When I was 16, I found myself in the unusual position of being in charge of the mailings dept team of a large nonprofit organization.

I remember one mailing where, as I was given the request and plans, I saw some problems, so I went to the office of Rob, the dept head who had requested the mailing. I explained the problem and he and I proceeded to brainstorm a solution. After 20 minutes, we felt like we had a workable solution. Rob then called a quick meeting of the other Dept heads involved in the project.

Now to set the stage, there were eight people at the table, each of them a Dept head or someone with technical expertise involved in the problem. The youngest of which was 10 years my senior. Then there was me, the literal "new kid on the block", the 16 year old who could have easily passed off as 14 years old. I was the guy with no credibility, no natural reason why anyone would notice or pay any attention to me or what I had to say. I assumed I would just pretty much be silent in the meeting and that Rob would run the meeting since he had called it.

I was surprised when he started the meeting by saying that there was a problem with the current setup of this large mailing, "but Seth came up with a great solution", turning to me to explain our solution. He could have easily and legitimately claimed credit or used the term "we" and explained it himself. But he did something unusual,
  • He gave me all the credit
  • He gave me all the credibility I needed by calling it a great plan
  • He turned the spotlight over to me, making me the primary driver of the meeting conversation.
This was 25 years ago and I still remember his words so clearly. I would never forget the confidence boost it gave me, the generous way he shared the credibility that he had with someone who had very little.

My teenage years were very unusual. I started working part-time when I was 13, full-time when I was 15, and by the time I was 17, I was putting in 60+ hour weeks and loving it. Along the way, as the need arose, I was promoted to manager over various progressively larger teams, moves that seemed strange largely because of my age. Strangely, the first time I had someone younger than me working for me and it was when I was 19.

As you can imagine other employees were quite skeptical of me being put in charge, My own boss initially didn't think it was possible for me to handle these situations because of my age. But, interestingly, his boss, Dwight the department director, simply said, let's give it a try and see if he can handle it. And so, I was thrown into the deep end of the pool to see if I could swim.

The pressure that was placed on me at a very young age was unusual in our society but, I learned and grew so much during that time, it was invaluable to me.

One of the things I experienced during that short period of my life was a great deal of discrimination based on my age. People would:
  • Dismiss what I had to say based on my age.
  • Tell me I couldn't do things because of my age.
  • Dismissively patronize me as I was trying to get things done.
  • Go around me to talk to my team members because they were older and must be in charge.
  • People I had negotiated large contracts with over the phone would do a double take when we met for the first time in person.
  • People felt surprisingly free to challenge me when I made a statement; making me feel I had to always be on the defensive because it was so easy for them to doubt my credibility.
  • People felt free to talk over me at meetings, or in some cases, barely even acknowledge that I was there.
Today however things are different: I am a 40-year-old, 6 foot 2 inches tall, Caucasian male with a deep enough voice. Professionally dressed and articulate enough that I could go almost anywhere, in almost any situation, and be taken seriously, given the benefit of the doubt and looked up too. It's easy for me to walk into pretty much any meeting and be listened too.

I don't currently deal with that same discrimination that I faced back then because I grew up. but going through it and experiencing it was a valuable learning experience. As you can imagine at times it was difficult but there were these few people like Rob and Dwight who through small acts of support showed empathy and grace, giving me the chance and opportunity that I needed to accomplish what many doubted I could because of my youth and inexperience. They looked beyond what the preconception that others had and gave me a chance to prove myself.

Looking back at what they did makes me wonder about what I am currently doing.

Our society generally ascribes leadership and credibility with some combination of the attributes of tall, deep-voiced, light skinned, older men, who dress "professionally" and speaks articulately. Yes, you can find many, many exceptions, but this is a generalized statement. Rob and Dwight fit those attributes yet they took someone who didn't quite match up to peoples preconceived notions of leadership and used their leadership and credibility to gave him the opportunity to prove himself. They used their culturally accepted credibility and shared it with someone who lacked what they naturally had.

I now live a life where I have leadership and credibility attributed to me, I have gained this through a combination of my own efforts of hard work and things given to me by my DNA of which I had zero involvement. I now have a proverbial seat at the table. What am I doing with it?

Having a seat at the table is great and all, but are you pulling out chairs for others to come and join you?

To quote an overused quote from the movie Spiderman: "with great power comes great responsibility."

You may think to yourself that you don't have any superpowers. You’re not chairman of the board of anything, you don't fit the list of culturally accepted leadership attributes, so you may feel that you need to wait for someone else to come along to help you. DON'T. You, right now, have a level of leadership, credibility, and power. What are you doing with it? Are you sharing what you have and giving a hand up to others by bringing them to the same table and sharing credibility with them so that they can have the opportunity to do what you have done.

There is a scarcity mentality that makes us fearful of giving away any leadership opportunity or credibility building situations because we are afraid that if we give away any of what we have it will mean less for us in the future. Rob, the guy from the initial story, could have so easily and naturally run that meeting by himself, it's what I expected him to do. Instead, he did the unusual and generous thing of putting the spotlight on me instead of himself. I still look up to him as a leader because of it.

I recently watched a short video with Arnold Schwarzenegger. At one point he started talking about being a self-made man:

“I came over here with absolutely nothing. I had $20 in the pocket and some sweaty clothes in a gym bag. Starting out, I had this one little apartment and on Thanksgiving, the bodybuilders from Gold’s Gym came to my apartment and they brought me pillows, dishes, silverware, all of the things I didn’t have. None of us can make it alone. None of us. Not even me, who’s been the Terminator and went back in time to save the human race. Not even me, that fought and killed predators with his bare hands.
“I always tell people that you can call me anything that you want, but don’t ever, ever call me a self-made man. It gives the wrong impression, that we can do it alone. None of us can. The whole concept of the self-made man or woman is a myth. I would have never made it in my life without the help. I want you to understand this because as soon as you know you are here because of a lot of help, then you also understand that now it’s time to help others. That’s what this is all about.”

You have achieved what you have through a combination of your family, your DNA, your birthplace, your time of birth, your environment, your community, your educational opportunities, your own will, desire, and hard work. Some of that you can claim credit for (good for you!), some of it you had handed to you. Despite it being overused, "with great power, comes great responsibility"
  • Who are you helping?
  • Who are you giving a hand up to?
  • Who are you giving an opportunity to?
  • Who are you shining the spotlight on?
  • Who are you bringing into your network or group of friends?
  • Who are you bringing in front of your peers and saying "_______ has a great idea"?
  • Who are you pulling out a chair for at the table?

We were taking a family trip, heading towards Austin, Texas. Due to spending too much time visiting a zoo, we weren’t going to make it to Austin that night, so I told Marie that we were probably going to end up spending the night in Waco Texas, and I saw her eyes light up.

Just a few years ago if you mentioned the city of Waco to anyone over the age of 35 their mind would haved gone to the FBI standoff with the Branch Davidian cult that ended in disaster in the early 90’s. That incident put the city of Waco on the map of people's consciousness.

So I was a little surprised that Marie was excited to stop in Waco until she mentioned that Waco was where Chip and Joanna Gaines were from and where they had their Magnolia store.

Our plans for the next morning immediately changed as we were now going to spend the morning at the Magnolia store. And it quite an experience as it should be.

Magnolia isn't in the downtown district or the shopping district, you go to the middle of the old run-down industrial area where it doesn’t look like anything has been built, or even seriously remodeled, for the last 30 years. Just a bunch of run-down factories, workshops and warehouses; and there in the middle is a large city block that is dominated by two old grain storage silos and a long industrial shop that looks like it was built in the 1940s, along with some other various small buildings and sheds. You could tell that this block was an eyesore within a larger eyesore of a rundown industrial center of a somewhat old and tired town that hadn’t seen vibrant growth in decades.

To my right I noticed a small brick building with the name Magnolia Bakery. Already there was a line out the door and around the block waiting to get in to buy some baked goods. Then I realized that even though we arrived at 9:00 AM on a Tuesday morning parking was hard to find, the empty deserted parking lots of the nearby old factories were being used and still we had to drive a block away to find parking. I saw people directing traffic and people greeting as you walked into the gates of the complex. I finaaly undersood my wife's excitement and I feared for my walled. We had just landed ourselves at the disneyland of Texas

The long old factory remade into a very cool looking store that had left so much of the old industrial feel in place and utilized it to give the store character. One corner brick building redone into a bakery, one shed remade into a seed store for gardeners, another rebuilt into a gardening supply store. The large open area on this city block made into a courtyard with green astroturf to make it a kid-friendly, family play area. I saw swings on the edges, large checkerboards, cornhole games and massive bean bag chairs sitting all over. What a fun place to hang out and play. They even used part of the old half shed with tin roof that they pulled the trucks through to load and empty the grain into the grain elevators, and really creatively, made it into a stage for performances looking out onto the courtyard green, complete with lights tucked up under the tin roof to light the stage. To top it off, the other two walls of this large courtyard were lined with around 16 food trucks, each with their own self contained business.

And destination it was. I did an informal poll of the people that I met there; asking where they were from, answers ranged from Kansas, Oklahoma, Dallas, Lufkin TX, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Kentucky, San Antonio, TX, Houston, TX and we were from Michigan. People were willing to drive early on a Tuesday morning in November. This place was THE place. The destination to draw people to this sleepy little town in the middle of Texas.

This place was a great example of how to run a good business. Their prices were exorbitantly high and people were flocking in to buy. I pointed out to my son how they had taken a clear small glass mason jar (cost maybe $1), put a bunch of wooden matches in it (cost $0.25), put a tin lid on it (maybe $0.25) with a sandpaper sticker on top of the lid, labeled it with Magnolia and called it “jar o matches” and sold it for $15. The store was packed, and I do mean packed. The line wrapped around the block for the bakery and the food trucks were doing brisk business.

Chip and Joanna Gaines are brilliant. Not only did they build a successful home design and remodeling business, but they parlayed that, combined with their fun, authentic, winsome personalities, into a HDTV show that made them not just well-known in their hometown, but world recognized and loved celebrities. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love Chip and Joanna, their show was incredibly popular, and interestingly, they made the show highlight not just their work but also their hometown of Waco. Giving the broader world a reason, other than a disastrous cult standoff, to think of Waco. Then they used that show and their celebrity status to publicize the buying, restoring and opening a store on what used to be a worn-down wreck of a grain elevator and industrial block.

So, if you have seen the show or know anything about them you know that they are smart, likable, and have done alright for themselves. Good for them.

But what I saw is how they used their celebrity status. You see, most celebrities have great business opportunities pitched to them all the time, where they can take their name, face or voice and endorse someone else's product and make tons of money. Or, the smarter ones build their own brand name then slap that brand name on products from perfumes, clothing lines, sports equipment, and then National or International store chains carry those lines of product converting their nationwide celebrity into nationwide sales. Everyone from Martha Stewart to Kardashians and scores of others have followed this proven formula of successfully building and capitalizing on their celebrity brand status.

But Chip and Joanna Gaines did something unusual, they went local.

They had a National or larger fan base but instead of creating the Magnolia brand and selling it through Target or Amazon they instead created a local store in their favorite hometown of Waco. But they took it a step further, they didn’t just grab the best location in the nicest Waco shopping district, the cool downtown location or go up the road to upscale locations in Dallas next to the Apple store. They took the forgotten, neglected and looked like it needed to be torn down block in the middle of the industrial area that had two perfectly useless grain storage elevators and an old industrial building along with a collection of sheds.

This is a business that seemingly breaks all the ‘location, location, location’ rules.

With some creativity and vision, they bought it, turning it into a collection of stores and small businesses that provide a shopping experience worthy of drawing people from states away and leaving people stamped with the memory of their experience. Shopping and paying $15 for a ‘jar o matches’. They provided employment for a bunch of people in their hometown, they revitalized some of the worst parts of Waco, and you could just start seeing the coffee shops and restaurants, and even a coworking space popping up in the old industrial buildings in the blocks surrounding Magnolia. They made Waco into a tourist destination.

They made a huge impact in a small pond.

They could have just sold products under their brand name at Target and killed it, but they decided to do their own thing, in their own way, in their own town. Maybe they didn’t fully capitalize on their celebrity, maybe they left potential money on the table. But they sure have made a significant, and what I am guessing, long-standing impact on their town. Yeah, I think Chip and Joanna are doing fine financially, and maybe they could have sold through Amazon and made a few more million. Then they could have given those after-tax millions to their local community NFP organizations who were working to revitalize the city and area of Waco, or they could just launch their local business and have that business make the local impact that the community organizations only dream about.

It seems that the vision we are always given for growing a business is to get that business to a regional or national or international presence but what if instead we made a massive impact in our local community.

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.

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. This was not without problems. It created a lot of resentment from many of the longstanding 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