Date: 6/19/2017 1:00 PM UTC

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

As leaders we all have difficult decisions to make. We’re faced with seemingly endless combinations of opportunities, threats, fires to put out, etc. Somehow we have to navigate through all of that and end up with some kind of action. At some point we have to actually do something about all of this stuff.

Too many leaders abdicate their decision making. They allow other people or outside forces to make decisions for them. They can’t or won’t or simply don’t decide. It might seem obvious that this isn’t great leadership, yet it happens all the time.

When I talk to leaders about this, they usually agree it’s not good to let the world make your decisions for you. They agree that just settling for whatever option is left when all the others have passed you by is not the best thing to do. But they usually just think of that in terms of disappointing company performance, or missed opportunities, or something like that – and those are valid.

But there’s another cost that leaders don’t always think about. Your people want you to choose. Your people want to know that you have a vision for the business and that you’re not afraid to chase that vision. Your people want to believe that somebody around here has some idea what’s going on and is actively trying to steer this bus.

When leaders seem chronically indecisive, or when opportunities routinely seem to be ignored or simply missed, or when crises arise and everyone just seems paralyzed, it erodes trust with your people. They lose confidence in you as a leader and in the company as a whole. They start to wonder what the business is really trying to accomplish and why they should want to be part of it.

You can’t let fear of making the wrong choice stop you. Not choosing is itself a choice. You can do research, you can get advice and input from others, you can think and contemplate. But at some point, you have to make the decision. Yes, some of them will be wrong. But you can’t let that possibility keep you from doing your job.

If you can’t make decisions, or if you’re not willing to make choices, or if the chance of making a mistake paralyzes you, that doesn’t make you a bad person. It just means you can’t be the leader. So go work somewhere for somebody else doing exactly what you’re told to do. It’s your choice.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/12/2017 1:00 PM UTC

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie

We’ve talked before in this space about creating the business that you want, rather than the one other people want for you, or think you should have (here, for example). And it’s absolutely true. You’ll never be happy trying to live somebody else’s life.

But it’s also true that the only way to create a business that’s successful is to focus on providing value to other people. My friend Chris Mason (he wrote a book!) talks about Value to Others. The idea is simple: if you provide value to others, you feel good about that. Your own self-worth goes up. The higher your self-worth, the less you sabotage yourself (which almost everybody does). The less you sabotage yourself, the more successful you are. And then all that value comes back to you multiple times over.

That success doesn’t happen overnight. You can provide a lot of value to others and not always get it back right away. But over time, if you provide enough value to others, you get paid back in spades.

So think about that in terms of your business and your role in it. Are you really providing value to your customers? Do you even know what they really value? How often do you even think about that? I find a lot of businesses spend so much time focused on what they are doing or want to do that they don’t think at all about what their customers actually value.

What about your employees? Are you providing value to them? Do you even know what they really value? Sometimes we assume that what the people in our organizations value is $$, but that’s not always the entire story.

The point is this: if your business is truly providing value to others, whether internally or externally, you will succeed. It may take time, but it will happen. So focus on others. Focus on what they really value, and spend your energy making sure they get it. It will be worth your weight in gold – if not now, then someday.


Your Choice

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/5/2017 1:00 PM UTC

“If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.” – Frank A. Clark

There’s a fine line to walk between being satisfied with what you have and being satisfied with what you have. And that isn’t a typo. It’s a fact of life and a part of helping people make change for a living.

Leaders who are never satisfied lead organizations that are always improving. They’re always looking to be innovative, they’re always looking at new ways to serve customers, they’re always looking to figure out a better way to attract and keep the best people. Those are the leaders I like to be around, and the ones I’d like to emulate.

But there’s a balance. Too many leaders who are never satisfied aren’t very happy people. Nothing is ever good enough for them. No one ever performs well enough to meet their standard. No amount of growth or profit or accomplishment is ever worth celebrating because it should have been better.

On the other end of the spectrum are leaders for whom good enough is more than good enough. There’s no reason to do much more, because this is good enough. We’re efficient enough, we serve our customers well enough, we’re growing enough. Working with those kinds of leaders can be very frustrating, because everything is good enough that there’s never a good reason to change.

The point is, you can’t be satisfied to the point that everything is good enough. No organization that is truly great ever thinks that. By the same token, you have to take time to celebrate accomplishments. Your drive to constantly improve can’t overwhelm the need for you (and your people) to recognize when you’ve done things well, and to be happy about your current situation.

Be excited about what you have. Enjoy it. Celebrate it. And create a vision in your head of how it could be better yet. Then enjoy the process of getting there. Like what you have and be hungry for more. It’s not an easy tightrope to walk, but it’s an important part of being a great leader. Be that leader today.

energy guy running

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 5/26/2017 7:00 AM UTC

We're heading into a holiday weekend here in the US.  For everybody who's about to enjoy 3 days off, enjoy it safely and have fun.  For those of you who aren't - have fun too.  None of us should be waiting for holidays to have a great time with our family and friends.  Do it today!

memorial day

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 5/22/2017 1:00 PM UTC

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” – Joe Sabah

This has been discussed in this space recently (here and here), but it’s worth saying again. There are so many situations where we as organizations and leaders of organizations have opportunities to be great, or to do the things we love doing, or to find our passion, or to make our vision of the future a reality – but we don’t do it.

Either things aren’t perfect, or something comes up, or there’s a barrier that seems insurmountable (hint: it’s not), or sometimes simply “…we’ll get to that someday” – and someday never comes. Think about all the successful businesses you know of, big and small. Do you really think the situation was ‘perfect’ when they started?

Of course not. There were problems with business partners, there were problems with customers, there were problems with the product or service they were providing, there were problems with competitors, there were problems with the government, whatever. But rather than view those things as deal-breaking barricades that were guaranteed to prevent success, the leaders who’ve been successful viewed them simply as barriers to be overcome. Then they worked to overcome them.

Too often I think that last sentence gets at the root of the problem. Everybody wants to be successful, however they define it. Not everybody wants to really work at it. We want to do things that come easily today and are comfortable, but being successful demands doing things that aren’t easy today and make us uncomfortable. Most people just aren’t willing to do that.

Think about the reasons you haven’t started the thing you want to do, or why your business isn’t moving towards the future you say you want to have. Is it really due to some insurmountable thing? Or is it due to the fact that you just haven’t been willing to do the things you need to do to make that change? Be honest. Then get stared. If you can’t get started by yourself, then get help. When you finally reach your destination, you’ll only regret that you didn’t start sooner. So get moving.

a year from now

Posted by Matt Heemstra | 2 Comments

Date: 5/15/2017 1:00 PM UTC

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” – Judy Garland

Usually, at some point when we’re kids, we hear an adult say some version of “You can be anything you want when you grow up.” And we believe that. So when you ask kids what they’re going to be when they grow up they say with absolute confidence things like doctor, professional athlete, ninja, Jedi, etc.

Somewhere between that stage and adulthood we realize there are in fact some things we can’t do (trust me, if I could be a Jedi I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this right now). Unfortunately, too many of us take it too far. We go from believing we can be whatever we want to believing we have to be whatever somebody else tells us. We lose (or at least misplace) the ability to dream things for ourselves and instead settle for somebody else’s mediocre. Then we tell ourselves it’s the best we can do.

It’s not. Your business or career or personal life can be what you want it to be. But you have to start with figuring out what you want it to be, and that usually starts with figuring out some things about yourself. Ask yourself: What really gives me energy? When time seems to fly and I’m having a great time, what am I doing? What do I look forward to doing, even if other people think it looks like work? In essence, what are you passionate about?

When you ask yourself those questions, I challenge you to do two things. First, write down your answers. It’s easy to have some great ideas or some great personal insight or some epiphany and then later it gets pushed aside by the rest of the noise in your life. Write it down and put it somewhere you can see it.

Second, when you’re writing, don’t filter. I have meetings with otherwise great people who say things like, “Well, I’d like to do this, but…” and then they talk themselves out of it before they even get the sentence out of their mouth. Stop it! That’s other people talking. That’s this stupid idea that you have to be like everybody else, or be like everybody else thinks you should be, or that you can’t make waves, or that someone in your situation doesn’t have the right to think big. Don’t let those voices in – get down on paper exactly what your honest answers to those questions are.

Now the hard part – start making that real. You may not be able to create the life or business that looks exactly the way you want today. But if you start today, a year from now you’ll be a lot closer. And five years from now you’ll be closer still. And a lifetime from now, you’ll know you spent your whole life working on being what you are supposed to be – and it was awesome.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 5/8/2017 1:00 PM UTC

“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.” – Jim Rohn

I have a lot of conversations with business leaders that start off pretty well and then fall apart. They start off well when leaders are telling me what they have in mind for their businesses – things like growth, becoming the employer of choice for great people, stuff like that. They fall apart when leaders start talking about why those things probably aren’t going to happen, and the reasons are almost always some vague uncontrollable thing – the economy, people are lazy, competition is too tough, etc.

Too many people in too many places limit themselves and their organizations by convincing themselves that they’re doing the best they can do and it just isn’t possible for things to get any better. The reality is that a lot of those people aren’t doing the best they can do, they’re just doing the best they’re willing to do.

I don’t mean they’re not working hard. The best they’re willing to do might still involve a lot of effort. The problem is that they’re only willing to do things they’re comfortable doing or that they’ve always done. They’re not looking outside their comfort zones for ways to improve; they want to do the same thing they’ve always done but get better results. Good luck with that.

I like the quote at the beginning of this post, but I would add one thing at the end: “…Then get better.” Too many people think that’s not possible. They think that even if there were other things they could do, they just aren’t capable of doing them. They say things like, “I’m just not wired for that” or “That’s not something I’m naturally very good at” or some similar version of “This is who I am and I can’t possibly be any different”.

That’s not reality. You can change. You can learn new skills. You can develop new abilities and behaviors. The issue isn’t that you’re wired a certain way, or that the world has developed in a certain way that prohibits your success. The issue is that you haven’t (so far) decided to be better than you are right now. You haven’t decided that being great is so much better than being mediocre that you’re going to go for it.

So make that decision. Make the decision to not only wish you were better, but to be better. And then do it. Your only regret will be that you didn’t do it ten years ago.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 5/1/2017 1:00 PM UTC

“I worry that our lives are like soap operas. We can go for months and not tune in to them, then six months later we look in and the same stuff is still going on.” – Jane Wagner

I have a good friend who regularly talks about companies having ‘groundhog years’. What he means is that a lot of leaders of companies know they should probably make some change or do something different or strategic, but in the end they just do the same thing they did last year, with the same results. And they do that over, and over, and over again.

There are probably lots of reasons why that happens, but here are my favorites:

Good is good enough. The reality is that, despite what people say to sound good in public, most people are OK being somewhere between mediocre and pretty good. They aren’t really passionate, they feel OK financially, they don’t like the idea of working any harder, so they convince themselves that this is as good as it gets and don’t even consider the possibility of more.

They’re non-leader leaders. In other words, all they’re really concerned about is getting done some day-to-day tasks so they can feel like they were productive. They don’t spend any time thinking about the future (unless it’s to ponder how scary it is). They don’t spend any time creating a clear picture of WHERE they want to be. They just put their heads down and work.

They don’t have enough help. Too many leaders at too many businesses end up wearing so many hats that they never get around to thinking about the future and change. They’re part sales, part marketing, part HR, part IT, part whatever else they need to be – and no parts change.

I could probably make a longer list, but you get the idea. So are any of those you? Rarely will anybody admit to #1, but it’s very common. Ask yourself what you’re satisfied with. Are you content with being mediocre? There’s nothing wrong with being content with your life, but wouldn’t it be great if it was better?

The other two are similar. At some point, if you aren’t getting the job done (and change is the biggest part of the job), maybe you need to find some support. Asking for help doesn’t make you a bad leader – the help will make you a better leader.

Is your business experiencing ‘groundhog years’? Do you have a hunch that there should be something better or different, but you haven’t made it happen yet? End the do-overs & do something about it – today.

change billboard

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 4/24/2017 1:00 PM UTC

“Sometimes if you want to see change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands.” – Clint Eastwood

We talk a lot in this space about change. A lot of the things I post are intended to motivate people to make change, or to give some examples about how change might work in your organization, or just some tips on how you might effectively make change in business or life. Usually it’s supposed to be either encouraging or some kind of a call to action.

But that doesn’t mean I think it’s easy. The reality is that sometimes we approach change with all the right methods and behaviors and we say & do what we think are all the right things – and then we run into some kind of immovable wall. No matter what we try, we can’t seem to get around it. And when that happens it’s very frustrating, to the point that sometimes we just give up.

There are lots of barriers that can arise, but probably the most common relates to one thing – other people. Sometimes we get so excited for change, we forget that not everybody’s thinking the same way we are. We get all geared up to do what we think is something fantastic, and then we hit a road block.

Unfortunately, there are times when we aren’t in a position to ‘force’ people to make change. Sometimes we find out that (at least for now) we physically can’t make all the changes we think are necessary in our organization. That’s the part where we get frustrated and, sometimes, just give up.

So as you run into some of those barriers (and you will), and even though there may not be an easy or obvious solution to getting past those barriers, keep this in mind: Figure out what you can control, and then control the heck out of it. It’s possible you may not be able to revolutionize your company or industry right now, but you can change something. Start somewhere. There are things about your own behavior or maybe your department or maybe part of your business that you can impact today – so focus on that.

That doesn’t mean you should just give up on the big change you want. But maybe it’s not the right time. For some reason that barrier is there, maybe because there are other things you should be taking care of first. So take care of them. Fix the stuff you can fix.

As you prove to those around you that you can make change and that change is for the better, gradually people will start to come around. And then you’ll have the opportunity to do the big stuff.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 4/17/2017 1:00 PM UTC

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

One of the things leaders talk about on a regular basis is quality. They may not use that exact word, but when they talk about how great their products or services are, or how well their business performs some kind of function, that’s what they mean.

Focusing on quality is great – but it can go too far. For a lot of leaders, it would be unthinkable to release something to the public or try something internally until all the kinks were worked out. And certainly, there is a minimum level of quality that all products and services have to offer.

The problem comes when we become so focused on the quality of our offering that we never offer it. We’ll release it after we make this final tweak, or after we re-engineer this last piece, or after we re-design this other part, or if we re-evaluate pricing, or whatever. By the time we actually get around to putting it out there – if we ever do – it’s obsolete.

This problem is compounded by the rate of change we’re faced with in today’s world. If you have some kind of product or service that fits a need today, but it takes you 5 years to get it ready, you’ve missed your window. Nobody cares anymore. Or somebody else is already doing it and you’ve just become a copycat.

We live in a world where whatever you offer needs to be out there when it’s market ready. In other words, as soon as it reaches a minimum level get it out there. Not only are you less likely to miss your window, but you’ll get feedback from consumers that you can use – rather than just sit in your office and guess about the changes you need to make.

The same thing applies to initiatives that are focused internally. Maybe it’s a new process, maybe it’s a new method of handling people, whatever. When we wait to start making change until the change is flawless, the change never happens. If you want to change how your business functions, get the vision in your head, get an idea of how to implement it, and then get to it.

There is no perfect. So don’t wait around until you find perfect before you start doing things. Yes, there is some minimum level, but failure because you didn’t start is permanent. Failure once you get going is only temporary (see Henry’s Ford’s quote above). Get out there and fail. It’s your best chance at success.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

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