your corner of the world. What is it that you believe that most people around you either don’t believe or don’t have the courage to do? 

What do you stand for? 

Your business can be the instrument for making it real in your corner of the world. Walk the walk. Walk your walk
I have been watching our cities mayoral race with interest. The thing that seems to differentiate them most is their leadership style, or what they think of as leadership. Yes, they do differ on issues and it’s natural in a campaign to emphasize the issues that they differ on in order to distinguish themselves and attract voter. But I still think that underneath it all you see different styles of leadership.

The challenger has an underlying criticism of the current mayor, that they are not a strong leader, that they lack vision, that they haven't cast a vision for others to rally behind and pushed that agenda forward. The challenger claims that what our city needs is strong leadership and naturally he feels like he can provide that leadership that he sees the city is missing.

Both the challenger and others have been critical of the mayor’s leadership qualities.  In looking at it, I started to wonder why they don’t see the mayor as a leader. And I realized that maybe part of the problem is we think about this incorrectly and are looking for the wrong things because of our longstanding preconceived notions of what leadership is, what it looks and acts like.  

To explain this I think I need to point out that our current mayor is a woman and the challenger is a man.

Now if I were to ask you to name 10 of the top leaders down through history I would guess that on many of your lineups cards all 10 would be men. Now is that because men are naturally better leaders or is it a little more complicated than that? Is it possible that while we do have this dominance of historical male leadership figures, that this warps our thinking in this current age as to what leadership is and looks like? Is it possible that our perception of what leadership looks like is based on our historical amalgamation of leaders and the character traits they exhibit, and they way they get things done?

Are our views of leadership based largely on male style leadership not because they are the best or most effective but because they match the qualities of most of the leaders we look to in the past?

I will confess that while I liked the mayor, the way she operates and what she has been able to accomplish, that I too didn't see her as a strong leader, but does that say more about me then it does about her? I also am very affected by the dominance of male leadership down through history that made me think that there must be something intrinsic to maleness that makes for a good leader.  I mean come on, thousands of years of male-dominated leadership can't be wrong, can it? This perception on my part led me to think that leadership meant doing what is commonly considered male type things. Now I should interject and point out that whenever I use such broad strokes as characterizing something as male style leadership traits I am seriously generalizing because it's impossible to talk about male/female issues without gross generalization, so please grant some grace as you have probably already thought of exceptions to what I am saying. But back to what I was saying,  there are different ways that men and women tend to lead and they can both be very effective, the thing is that I tend to see only the things that men do as being strong leadership.

Generalization here, but men tend to have a position, vision or idea and then rally people around that idea, come up with a plan and then drive that plan forward hopefully gaining followers along the way until they have enough support to enact that plan. There is nothing wrong with doing things this way, but can I say that it's not the only way?

Something our current mayor has done extensively and quite effectively has been as issues come up she has brought different groups together, she has listened and probed, made sure people were heard and brought them to some kind of resolution or path forward. It’s called collaborative leadership and it’s often the way the women lead. Interestingly this often means that they don’t get as much credit individually but the credit goes to the team.

An example of this is when the city council had its annual strategic planning process and instead of bringing in an outside facilitator the Mayor led the brainstorming and agenda-setting process.  Their process was fairly simple, each of the council members had a chance to put down what issues they saw as important and then they began the discussion, arguing and prioritizing those issue points until they had their top issues resolved and had a path forward for what they were going to do in the next year.

An interesting point is that the Mayor's initial list of priorities didn't look anything like what the council walked out with, and looking at it from a strong male leadership style it would appear that she was a weak leader. She didn't drive her agenda forward like any good leader would. But coming out of it I heard more than one council member talk about how different and effective this strategic council meeting was from the meetings they had in the past.

Maybe the challenger and I both need to update our impression of what a good strong leader looks like? And how there is more than one way to lead a city forward.

Is business a force for good, something that frees people, or is it something that enslaves?

I was recently talking to a couple of people about issues of injustice in the world, everything from perpetual poverty, human trafficking, and the inability to stand up to oppression. Their causes were numerous and their methods different but it comes down to oppression of one person by another. If you try dealing with it by rooting out the oppressor, it doesn't work because there is always another bully waiting in the wings. The only long term solution that we could see was eliminating so much opportunity for oppression by helping a person gain economic mobility, economic freedom, economic self determination.

It reminded me of the story of Muhammad Yunus the author of Banker to the Poor, he was a professor of economics and instead of telling his students about economic theory he got them out into the villages to talk to real people about economics. He tells of visiting some of the poorest households in the town of Jobra Bangladesh in the late 70s to gain an understanding of the economic situation of the poorest people in that village.

One day they stopped at a run-down house with crumbling mud walls and a low thatched roof pocked with holes. He made his way through a crowd of scavenging chickens and beds of vegetables to the front of the house. A woman squatted on the dirt floor of the verandah, a half-finished bamboo stool gripped between her knees, her fingers quickly plaiting the stubborn strands of cane. She was totally absorbed in her work. On hearing his greeting, she dropped her bamboo, sprang to her feet, and scurried into the house. (woman weren't supposed to talk to strangers)

It took a little while of complimenting her on her three children who were scurrying around the yard and assuring her that he was harmless and just wanted to ask some questions before she came back to the door and would talk to him while holding her baby. She was in her early twenties, thin, with dark skin and black eyes. She wore a red sari and had the tired eyes of a woman who labored every day from morning to night.

He asked her about the bamboo stool that she was making and how long it took to make one. She replied that she could make one per day and that at the end of the day she would sell it for 24 cents he was surprised at how little knowing how much those same stools went for in the market and on further questioning found out that each day she had to borrow the equivalent of 22 cents from the merchant in order to buy the bamboo material to make the stool and that the terms of the agreement were that she had to sell the stool back to that same merchant at the end of the day for the below market rate of 24 cents. This gave her a daily wage of 2 cents per day for every day she could produce a stool.

He left that interview and couldn’t sleep that night thinking about this woman who was a very industrious hard worker but stuck in this cycle of poverty because of the lack of 22 cents capital to buy the raw materials. Even if she was savvy enough to go to the bank and make a case for a loan they wouldn’t touch her. She was stuck dealing with the loan shark of a merchant who kept her in bondage because of their system of lending.

How would her children break the cycle of poverty she was in?

How could they go to school when the income she earned was barely enough to feed her, let alone shelter her family and clothe them properly? It seemed hopeless to imagine that her babies would one day escape this misery.

It seemed to him that the existing economic system made it absolutely certain that her income would be kept perpetually at such a low level that she would never save a penny and would never invest in expanding her economic base. Her children were condemned to live a life of penury, of hand-to-mouth survival, just as she had lived it before them, and as her parents did before her.

He thought about just giving her the money. That would be so simple, so easy. But giving one person twenty-two cents was not addressing the problem on any permanent basis.

Her life was a form of bonded labor, or slavery. The trader made certain that he paid her a price that barely covered the cost of the materials and was just enough to keep her alive. She could not break free of her exploitative relationship with him. To survive, she needed to keep working through the trader.

This was the instance that sparked the creation of micro-finance and micro-loans. Muhammad Yunus started a program of loaning out small sums of money to these extremely poor women, many of whom used that money to get out of this vicious cycle and started their own businesses.

Micro-finance has done a lot of good in many areas but its limitations of only providing loans has in some cases caused more damage and gotten the people into another different cycle of stuck. Because they didn’t address the other areas of need in those people and businesses who are stuck in the bottom of the pyramid.

Muhammad Yunus and micro-finance were needed and revolutionary but went only part of the way to addressing one of these issues and that is the access to capital and they only addressed it with loans.

Today there are many organizations that provide micro-finance; there are websites such as Kiva, IMicroinvest, and the Microloan Foundation. There are many very good things you can say about these efforts, but there are a number of weaknesses with these models.

• They only offer loans
• There is no real transparency, just a story and a picture
• There is no ongoing updates of involvement by the investor
• There is no mentorship
• There is no training
• There is no business support provided
• There is no helping the entrepreneur to network and make connections that would help them

Even with all these missing elements and the problems that have shown up in the micro credit industry this basic approach helped so many of the most vulnerable to injustice members of society achieve economic mobility giving them a measure of security from oppression.

The thing that enables bullies around the world to prey on the weak isn't usually their brute strength but their taking advantage of their preys economic circumstances.

In our conversation about issues of injustice, Micah mentioned that the most common way that human traffickers attract their victims is asking them if they would like a job or would like to make some money or would they like to to to the United States. All three questions praying on their economic situation. We have this image based on movies like Taken of human traffickers finding their victims via thugs kidnapping young girls but much more common is to offer their victim a way out of their situation and the victim willingly follows them.

So, is business a force for good, something that frees people, or is it something that enslaves?
Business can be a tool to oppress others as you can see by the loan shark of a merchant who kept the woman in virtual slavery through his business tactics. But again it's a tool, in the wrong hands it's a tool of oppression. But what if you give that same tool to those at the bottom of the pyramid?

What if we did more then just giving them 22 cents and walking away, what if we did more then giving them a loan, what if we addressed more then just the immediate apparent lack of resources? What if dealt with their sense of lostness and void in their life that only a savior can provide? What if we not only gave them resources but also came along side of them and gave them support, mentored them, gave them opportunity to put into practice, to try creating something, to be entrepreneurial, to take this tool of business and raise themselves out of their weak and vulnerable state?

Business can be a force for good when it's truly available to all members of society. When it's only in the hands of a few those few too often become the oppressors. Lets see if we can give this tool of economic freedom to those who to those who don't have it and see what a force for good business can be.

Business schools and books will all talk about the need for your business to have a competitive advantage-- something to give your enterprise an edge in the marketplace.

However, their examples are usually based things that are easily counted such as price, speed or quality. There are advantages that go far beyond the "norms" of the "competitive advantage."

What about taking something that is perceived as a disadvantage and turning it around into a competitive advantage?

What about Autism as a competitive advantage, for example?

Check out this video of a Dad with an Autistic son who created a business model that doesn't just allow for, but brings out the strengths of people on the Autistic scale.

People on the Autistic scale have remarkable strengths, but they are different strengths than the majority of the population and usually different strengths than the owners of businesses.

This means that business owners who want to have a competitive advantage that involves their team often need to rethink their business model. Most business owners by default look for employees who are like them. This is a fatal flaw because if they are truly like you, then they will steal your business and become your competition.

What you are looking for is people who aren't like you. People who will bring their own unique sets of skills and strengths. The problem is that your business isn't ready for anyone that isn't like you. If you could clone yourself, then everything would be fine... right?

 In reality, that would bring its own set of problems.

The problem is that your business isn't setup to handle the right employees, There are people out there who could be awesome doing what you need done, but you're still looking for a clone of you.

Step back and take another look at your business. What do you really need? If you say some variation of  "I'm looking for hard workers who are committed to their job, don't have a lot of drama, and have the skill set of  ......", then you are going to be fighting all other job opportunities available due to the commonality of that answer. You can fight to attract this limited pool of people wooing them with higher salaries, but they are so employable that anyone else who can offer more receives them. You then end up complaining that you just "can't find any good people."

What if you looked outside of that box? What if you designed your business in ways that you can not only accommodate, but thrive with people who don't fit that narrow box of perceived "perfect employee" material?

That could be as the father above did in designing the business so that people on that autism spectrum can thrive. Or how about the group of mothers with kids in school? They are a unique group with their own specific strengths and weaknesses.

They have a different set of priorities where their work comes second to their kids.

They often have a great skill set that may be academically out-of-date but is enhanced by raising children. They have great attitudes because nothing you can throw at them is as difficult as keeping up with everything they encounter on a daily basis. They need a uniquely flexible environment that allows them to drop work and be with their kids who can't go to school that day because of a fever.

I have a client who built her business around not their client's needs, but around the needs of her employees; 90% of whom were mothers of young children who wanted to work while raising her family. The workday began at 9:00 and ended at 3:00. Many did not work 5 days a week, but instead worked a self-selected number of days per week. She had a long list of these women, and when one had kids with a fever she had a list from which to call to get another one in their place for the day.

The systems were such that each day had its own projects and they didn't carry overnight. She designed the business around the needs of her employees and her employees repaid her by doing an amazing job of taking care of the clients.

What about college kids with their own set of strengths and weaknesses? Can you provide an environment where their uniqueness could be brought out, allowing them to shine?

What about recent parolees from prison? Kind of scary at first thought, but could be amazing.
meme I play at church
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week, you have probably at least heard something about Pokémon Go. It was released on both the Apple and Google Play stores last Thursday, and it quickly became one of the top downloaded apps on both platforms. The app has become a viral sensation among teens and young adults, already overtaking Twitter in number of daily users. Of course, all the 90s kids are geeking out over this app, but, surprisingly, this app has actually attracted an even broader audience than the original games ever did. However, you don’t have to rely on the amount of downloads this app has to judge its popularity; just head downtown on any given evening and you are sure to see twice as many people as normal hanging out down there, phones in hand. You might even overhear some talk about the different Pokémon that they’ve been catching lately!

I know, you might be groaning at yet another app that has got young people’s faces buried in their phones. But, this app is actually different! It is one of the first games that is actually forcing people to get out and about. There are a lot of features in the game that require the player to actually go outside and walk around! It is also bringing people together as people are walking around, gathering in ad hock groups and just stopping each other to start up conversations about Pokémon. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself! Take a walk downtown and start asking random strangers to explain the game and help you get started and you will be sure to meet some great new people.

I think that, with the increase in people walking around in fresh air and interacting with other members of their communities, there is a big possibility that this game could have positive effects on mental health issues likes depression. I am also intrigued to see how this app might even begin to bring people and communities back together again. Serious gamers are stereotyped to stay holed up in their homes, by themselves, playing games in front of a screen for hours at a time, but this app is forcing them to get up and start walking!

before and after pokemon go

In case you haven’t already checked the game out for yourself, the Pokémon Go app turns the real world into a massive Pokémon hunting ground using your phone’s camera and GPS. Players use little red and white balls, which are called Pokéballs, in order to catch the Pokémon and build their collection. This app also transforms local landmarks, businesses and, here’s where it gets interesting, churches into Pokémon Gyms and PokéStops. Pokémon Gyms are places where higher level players can train their Pokémon and battle against other players and teams, while PokéStops are places where players of all levels can stock up on Pokéballs and other necessary game items. This might explain why you might have noticed more people hanging out around your church building recently, all with their phones in hand.

While this phenomenon is cool and all, what does it mean for churches? Simply put, it means that many churches will see an influx of people visiting and hanging around their church buildings on every day of the week. Theses churches can either act like the stereotypical grouchy old man yelling “Hey you rotten kids! Get off My lawn!”, or they can embrace the fact that this app is literally bringing young people to the church’s doorstep, and use it to their benefit. In fact, I have read a number of interesting articles about how businesses who happen to be PokéStops or Gyms, or are located to fairly close to one, are utilizing this craze to gain more business. Now, not every store is going to be a PokéStop or Gym, but what I have found interesting is that almost every church building is one or the other! So, while many church leaders are wringing their hands in worry about the millennial generation leaving church, they should be thinking about ways that they can use this app!

Here are some ways that churches can utilize this opportunity:
  • Download the app and take some time to check it out, so that you know what it is all about. If you are unsure about some of the games features, or how to play, you can always ask some of the young people hanging out at your church to help you out. It is a great way to start a conversation, and maybe even a friendship. Downloading the app yourself will also allow you to check out any Pokémon that are lurking around your building.
  • Check out what PokéStops or Pokémon gyms are located at your church building. If your building happens to be a gym, that is doubly awesome!
  • Be there! An empty building isn’t going to do anything for them, or you. If you can’t commit to being there yourself, ask some people in your congregation to be willing to hang out there at different times. Lawn chairs and lemonade optional.
  • Use lure modules! If your church is a PokéStop, you can buy a “Lure Module” that will attract a bunch of wild Pokémon to your church for 30 minutes. All players nearby will be alerted and will most likely start to gather to your church to catch the Pokémon.
  • Find out who in your congregation is playing the game and get a group together to walk around the neighborhoods surrounding your church building. If you don’t want to play yourself, you can always designate yourself as the person who makes sure the players don’t run into anything while playing!
  • Start a weekly or monthly activity where members of your congregation go to popular Pokémon Go locations to catch Pokémon and meet other young people. While there, you can hand out flyers about upcoming church events. This would also be a great opportunity to just get out there and meet some more people.
  • If your church is Pokémon Gym, people will probably spend more time there having battles, so what about allowing them to come inside? Set out refreshments and turn the air conditioning up and let them come play in a cool place. You could also allow players to connect their phone screens to the TV during battles, so that everyone can gather around and watch. The app tends to drain phone batteries and use up data pretty quickly, so you could even allow people to come in and charge their phones or use your Wi-Fi.
  • If your Church isn’t a Pokémon Gym or a PokéStop, you can still use this app to your benefit! Get out to your downtown landmarks and parks and strike up some conversations. Instead of poking fun at the craze, why not see it as a gift and use it to start conversations and get to know people?
If you are still reading, I have to acknowledge that these ideas might be a little crazy, and that they are just that: ideas. They have not been tested and tried, nor can I point to any examples of churches successfully using Pokémon Go. However, it has only been a week, and anything is worth a try! Historically, churches are not early adopters , they aren’t usually the first ones to jump on a new craze, well, except for that group of 12 men who decided to follow a carpenter… But Is it worth it to try and use this app to bring people to Christ? Will others laugh and poke fun at you for trying to use this as a way to reach out? Well, yes. They might laugh at you, but it is definitely worth a shot. God has a history of using strange means and working in mysterious ways.

If you have seen a business or a church using this movement in interesting ways please share in the comments.
Depression is a dark and frustrating place to be in no matter what you do for a living. Entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges when depressed. That's because for many entrepreneurs, their personal mental outlook directly affects their business outlook.
When you're depressed, you're not productive. When you're not productive, your business suffers. When your business suffers, your depression deepens. And the cycle continues and can become more insidious with every iteration.

Entrepreneurs know that their business successes are personal successes -- and their business challenges are personal challenges. The phrase “it’s not personal; it’s business” doesn’t apply to them. And so a personal struggle like depression leads to business challenges

Depression in the life of a business owner is so often hidden away and internalized-- after all, you're never allowed to show that you are struggling.

I was at a conference recently where a successful entrepreneur was being interviewed about his success and struggles. I've heard these type of interviews so many times that they have become repetitive and boring but the reason this one stood out was his vulnerability and transparency about the struggles he had in the past and still has today but he often pointed out that even while he and the business were struggling they had to put on a good face to the community, clients, vendors and especially the investors and the bank. he used the phrase that running a successful company depended on using a smoke and mirrors approach that hides any weakness. You can't run a business without putting a good face on things, and as some people put it, "fake it till you make it". This makes us hide any struggles that we have. Part of what gives depression its power is the shame -- and the need to conceal those feelings to give off the aura that everything is awesome, business is great and I'm doing fantastic. We desperately need openness and transparency but the balance between transparency and the need for "smoke and mirrors" is a hard balance to find when running a business.

Yet how can we deal with this problem if we can't acknowledge that it exists? Brad Feld, a early leader in the tech startup world, admits his own struggles with depression and tells us that depression is very common in the startup realm. Though often internalized and hidden away, despite the way we increasingly admit and even celebrate failure in the startup community, we still don't like to acknowledge depression as a struggle “For some reason we’ve embraced failure as an entrepreneurial trait that is okay,” he wrote, “but we still struggle with acknowledging and talking about depression.”

As a business coach I have dealt with so many business owners who deal with depression, most would never admit it or call it that or even realize it. But as their business coach, I am the one person who they can be transparent with and openly admit that their business/life sucks. They tell me about the nights lying awake staring up at the ceiling, indigestion boiling up their esophagus worrying about their business, their family, their employees families, their own life. They tell me how bad the collitus is getting, how they are desperately looking for a way out that they aren't sure exists.

And as business owners you can't get around the tie between personal and business, your business struggles will cause you to struggle personally and your personal issues show up in the business.

So how do you deal with it when it's so intertwined? Where do you start? Does fixing the business fix the personal issues, or does changing the business owner's mental state change the trajectory of the business?

There is no "one way." You can tackle this from either end, improve their business-- then it's easier for them to deal with their personal health issues, help them see the truth instead of the lies that they are believing and their business likely will start improving.

But this type of situation really speaks to the need for a coach, someone that they can be transparent with. Someone who can look at their situation without emotion and fear, who can see reality and communicate that reality back to them, someone who can spot the obvious to anyone else hole in the boat that is sinking their business.

Better than trying to tough it out and endanger the life of the business on which many lives are depending, including your own. Better than internalizing the struggle and making your life suck and possibly shorter. Find a business coach who has been down that road before with all it's craziness and try opening up and have them lead you on a healthy path out of depression for both you and your business.