Recovering from a Professional Error

My first business was launched when I received a coveted shoe shine kit for my tenth birthday. In bed that night I rehearsed my sales pitch until I could say it without fear. The next morning, I lost no time loading my shoe shine kit into my wagon and visiting every home in my neighborhood collecting shoes to be shined until my wagon was full.

Back at home I got to work. With newspaper spread out on my bedroom floor I carefully spread the polish over each pair, then buffed them to a glossy shine. When I’d finished I carefully placed each pair back in my wagon and set off to deliver them and collect 25 cents a pair.

There was just one small hitch … I hadn’t kept track of where I got each pair. When my dad came home that night he walked with me through the neighborhood and waited patiently while I knocked on each door and explained my dilemma. By the time it was dark my wagon was empty and all the shoes had been delivered.

That was enough to put an end to my business. I was embarrassed and humiliated. At ten I hadn’t yet developed enough wisdom to learn from that mistake and label the darn shoes the next time. I just gave up. I hid my shoe shine kit at the back of my closet and didn’t shine a pair of shoes again until I joined the Army.

Over time; however, I learned more from that failure and those that followed than most of the successes I’ve had in my career.

  • Admit My Error: On reflection, my father and none of those people were angry with me. Once I explained my mistake and asked for help resolving the problem every one of them tried to help me. I’ve learned this is true of most of the mistakes I’ve made. Taking accountability is empowering and most people respect an honest apology when coupled with an honest effort to correct the issue.
  • Don’t Give Up: I’d like to say this was the only time I ever gave up, but it wasn’t. It took many years before I learned to honestly assess if there was something I can do or had done differently and then took the necessary action, either to correct the error or prevent it from happening again.
  • Define Success and the Required Steps to Get There: I finally learned from a wise colleague to ask myself and anyone else involved, “What does it looks like when it’s done?”  This ensures I have a clear picture of what success looks like, what it’s going to take to get there, and if it’s a joint effort, everyone is aligned.
  • Strive for Continuous Improvement: At the end of every job or project I take the time to reflect on what and how I can do better. This can sometimes be painful, but taking the time for it helps me reduce the probability I’ll make the same mistake again.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups. Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released soon.

Is 2018 the Year You’ll FINALLY Start Your Own Business?

Now that the new year is firmly on its way the resolutions we made a week ago have started to be tested.  This can be particularly true if those resolutions are those we’ve made year after year and failed to keep.

If one of those resolutions was to start your own business, you’re in good company, as 25% of the U.S. population is interested in becoming entrepreneurs.

The top ten reasons I hear when I ask someone why he or she wants to start a business are:

  • My current profession doesn’t pay enough.
  • My current job prevents me from spending enough time with my family.
  • I plan to work after retirement.
  • I don’t have enough saved to retire.
  • I’ve always wanted to start my own business.
  • I’ve always wanted to (fill in the blank) __________.
  • I want to be in the driver’s seat and in control of my destiny.
  • I hate my job.
  • I’m unemployed.
  • I have children, or parents, or a spouse who need me to care for them.

Whatever YOUR reason, the why needs to be important enough to you to cause you to take action.

Is this the year that you’ll finally take that step?

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

Qualified Candidates Who Lack Executive Presence are Often Overlooked for Executive Positions

A client I recently coached comes to mind as an example of the need for executive presence.  The woman had been with a company since its inception – more than twenty years.  She’d advanced to senior manager level, then about ten years ago stopped being promoted to positions of greater responsibility.  Although she was widely respected for her ability to “get things done” and was often called upon to “do the impossible” when a project was in trouble, she hadn’t been selected for a newly established executive position.

The day she learned she hadn’t been selected she came to see me.   I’ve rarely seen someone so devastated.   She was at a loss to understand why, after all her contributions and hard work, she hadn’t been selected.  I’d been working with the organization for some time, been privy to the selection process, had worked with her on several initiatives, and knew the issue.

The company had a relaxed dress code she embraced and she put little effort into her grooming.  Her desk was cluttered with the soft drinks and snacks that she consumed  incessantly.  Because her computer screen was visible to every passerby, a standing company joke was the amount of time she spent mindlessly surfing the Internet or on personal calls.

Her communications were informal and laden with slang.  During several presentations I attended it was apparent she was unprepared.

She was known to gossip andhad a strong informal network that often worked around established processes and procedures.   While on the surface this was seen as a strength, the company’s growth had plateaued, largely due to the tendency to abandon standard processes and work in crisis mode.

The person who had been selected for the position dressed well and was impeccably groomed.  In her previous position at the company  she’d  transformed her department by establishing measurable goals and enabling her team to meet  their goals.

Her reputation was stellar.  She was warm and friendly, but with executive reserve.  She was always prepared and the tone and level of her communications were always professional.

In short, she had executive presence.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in late 2017.

 

 

The Executive’s Toolbox: Developing A Roadmap

Setting specific goals brings focus to what we do every day.   Without goals, it’s too easy to get so caught up in (whatever “comes up”) each day, only to look up and realize we’re only sustaining the status quo or losing ground.

My “adopted” daughter, Tina, did that six years ago.  At the time she was still recovering financially from a relationship that caused her to move from Wichita, Kansas to Dallas, Texas.

She set two specific goals.  Her first was to have financial stability and not live paycheck to paycheck.  Her first leg of that portion of her journey was to rebuild her credit rating.

She found a job working nights that allowed her to pay her debts and, while reducing them, began to put 10% of everything she made in the bank.  By the time her old car conked out last year she had plenty of money for a down payment and had rebuilt her credit rating so she was able to get a car loan for the rest at a low interest rate.  Now she’s saving for the down payment on a home.

Her second goal was to have a career as a counselor to help other people, particularly children.  She knew it would take an advanced degree and that her first stop along that path toward was to attend community college and earn her Associate’s Degree.

At the same time, she enrolled in community college and in less than three years finished her associates degree.  She then began pursuing her bachelor’s degree and at the halfway point was invited to take classes that would apply to both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and will finish both within the year.

Tina’s success was, in large part, due to her self-discipline and commitment; however, she used some tools that supported her along the way.   She walks around with a picture of her roadmap in her head.  She talks about it, thinks about it, and as she progresses toward each goal, updates it.

Mapping (and tracking) what we need to accomplish at intervals keeps the focus on what where we’re going and what we need to do next.

The process of converting our roadmap to paper is a tool that can serve as a visual  guide that illuminates hidden challenges as well as  opportunities.  The act of drawing the map demonstrates commitment to our goals and the map becomes a tool we can use to check our progress.

Consultants often use the process of building a roadmap with their clients to visually lay out the process of achieving a specific set of goals.  The maps typically have three basic components:  here’s what we want to do, here’s how we’re going to do it, and here’s how we’re going to know we did it.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of

.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.

Enrich Your Network With Every Encounter

Our days (and especially our routines) offer dozens of built-in opportunities to build your relationships network.  From our daily stop at the coffee shop, to our visits to the gym to the parties we attend, we get to know dozens of people…or do we?

Networking for work has never been easier (hello Linkedin), but the people we meet when we’re not “working” tend to be categorized as social rather than business opportunities.  Maybe as a reaction to being able to have 500+ connections rather easily, we’ve learned that building actual relationships is more valuable than ever.  Every face-to-face encounter is an opportunity to form or build a relationship—a gift in and of itself.  As a management consultant, I’ve seen and heard many stories about business that resulted from “social” relationships.  Here are some of my favorites.

Dave, a friend of mine is one of the most successful business development executives in the consulting industry.  He lives in a Chicago suburb and attended his two daughters’ soccer games during their high school years.  Throughout those years, he often sat next to their teammate’s father, who happened to be the CEO of a healthcare company. When that company wanted to improve their performance, he received a call from the CEO.

I worked with a team on a consulting engagement in New York.  Midway through that project we learned the client company had been purchased by a company in Chicago. The acquiring company sent a representative to listen to our findings. We were thanked for our efforts and dismissed.  Two weeks later our team was asked to present to the buyers in Chicago, one of whom happened to be someone Dave had met at a neighborhood Christmas party.  We got the engagement.

Dave is also passionate about airplanes.  He holds a private pilot’s license, owns his own plane and is a member of multiple aerospace industry associations.  A few years ago, a pilot friend from one of those associations asked Dave to put a team together to help streamline aircraft production. That team delivered a successful project and Dave has since built a healthy aerospace consulting practice.

Dave’s success is well earned and well spent.  Anyone who knows him will tell you he and his wife share the fruits of their labor and their gratitude by giving back. When one of his former clients lost his job due to a merger, Dave hired him immediately.  He has also served on the board of a start-up company for a new aircraft that is designed for disaster relief, and quietly worked to help them secure additional funding they needed.  His genuine interest in other people shows with everyone he meets.

Great networkers like Dave are never really networking—they’re having a conversation.  Take a fresh look at all the people you meet.  Whether your Lyft driver or barista is building a startup or not, enrich your life and theirs with a conversation.  No matter where it leads.

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