My July column for the Kitsap Business Journal (Kitsap Sun)
While cleaning out the spare room to make space for my wife’s new home office, I found a box full of old books and work from college. Why it’s still with me 34 years later is beyond me, but I’m glad it is.
I pulled out a notebook I was asked to journal in for a writing class in fall quarter of my freshman year at Skagit Valley College. I took a break and started reading through it. Of course my girlfriend I wrote of often was now my wife, who attended Skagit Valley with me. This made the discovery more personal. That evening, my daughter and son-in-law came over to celebrate Father’s Day weekend, so I showed her the journal. The rest of the evening was spent with laughter over my writing style, the contents, and a peek into my worldview as an 18-year-old!
Upon reflection, I realized that my writing indicated something that I’m sure is common with most American 18-year-old boys…a pretty healthy self-absorption. The focus of my writing was on me. While this might not sound overly insightful, I realized that my commentary on my professors, my school work, my friends, and even my soon to be wife was all about me. If I could go back on time and be given the chance to give myself advice, I’d probably begin with a slap on the back of the head with the exhortation, “It’s not about you, stupid!”
I think my maturation started with becoming a father and grew from there. The three-plus decades since September 1983 have provided experiences, challenges, and moments that shape perspective and wisdom. This tough love I’d give myself was likely attempted by my own father, but undoubtedly not listened to well! It’s amazing what life lessons teach us and how we eventually learn that we didn’t know it all.
CEOs, business owners, and business leaders, take notice… “It’s not about you, stupid!” You also don’t know it all.
Before you storm the castle with pitchforks and torches, hear me out. My experience is that business owners have a great passion for their work and great pride in their business. Over the course of years, it’s easy to become both provincial and myopic in the management and operations of the business. To be blunt, it’s easy to become self-absorbed.
Business owners that become overly concerned about their legacy, their community standing, and their personal profit start down the slippery slope often trod by teenage boys. It becomes easier to blame others for problems (e.g. the government, the employees, the customers). It becomes easier to think about profits before people. It becomes easier to isolate oneself, rather than “walking the shop floor” and engaging with people.
Fortune 500 companies CEOs are notorious for being unavailable and unaware of the company culture. Uber’s CEO just recently took a leave of absence (or rather was forced to by the board of directors) for his dreadful behavior. While Uber will likely rebound with some better decisions, small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) cannot afford that luxury of time. If you are in charge of your organization – or have direct reports and influence – then you need to slap yourself upside your head on occasion to remind yourself that the business is not about you, even if it is your name on the shingle. The business is always about the people.
Let’s define “people.” For this column, I define people as your employees and your customers and clients.
Your employees: Without them, your business wouldn’t operate. Never consider that just because you’re providing a paycheck that any additional effort to support and encourage them isn’t needed. The biggest mistake SMB owners make is putting an emphasis on profit over people. The reality is that if you put the effort on people, your profit will exponentially improve as a result. It’s not the other way around. The genuine care about the well being of your human “assets” goes a long way to building a strong culture where they care as much as you do about the business’s success.
Your customers and clients: Your business serves some higher good. You’re offering value and the improvement of the condition of someone else. If you weren’t, you’d not still be in business! I sometimes hear or read about business owners complain about customer demands and administrative burden. It’s often easy to get seduced by the sexiness of bringing in new clients and forget hat you have “at home.” Those customers and clients are potential evangelists that will shout your name to the rooftop and refer you business. They will only do this if they feel like you still care. Do you?
There’s a difference between self-absorption and self-confidence. Self-absorption left unchecked becomes isolation with consequences like poor employee morale and loss of clients. Self-confidence breeds positivity in brand and service leading to collaboration and engagement. If you occasionally find yourself slipping into an 18 year brain, slap yourself upside the head and remind yourself, “It’s not about you, stupid!” You and your company will be better of for it!
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