Hitting A Home Run

I was catching up on the scores in the baseball division finals during the evening news one night and struck by the parallels between major league baseball players and successful business owners. 

Major league players, like business owners, spend innumerable hours honing skills before they get their first “at bat”.   But it doesn’t stop there.  Both require a conscious effort to improve their skills.    

Put another way, if you’re going to play in the big leagues you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game.    

 

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No Time? … Try the Maxwell Method

When talking with other business owners, the subject of time, as in “I have no time” often comes up.  Recently one said,  “It’s  a constant ‘push-me’ of time spent operating and improving my business that competes with the ‘pull-you’ of time I want to spend with family, friends, service, and taking care of my personal business.”

Being Present

She went on to add, “I’ve gotten to the point where no matter what I’m doing, I’m thinking about the next thing I need to do or what else needs to be done. I don’t feel like I’m present.”

Add to that an increase in the incidence of occurrences when, in the middle of a conversation or meeting, one of the participants drops out to respond to a text and misses the most important information.  Even a brief interruption can interrupt the flow of the conversation, making it tough to resume.  

Not being present or multi-tasking assures very little gets accomplished.

The Maxwell Method

Years ago, Phil Maxwell, who at the time was the CIO at Neiman Marcus, was going to be a guest on my radio show, The Executive Toolbox, so I went to his office for our get acquainted interview.  I fully expected the meeting to be cancelled or at least delayed as Neiman’s had just acquired another luxury retailer and at the same time was changing out their major systems. 

I was shocked when he walked out to greet me, offered me coffee, and ushered me into to his pristine office.  We talked through the interview, settled on the issues we’d discuss, and discussed the necessary logistics…without interruption.

I had to ask him how he managed to be so focused and present.  He told me that he blocks the last hour of each workday day for a personal planning meeting.  During that hour he reviews his schedule for the next day and reviews and prepares anything he’ll need. 

I’ve shared The Maxwell Method with every harried business owner I’ve met ever since.  When I follow it, because I’ve taken the time to think through what I’m doing the next day and prepare what I need, I reap the benefits the next day. 

Leah Ward-Lee is an entrepreneur and business writer based in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.

Coaching Other Business Owners


It’s uncomfortable to offer what we perceive to be unflattering feedback.  Whether we do it out of genuine concern or because someone asks for our opinion, we must tread carefully, yet provide honest feedback, particularly to other business owners. 

One way to set a more comfortable tone for your conversation is to start by making positive statements about their successful experiences or approaches they’ve taken.  

Dale Carnegie’s Method of Providing Feedback

The principles Dale Carnegie articulated in his 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People still apply today.  He advises us to: “Begin with praise and honest appreciation.”  Starting with positive attributes and even rehearsing an opening statement helps make both of you more comfortable in a feedback conversation.

Carnegie also suggests that we “Talk about our own mistakes”.  This demonstrates our understanding that we’re all just “works in progress” and goes a long way to showing that you’re genuinely concerned in supporting this person’s success. 

He goes on to recommend that we ask questions instead of giving direction. Let’s say, for example, a business owner asks for feedback about a presentation he gave in which he missed a critical piece of information.  Rather than directly pointing out the omission, Carnegie’s approach might sound like: “In the competitive analysis you’ did a great job of showing X.  What did you find out about Y?”

Providing Honest Feedback Builds Trust and Respect

Like any relationship, business relationships can grow deeper over time.  And as in any relationship, honest communication builds trust and respect.  Respecting other business owners enough to offer (and accept) constructive feedback builds relationships that are strong enough to last no matter where your careers take you.

We’ve all heard the saying “charity begins at home”.  In this case, a mutually supportive and strong network begins with collaboration, public support of and honest communication with other business owners.

Leah Ward-Lee is a entrepreneur and business writer based in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.



Collaborating With Other Business Owners

Given the inherent challenge of being a small business owner, making time to collaborate with other business owners can be a challenge, particularly if you’re in the start-up phase.  However, established business owners know that collaboration is the best way to become and remain successful in today’s marketplace. 

When I started my consulting practice in 1998 I didn’t know this.  My marketing strategy was to include a handwritten note in the several hundred holiday cards I sent out each year.  Unexpectedly, the demand was fast and furious.  I wasn’t experienced enough to know that when someone seeks a consultant they typically need one now and tried to take on several projects at once.  As a result, I over-promised, under-delivered and ended up in the hospital.  That was a wake-up call. 

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Maintaining Your Peer Group from Previous Organizations or Affiliations

Peers with whom you’ve previously worked, attended school, or shared a common purpose can be valuable members of your network.  This is because your shared history provides a ready resource for sharing job intel, references and referrals, making your investment in the relationship a worthwhile one.

Easier said than done, right?  Since you no longer share an employer and may not even be in the same geographical location, finding mutually convenient ways to keep in touch is the challenge.

Maintaining a Network Takes Conscious Effort

Even with social media, email and texts (not to mention phone calls), sustaining productive relationships with former colleagues requires time and attention.  The reality is that this is true for everyone. Few of us have the mindshare and focus to communicate regularly with a huge network, but we can respond to opportunities to support Individuals. Taking the time to comment on posts or on significant personal or professional events is always appreciated and keeps these relationships alive.

Consciously seeking and taking opportunities to endorse someone takes a little bit more of your time; and providing introductions, references or referrals takes even more.  Each of those actions, however, is a surefire way to maintain valuable long-term relationships—and they don’t have to be reciprocated every time to keep the lines of communication open.   Consider establishing a regular time and cadence to your network relationship management.  A few moments per day, or per week, or per month to be in touch with former colleagues or associates pays dividends on many professional and personal levels—not the least of which is the link between connectedness and emotional health.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Fernandina Beach, Florida and Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.