The Essential Ingredient for Success in Business

There are many ingredients required to grow a successful business. Many of those ingredients can be, and in fact are, provided by leaders at every level of the organization. 


But there is one ingredient, the one essential ingredient, that can come only from the leader at the very top. That ingredient is organizational culture. 


Leaders at the top must never fool themselves that the culture is developed “near” the top, or that it comes from the majority of the leaders. It does not. It comes from the very top and that’s the only place it comes from. 


If you’re a leader at the top of an organization then it is you who determines the overall health of the culture in that organization. You set the tone, you model what acceptable culture looks like and what it sounds like. 


You can’t do that by telling people what healthy culture looks like, you must show them. If your words don’t match your actions you can be sure that your people will follow your actions and not your words. They will do what you do light years before they will do what you say. 


The culture within any organization is merely a reflection of the top leader. 


Stop for a while today, a long while perhaps, and ask yourself what kind of culture you’re modeling for your people. Are you providing an environment where it’s impossible to maintain a negative attitude? Are you nurturing a culture where caring for others is encouraged and even rewarded? Are you demonstrating a culture where recognition is freely given and feedback is actually sought? 


Do you display a culture where people are free to provide suggestions and point out weaknesses within the organization… without the fear of reprisals? Is your culture one that values loyalty and does that loyalty work both ways? Is your culture one of “spending on people” or “investing in people?” Is yours a culture that supports and promotes the same opportunities for everyone regardless of their appearance or personal preferences? 


If you’re a leader at the top of an organization you must be able to confidently answer those questions. If you can’t then your organization could be lacking the essential ingredient for long-term success. 


That’s on you! You cannot shift responsibility for a healthy organizational culture in your organization. The moment you accept that fact is the moment the culture in your organization has a chance to improve.

Organizational culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that top leaders completely control. If you’re not controlling that then what the heck do you think you are controlling?

The Vortex of Can’t

I had the misfortune recently of sitting in on a meeting that was quickly swallowed up by the Vortex of Can’t. Everyone, not nearly everyone, I mean everyone, was discussing the things that they can’t do. This by the way was with a group of people who are paid to do what they can. 


After 45 minutes of listening to this I announced I was leaving the meeting. I suggested they invite me back to another meeting when they were ready to discuss what they could do. I haven’t heard anything from the group yet. 


I believe that success in any endeavor is about momentum. Momentum is actually pretty easy to build and that’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s also easy to build momentum in the wrong direction. 


Discussing all the things you can’t do in a planning meeting is building momentum in the wrong direction. 


The most successful people think in terms of what they can do while less successful people think in terms of what they can’t do. The difference in that thought process produces very different results. 


We are all faced from time to time with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We must never allow those obstacles to prevent us from overcoming all the obstacles that we CAN. The fact that we may see a challenge somewhere down the road must not stop us from beginning the journey. Many things can happen on the path to success. By the time you reach the roadblock it may be gone or you may have gained some knowledge or skills that make it possible to work your way around it. 


Never let the fact that you’re not yet certain how your success story will end stop you from beginning to write it.


Henry Ford said that “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” 


Success begins with a mindset of CAN, it’s not possible to simply think your way into success but you most certainly can think your way out of it. 

Focus on CAN and it will be far more likely that you actually will! 

Why Leaders Need Vision

Leaders don’t need 20 20 eyesight to have good vision. What they need is an imagination, an idea of what is possible, and a picture of what the future may hold. 


That vision should guide them and motivate them to grow and improve. It should provide hope in the tough times, particularly if their vision includes an understanding of their purpose and the purpose of their organization. 


A good vision can show the leader where they and their organization are headed. It will pull the leader past the inevitable roadblocks that pop up within every plan. A true vision provides focus. The vision helps answer every question that could come up. If something gets you closer to your vision you do it, if it doesn’t get you closer to your vision you don’t. Good vision provides clarity for a leader even during the foggiest of times.


Good vision helps a leader answer the “why” question that can otherwise place doubts in the leader’s mind. A leader with good vision always has an answer to the “why are we doing this?” and “what’s the point?” questions that can haunt leaders with lesser vision. Particularly when those questions come from naysayers. 


Good vision does all that and more for a leader and you know what? It can do all those things for a leader’s people and their organization too. 




If the leader is effective at casting that vision upon those people and the organization. Since a leader can’t really do much alone they must be able to communicate and “sell” that vision to their people. They must reinforce that vision through their words and actions at every opportunity. 


People find it easier to follow a leader when they know where that leader is taking them. They find it much much easier to follow a leader when they know they are included in the vision. 


When a leader shares their vision with their people those people become engaged and they stay engaged. When those people buy into the vision they commit to making it happen. When all, or at least the majority of the people within an organization share the same vision that organization is nearly unstoppable. 


If you’re leading any type of organization today then you must, must, must develop and share your vision for your people and organization. You must share it soon and you must share it often. You truly cannot over share your vision. 

The alternative to not sharing your vision is… well, we don’t want to go there because that my friends would be a very sad story. 

The One True Shortcut to Success

I’ll begin by admitting that the title to this post is clickbait. But lots of people will indeed click on it because lots of people are indeed looking for that shortcut to success.


If you’re one of those you’re going to be disappointed with this post. You’ll be disappointed because the only true shortcut to success is to lower your expectations for yourself. Settle! 


Settle for less than you deserve, settle for less than you could have, settle for less than you know in your heart you are worth. 


Settling is easy, it’s fast, it’s efficient and once you’ve told yourself that you’ve achieved as much as you can, you’re set! When get over that feeling of failure you’ll be able to convince yourself that you’ve achieved an acceptable level of success. Unless you’re like most people and you just can’t get over that feeling. 


If you’re one of those people who just can’t shed that feeling that life has more to offer then I’m sorry to say it but there is no shortcut for you. You’ll have to work for your success.


The good news, great news actually, is that there are no limits for you. You can do it all, you can have it all, and once you believe that, it’s possible that you will have it all. 


Having what you want begins with knowing what you want. Most people have madhouse type hectic schedules these days. So much so that they often don’t stop long enough to ask themselves if what they are doing is actually what they want to be doing. In essence their life is running them instead of the other way around. 


That’s where goals come in. 


The process of setting goals, at least the serious process of setting goals, begins with self-reflection to determine your core values. That allows you to determine exactly what you’re willing to do in order to hold firm to those values. 


For instance, perhaps your core values include raising your kids to value all people and help them understand the importance of giving back to their community and those less fortunate than themselves. That will require a fair amount of influence from you. That influence will most likely come from modeling that behavior while investing loads of time with them.


Where will that time come from? What are you willing to stop doing so you can start sharing time with your kids? You undoubtedly would say nothing is more important than your kids. Do your goals reflect that? Are you actions reflective of your goals. Do those all important kids only get whatever time is leftover at the end of your hectic day? 


I don’t know anyone who wants to lose site of what’s important to them while on their journey to success, it just kinda happens. Unless you make it not happen. Setting goals can be a challenge but the real challenge is developing the habit of reviewing them on a regular basis so you never lose site of them. 

Setting, reviewing, and reaching your goals is not a shortcut to success but it is a proven method of achieving it. Stop wasting time looking for shortcuts and start investing your efforts into something that gets you closer to your goals.

The Wisdom of Brown M&M’s

You have probably heard the old saying that “the devil is in the details.” Well I don’t know exactly where the devil might be at any given time but he’s not in the details. What’s in the details is success. Little things matter, often they matter a lot. 


Van Halen was the first big name band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. Instead of Detroit Michigan for instance they would do a concert in Lansing or Grand Rapids. They would pull up to the venue with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard for that kind of arena was three trucks, max. 


Their show was a huge production and their standard contract included a rider with a ton of technical specifications, some were meant to improve the production but many were meant to provide a safe environment for both the band and the audience. 


The rider included a clause that required bowls of M&M’s to be placed in the band’s dressing room and backstage. Also buried deep inside the rider was this item: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”


Now the band took a lot of heat for that requirement and as the story goes David Lee Roth would go ballistic upon seeing a brown M&M in the bowl. It made the whole band seem like a bunch of spoiled prima-donnas. 


But there was method to their apparent madness. 


With literally thousands of technical specifications in their rider they wanted a quick way of determining whether or not the venue had throughly read and complied with the requirements for a safe and successful show. 


When the band would walk backstage or into their dressing room and see brown M&M’s, they knew that details had been missed. They knew that if one detail had been missed then it was very likely that other details had been missed too and some of those details could get someone seriously injured or even killed.


Every time they saw brown M&M’s they went through the rider with the venue in great detail and always found things that were missed. When they didn’t see brown M&M’s they were able to do a much briefer review of the rider and literally never saw anything else missed.


This rock and roll group, notorious for excessive partying and “other” stuff besides their music developed a fool proof way of determining whether or not the venue was paying attention to the little things. 


Val Halen knew that the little things make a big difference. They knew that small problems have a way of becoming bigger. They knew that success was in the details. 


How about you? Do you settle for “close enough” when excellent is within reach? Does the lazy part of you (yes, almost all of us have a lazy part) “settle” for good enough because great seems like a little too much work? 


The most successful people know that either you pay attention to the details now or you will absolutely pay the consequences later. 

What are you paying today?

What is Success?

My wife and I went to see a movie with some friends last week and as we left the theater the husband of the other couple says, “Well that guy was a complete failure.” I replied that while there could certainly be differing opinions as to his level of success “that guy” was anything but a complete failure. 


Here’s a spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie “Hostiles.” It is a different kind of Western about an revered Army Captain (that guy) who is given the mission of escorting a hated and dying Indian Chief and his family, held prisoner for 17 years, from New Mexico to their homeland of Montana to die. 


The Captain is known for his fearlessness in fighting (and killing) scores of Indians. He strongly resists taking on the mission but relents when told his Army pension is at stake. He musters a unit together and along with the Chief, his daughter, his son and daughter-in-law and their young son they head north for Montana. 


To say the least they run into some trouble along the way. First it’s a scalp hunting band of Indians and then a murderous band of white fur trappers. The Captain rescues a woman along the way whose entire family had been killed by renegades but by the time the group reaches Montana all but one of the Captain’s soldiers had been killed. 


But they made it to the Chief’s homeland with all the Indians alive. Along the way the Captain and the Chief have come to respect each other and buried the hatchet. (no pun intended, well, maybe a little)


But the Chief is very sick and dies soon after reaching his tribes land. The Captain and his remaining solider bury the Chief as his family mourns his passing. They have no sooner finished burying the Chief than a man and his three sons ride up and demand that the Indian be removed from “their” land. 


The Captain refuses and a gunfight ensues. The landowner and his three sons are killed but so is the last of the Captain’s unit and all the Indians except the young boy. All that remains of the group is the Captain, the woman rescued early in the trip and the Indian boy. 


So did the Captain fail? He lost all his people so it’s hard to exactly call the whole thing a great success. But his mission was to get the Chief home to die and that mission was successful albeit not without great cost. So I don’t think the Captain could be described as a failure, certainly not a complete failure. 


What do you think? How do you define success? There are many levels to success and the best definition of success is a very individual and personal definition. 


As for me, I believe the Captain successfully completed his mission. He overcome great loss and many obstacles and still completed an assignment he didn’t want in the first place. He persevered and it’s hard for me to call anyone who does that something other than a great success. 

What say you?

The Importance of Initiative

I was waiting for a flight a couple of weeks ago when the guy sitting next to me struck up a conversation. He asked what I did for a living and after explaining what I do I returned the question and asked what he did for a living. 


He kind of had two answers. He said he worked for the last 9 years as a sales rep for a medical device company but that was merely what he did to earn a paycheck. He then said that he was actually “an idea man.” 


When I asked him to explain he said that he came up with new and better ways of doing things. Intrigued, I asked him for a couple of examples and then he talked for several minutes without taking a breath. This guy had an idea for just about everything. He “knew” how to fix healthcare, solve the immigration mess, make a better cell phone, better batteries, he had several ideas on improving the United States banking system, it just went on and on. 


When I asked what he was doing with his ideas he seemed a little puzzled. He mumbled something about being “the idea man” but leaving the action to somebody else. I just smiled politely and luckily my flight was called shortly after that.


I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that leaving the “action” to someone else most likely meant leaving the success to someone else too.


As I thought about this guy a little later it dawned on me that he was just like a whole lot of people. He was filled with a ton of ideas, at least some of them surely actionable but he lacked the initiative to act. He was one of those “somebody ought to do something” people who just never thought about the fact that they are somebody.


Here’s the thing, you can have all the ideas in the world but if you lack initiative then you almost certainly lack the ability to achieve your full potential. You may achieve some limited success but it will be just that…limited.


Make no mistake, if you sit around waiting for someone to do something eventually someone will and right after that they will tell you what to do and they might keep telling you for the rest of your life. 


Initiative is defined as the ability to initiate things independently. The definition is only about getting started. Having initiative doesn’t mean you must know exactly how what you initiate will end. It doesn’t mean that you have to have all the answers to every question before you begin. 


It simply means you do something, begin something independently, because you can. Everyone can. 


Don’t wait for someone else to act on your good ideas, take action, take a risk, step into the unknown and see where it leads. If it doesn’t work out you’ve gained valuable experience, if it does work out you have gained at least a measure of success. 

Somebody ought to do something and that somebody ought to be you!