To find your nerve, find your core

October 20, 2009

Shutterstock_33666787 A few months ago, I received an intriguing e-mail from a guy named Steve McKee.  He had an idea. 

He wanted to build "a website dedicated to supporting the community of corporate professionals who want to move beyond the economic morass and return their companies to the growth path. This grass roots effort is intended to help jump start corporations and, therefore, the economy."

Each day of the 4th quarter, they would have a different guest author address the issue of how do you get back your nerve and get back to some semblance of business as usual.  As you know, I've been rallying against the paralysis caused by the recession (here, here and here) for quite some time so I jumped at the opportunity.

My contribution went live today and I'd like to:

  • Share it with you
  • Get your feedback
  • Ask you to share it with others

Here's how I started….

When the recession hit, many companies lost their nerve. They began to second-guess their own decisions. They compromised on what they believed was right because right was too expensive. They chased after business that wasn't really a good fit — because any business was better than the potential of no business.

And they lost their way. A side effect of being lost is being scared. Sometimes being scared leads to being paralyzed. In my opinion, that's why this recession got so bad.

We got scared and we got stuck.

It's time for us to find our nerve and get ourselves out of this recession. I highly doubt there's going to be a bailout for any of us.

So how do we break loose from our fear and get some nerve? We get back to our core.

Please check out the site to read the rest.

While you're there, check out the rest of the site.  There are polls, plenty of blog posts from some very smart folks, and some eye opening facts about the recession and advertising/marketing.

Also note that this is a very savvy effort on Steve's part to promote and sell his new book, When Growth Stalls. Rally the troops around something they're passionate about and they'll do whatever it takes to get the word out.  And sell some books along the way.

The site is well done, Steve's intentions are honorable and I encourage you to check out the guest posts.

Photo courtesy of

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Lessons in Extreme Leadership — up close and personal

October 6, 2009

Farbergranitecity A couple weeks ago, I had the amazing good fortune of getting to spend a few days with Steve Farber, author of Radical Leap, Radical Edge and Greater than Yourself.

I won’t blather like a school girl about how cool it was to hang out with a guy whose work I have identified with, woven into my company’s culture and believe with my whole heart and soul.

But I gotta say, it was way beyond cool.

(The photo to the right is Tim Johnson, Steve and myself.  Mike Sansone was the 4th in the party, snapping photos.)

Anyway…as you might imagine, spending all that time with Steve, observing him interact with others, watching him give several presentations and listening to his stories, I had some takeaways I wanted to share with you:

Extreme leadership is risky business.  You have to be willing to be the first one to admit you’re scared, be willing to put a spotlight on your own failings and mistakes, to have those terrifying moments as you stand at the edge of a cliff and decide to leap and not only love your people…but show & tell them.

You’re never done:  No matter how good of a leader you think you are…there’s plenty of room for better.  Probably way more than you think, by the way.

Extreme leadership is an action verb, not a label.  It’s about doing, not talking.  Lots of posers out there, wearing the leadership label.  The real leaders are just getting it done.

You can’t lead if you can’t be audacious enough to think you can change the world.  It’s not about your ego, it’s about having a passion and commitment deep enough that you just can’t stop trying.  No matter how big the obstacles.

There’s nothing magical about leadership.  It’s all in the heart.  Anyone can do it, if they care enough.  It has to start with heart.  You can’t fake it.  You can’t buy it.  All you can do it be willing to

The legacy of a leader is more leaders.  The ultimate of leading is to identify those people who you can help and actually lift up so they can be greater than you.

Whew…that’s a lot to aspire to, isn’t it?  I’m up for the challenge — how about you?

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Misspelling sez something about your business

August 14, 2009

Kamp It's tough these days to name a business.  You want your business to stand out, you want a URL that is memorable (if you can find one!) and you need a name that your competitors haven't already taken.

All very true. 

Sadly, many business owners think they're being clever when they opt to misspell a word  — like when someone substitute a K for a C or Q, Or an F for a Ph.

Picture 1 The connotation?  Imitation.  Cheap.  Low quality.  

So unless that's what you're going for — keep trying.

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August 5, 2009

64615304 As the recession pounds on, it wears on people.   Everyone is a little more uptight, a little more worried and as a result, perhaps a little more "me focused."

That gets in the way of us being capable of offering our customers, co-workers and employees something very valuable.  


My definition?  Simply offering support, forgiveness, or comfort to people in our world, whether they've earned it or not.  In other words…cutting them some slack.

It's more than turning the other cheek.  It's about assuming the best of everyone.  It's being empathetic of where they're coming from.  Meeting them where they're at. It's about choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt and being gentle.

It is acknowledging that they are human, in the humblest form.

Our clients/customers count on us to be their guide.  They're the experts in their field and they look to us to be their expert in ours.  We've promised to show them how to get where they want to go.   It's our job to get them there as safely and effectively as possible.

Do clients always behave like we'd want them to?  Do they always make the best decisions or react with the speed, amplitude or enthusiasm that we'd prescribe?  Do they drop the ball?  Or hand it off to the wrong person/team? Or forget about conversations about potential consequences and decisions made until there's a problem?

You know the answers to all of those questions.

But here are the questions that truly matter.  What was their intent? What was in their heart?

Hopefully when we slow down and ask those questions, it will be easy to offer our grace.   I truly believe it's a customer retention tool every business needs to embrace.

(Drew's note:  This was originally published in my weekly column in the Des Moines Business Record.  Normally, I don't re-use that content here but I received so many notes, e-mails and calls about the column that I decided it would be worth breaking my self-imposed rule and sharing it with you as well.)

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What are you waiting for?

July 14, 2009

30443048 I think it's high time for a wake up call for many business owners.  You cannot wait for this economic downturn to blow over.   It's not a 6-month variance.  It is, at least for now, the new normal. 

Sure…maybe in 2010 or 2011 the pendulum will begin to swing in the other direction.

But even then…it's not going to be what it was. 

Our world is experiencing change like we've never known before.  It's not just the economy…it's technology, it's communication, it's the proliferation of consumer driven media, it's about the new reality of life expectancy and how that is impacting our views on retirement, pensions and medicine.   Just about everything has changed.

The world as we knew it in 2007 no longer exists and it isn't coming back.

Which gets me back to my question — what are you waiting for? 

You'd better figure out how to market your business in this brave new world, or you might as well close up shop.  Your marketing budget (both dollars and time resources) should be more robust than ever before.  Because the stakes are higher.

Will you market differently?  I sure hope so.  We've talked before about how you can market wisely during a recession….but please don't think you can wait this one out. 

If you don't figure out how to be of value in 2009, odds are you won't be around to answer that question once the recession recedes.

Let's help each other….my readers are about as smart as it gets.  Jump into the comments section and tell us what's working for you.

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Creature comfort?

July 6, 2009

Shutterstock_31835329 Last week, we looked at how fear can paralyze.  As promised, let's now take a peek at fear’s evil counterpart, comfort.

While fear paralyzes, comfort just makes us lazy. When things are going okay and business is good are you out there working it?  Are you staying in touch with existing clients?  Reaching out to former ones?  Looking for that new business prospect? Probably not.

That’s why marketing efforts cannot be effective without being a part of a schedule.  It’s just too easy when things are going well to just let things slide.  But, if part of your week’s schedule, week in and week out, is to make 5 cold calls or schedule lunch with a former client – then it will get done.  It’s habit.  And if it isn't habit — it is scheduled.

If you don’t get into the habit, that comfy place you’re in now is going to shift sooner or later.   And then you’re going to gear up a marketing effort – and be frustrated when it doesn’t work instantaneously.

Marketing isn’t something you start when the ship is leaking.  Effective marketing is consistently and regularly talking to your key audiences.  Just like the ground absorbs the rain water better when it comes in a light, all-day rain, your potential customers will hear you much better if you talk to them regularly, rather than shouting at them when you need their business right away.

Don’t let fear or comfort control your marketing.  You take control.  Put a simple written plan in place.  Build it into your workweek, your planner and your habits.   Feeling a little less comfy?  Good.

Photo courtesy of

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Fear Factor

July 1, 2009

Fear Want to know what sabotages most marketing efforts?  It’s not the competition, the small budget or too much work, so you can’t be proactive. So what is?


There is a sweeping attitude (although many who have it won’t even see that they’ve been infected.) that it’s better to be safe, bland and expected when marketing.   Many marketing execs and even some agencies are just not willing to stick their proverbial neck out and risk being bold or different.

What is there to be afraid of?  You might get noticed? You might inspire reaction from your consumers? You might get someone’s attention? 

You don’t have to do it the way you’ve always done it or how your industry does it. I’m not advocating being wild just for the sake of it.  Do it in your voice.  Have a good strategy.  Just deliver the message in a way that is a surprise. 

Take a look at your recent marketing efforts.  Are they staid?  Expected?  Would you notice them if you were the audience?  Do you make a bold statement?  A startling promise? Do you say something that you haven’t seen someone else say this month? 

If not, the fear bug might have bitten you.  Want the antidote?

Resolve to stick your toe in the waters of bold. Come on in, the water’s fine!  You’ll love being heard for a change. 

Next post we’ll talk about Fear’s partner in crime – comfort.

Stock photograph courtesy of

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Is your team in synch?

June 22, 2009

United2 I promise, this is the last blog post squeezed out of the recent DC trip.  I can't help it…it was a fruitful couple of days.

I'm in O'Hare, waiting to board the flight to DC.  It's about 5 minutes before boarding and the first officer (or co-captain — whichever is correct) came up from the jetway.  He spoke to the gate agent and she handed him the mic. 

Speaking very clearly and with great enthusiasm, he introduced himself, told us who our Captain was going to be and that they were all very excited about welcoming us on board flight XYZ.  It was their pleasure to get us safely and comfortably to DC. 

With that, he handed the mic back and headed down the jetway.  He was genuine, having fun and everyone seemed to perk up a bit at his welcome.

I was impressed.

When we boarded the plane, the flight attendants didn't just keep repeating the same old "welcome on board" to each passenger.  They went out of their way to have mini conversations or compliment someone's jewelry or crack a joke.  I was one of the first on board, so I sat and watched them connect with just about every person who stepped on board.

Again, I was impressed.

When we were about 30 minutes from touching down in DC, the flight attendant came by and handed me a business card. (As she did with all the others) I looked…and it was the Captain's business card.  He had hand-written me a note that said "Thank you for flying on United!  How can we earn more of your business?"  On the flip side of his card were his direct dial office phone number and his e-mail address.  Holy cow!

Again, I was impressed.

Any one of these gestures would have caught my attention.  And each one, independent of the others, would have made me feel valued as a customer and reinforced my loyalty to United.  But look at the incredible impact this Captain and his entire crew had on the passengers of that flight by having the entire team focus on a single goal. 

I can't imagine a single passenger got off that flight without feeling like the crew truly appreciated their business and was happy to have them on board. 

In an age where the airlines are all fighting to survive, I would want to have Captain John McFadden and his crew flying for me!  Wouldn't you?

How could your team be like Capt McFadden's?  What would it take for you to get them all focused on the same goal and working in concert like they did?

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My pep talk for 2009

May 15, 2009

50375967 Bloggers around the world today will be participating in a global half time report…talking about how they see the first half of 2009 and what we can look forward to for the next six months.  All of this is part of the 24 hours of innovation.  You can read the other bloggers thoughts here and watch as new ones get added throughout the marathon.

The project asked:  Let’s all share our views on 2009 up until now. What is your advice to the world? Which projects have surprised/disappointed you so far (in your industry or in general)? Are people motivated enough to start new projects? Which solutions can innovation bring?

I asked readers to add their thoughts to the mix as well but here's my take.

I've owned my own business, packed with the same joys and woes of any business owner, since 1995.  And in that time span, have endured some of the worst economic times the US has seen in decades. 

I can vividly remember the period right after 9/11 when it felt like our entire world simply froze in time.  Finally, as businesses and our nation realized we could not stand still and mourn forever, even though that is exactly what we wanted to do.  Many business people bemoaned that they wanted and needed things to go back to normal.  The reply was….this is the new normal, learn to be successful in this economic environment or you won't outlast it.  Your business will be stronger for it.

And so it was.

Now today, it seems as though the recession has the entire world and the business owners within it in that same sort of mournful stupor.  The media pounds us with the dismal news every day and for many, they sit frozen in time, glued to the bad news just like we were glued to the horrific images of 9/11 that we literally sat and watched for days on end back in 2001.  All too often, I hear business people talk about "waiting for things to get back to normal."

Guess what….this is the new normal.  And if we don't turn off that TV (computer, radio, newspaper) and look around us, by the time the economy recovers, we'll be irrelevant. 

As I travel around the country, speaking at conferences and conventions, I see and hear a different kind of news.  I meet business owners and leaders who say business is good.  Or picking up.  Or they are trying something new (out of necessity) that is really catching some traction.

Typical of the media, they are focusing on the few and the huge.  Are those industries (auto, big bank) having some trouble?  No doubt.  But, were they also bloated and inefficient and the shake up will make them better.

This can actually be an amazing time of innovation, business growth, improvement and profit.  If we pick up our head and really see what's real, rather than what is being reported.

My pep talk?  Whether you are an employee, business owner, solo entrepreneur or leading a huge corporation — you can't wait for "normal."  This is our new normal.  Learn how to thrive in this time by asking new, better questions, by creating collaborations in fresh ways and by behaving our way out of this recession.

I truly believe that it is the small and medium sized businesses that are going to save the day and bring back better economic times through sheer will power, their drive to serve and bigger, better ideas.  And, we'll all be the better for it.

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Be not afraid

May 10, 2009

92044533 I spent the day on Friday at the Maximum Impact Simulcast, listening to the likes of Tony Blair and John C. Maxwell talk about leadership and courage.  It’s inspiring.  It makes us want to be our best self.  Who doesn’t want to be seen as an amazing leader?

I think it’s natural after spending a day at that sort of an event, to look at your own life, to see if you can see a glimmer of that greatness.  As I let my mind wander over my own choices, I couldn’t help but notice that there’s a pattern to my life’s greatest and most fulfilling adventures.

I blundered into them.

Now I don’t mean to make myself sound less accomplished but the truth is, my life’s biggest adventures began with one common denominator – I had no idea what I was getting into.  No amazing courage.  No brilliant insights.  Just me, blindly stepping off the ledge, having absolutely no idea how far down the drop was.

The good news is that it meant I was also not afraid.  I probably should have been – but because I didn’t realize the enormity of what I was doing, I actually blindly strode into the new opportunities with incredible confidence and enthusiasm.

Perhaps that’s not such a bad plan.   Look at what it got me.

Becoming a dad:  Totally clueless.   Yes, I read a couple parenting books but they talk about how to diaper and feed, not the real parenting stuff.  I could not possibly have imagined that the arrival of this baby would literally re-write my entire life, my work schedule (I have left the office every day at 3 pm since she entered pre-school) and my life’s priorities.

No amount of worry could have prepared me for some of the conversations we’ve had, some of the split second decisions I’ve made or the depth of love that underscores my relationship with my daughter.

Opening my own agency:  I’d love to tell you that I had a well written business plan, a stash of cash to fall back on or several clients waiting in the wings.  But none of that is true.  And yet, it didn’t occur to me that it wouldn’t work.  I was 32, naïve and had an incredibly talented business partner (who has since gone on to different successes) who was as clueless as I was.

No amount of hand wringing could have prepared me for twists and turns of being a business owner, the excruciating decisions I’ve had to make, or the many relationships we’ve been lucky enough to earn and enjoy.

Had I been logical or even deeply thoughtful about either decision – I very well might have decided that the potential risks outweighed what I thought were the potential gains.  Man, would I have been wrong.

We’ve all heard the Redmoon quotation “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

I wish I could tell you that I consciously decided that being a dad or owning my own agency was more important than the fear but I just didn’t feel any fear until it was too late – I’d already stepped off the ledge.  At that point, when the fear appeared, I had no choice but to push it aside and keep trudging forward.

Why am I telling you all of this?   Because I suspect that someone reading this right now is afraid and can’t pull the trigger on a dream.

What are you worrying about right now?  What is fear keeping you from trying or risking?  Are you letting the economy, a golden handcuff job, a pending retirement or something else keep you from stepping off the ledge? 

You’re probably smarter than I was….I blundered into my life’s best decisions wrapped in complete ignorance.  You know what the risks are.  You know all the pros and cons. 

But what you might not know is the remarkable rush that comes from just spreading your wings and taking the leap.  What you probably haven’t considered is that those wings and the winds of chance might take you to a place more dazzling and delightful than you could possibly imagine.

Ignorance for me.  Courage for you.  Maybe it doesn’t matter why you leap.  Just that you do.

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