Date: 8/24/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them.” – Woodrow Wilson

Last week’s post revolved around the idea that whatever we focus on and believe about the world and about ourselves eventually becomes reality. If you really believe you’re a winner – or a loser – you’ll spend your life proving yourself right.

At the very end of the post I mentioned the idea that barriers are going to rise up and get in the way. The same theory applies. You can view barriers as horrible obstructions that are going to prevent you from getting what you want. You can complain about them, or obsess about how unfair or challenging they are. Or, you can view them as opportunities to learn and grow – things that, once overcome, will have challenged you to become something even better than you were before.

I will admit that I’m not close to perfect when it comes to viewing barriers as a positive. Very few people I’ve ever met (or even heard of) are. But we can get better. So try this: sit down and think about the critical barriers you or your business are facing over the next 6 months. Now, come up with 3 positive things that will happen when you overcome that barrier. Maybe it’s “increased profits” or “improved skills” or “improved confidence”. Maybe it’s just “I don’t have to spend time stressing about this anymore”. Whatever it is, write them down and keep them handy. When you want to mope around and focus on how hard life is, look at those 3 things and remember WHERE you’re trying to go.

Life is complicated, and much of it is hard to predict. Some barriers you’ll see coming. Some barriers will seem to come out of nowhere. The only certain things are that barriers will be there, and they provide the only path to improvement and reaching your goals. You can view them as something that holds you back – or you can view them as the only way forward. It’s up to you. barriers

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 8/17/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden

I’m not a psychiatrist, nor have I done any scientific studies, but it seems like most of us humans are very similar. We have all these things in our lives that are great, but what we want to spend time thinking and talking about are all the things that are wrong. We complain about not being happy, but part of the reason is our obsession with everything in our lives that has the potential to make us unhappy.

The reality is that whatever we think and talk about eventually becomes part of what we believe about ourselves and the world. And our actions will reflect whatever we believe. So, when we focus on the things that are wrong or the things we aren’t good at or don’t have, we are essentially creating a self-fulfilling nightmare. In overly simple terms, if you really believe you’re a loser you’ll spend the rest of your life proving yourself right.

So change how you talk to yourself. Yeah right, you’re thinking – which is exactly the problem. If you don’t think you can change, you’re probably right. Maybe you need some help. One of the best things you can do is find some accountability partners. Maybe it’s somebody at work, maybe it’s somebody outside of work, maybe there’s some of both. Get together and agree that you’re not going to allow each other to focus on the negatives. And call each other on it – don’t let it slide. What we’re really talking about is creating new habits, and that requires correction when we fail.

Start with work. What’s good about your job or your business? What’s the most exciting opportunity you’re currently faced with? What do you like about going to work every day? Think about that, talk about that, meditate on that.

Think about the rest of your life. What are you passionate about? What is fun? What would you like to do with your time? Focus on those things.

Of course bad things are going to happen and barriers are going to arise. Life still isn’t easy. But when those things appear, it’s not time to complain or obsess about how terrible life is. It’s time to think about the opportunity you have to learn and grow. It’s time to focus on the things you can do, that do make you happy, that you can change. Your life will be as happy and fulfilling as you choose for it to be. Make the right choice.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | 2 Comments

Date: 8/10/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“When it’s obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius

It’s important in every business to have a few clear, concise goals or targets to shoot for. For that matter, it’s important in our personal lives as well. Something that pushes us, something that focuses our passion on a result, something that creates some energy.

Most businesses have some form of a goal, even if it’s as simple as a budget. Usually a group of key people – or a key person – sat down somewhere and hashed out WHERE they wanted their organization to be, hopefully in a way they can measure. Maybe they went one step further and worked through HOW they’re going to get there – strategies, actions, etc. They probably left their meeting very excited and energized.

And then reality happened. We all know nothing ever goes exactly the way you plan it. So whatever those measurable goals & targets were, somewhere along the line some of them appear to become unreachable. So what do you do?

In my experience, there are a few possible outcomes. One choice some organizations make is to adjust their goals downward and then later pretend like they got what they wanted all along. You set 20% growth as a target and then when you got 8% you say, hey, we’re really excited about 8%, way to go team. Nobody mentions that 20% was what you were really after.

Another option is to just quit. You decide halfway through the year that 20% growth isn’t going to happen, so you just stop talking about growth altogether. You hope if you just don’t talk about it maybe people will forget that was the goal in the first place.

The best option, though, is to reevaluate what you thought you needed to do to reach that goal, and then change what you’re doing. Why aren’t you progressing towards that target of 20% growth? What assumptions did you make that turned out to be incorrect? What didn’t you really understand about your marketplace, or your product, or your people? And what would have to happen to get things back on track?

Don’t settle for something you don’t want or just plain give up on what you do. Think about where you are in relation to where you want to be – and then do something differently. You have the ability to change your future if you are willing to change your choices & actions in the present. Start today.

head in the sand


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Date: 8/3/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“When bobbing for apples, an idealist endlessly reaches for the best apple, a pessimist settles for the first one within reach, while an optimist drains the barrel, fishes out all the apples and makes pie.” – Vera Nazarian

There are far too many people in this world who aren’t happy with whatever situation they’re in, either personally or professionally. Something about their lives isn’t fulfilling or rewarding. They either haven’t figured out what they’re passionate about or they have but aren’t doing whatever that thing is. It’s sad to watch.

On top of that, too many people who aren’t happy aren’t doing anything about it. Sometimes it’s because the situation ‘isn’t right’. What they really mean is it’s not perfect enough to eliminate all their fear of change. So they wait and hope and wish for the ‘right time’ to come along, and after a number of years, they get old and die. Sorry to be morbid, but that’s the truth. They wait their whole lives and never get there – never even start getting there.

Sometimes people take action, but it’s not really the action they want to take. They just figure there’s no way they can ever really have what they want, or ever really do what they’re passionate about doing. So, they take whatever is easy and safe and then spend their lives trying to convince themselves that they’re happy and this is what they really wanted all along.

Then there are those few people who know what they want and are willing to make sacrifices and take risks and step outside of their comfort zones to get it. They may be in a situation where they can’t have exactly what they want today, but they see the steps they need to take to get them closer and they get started. And to add something to the quote above, they don’t stop after they made pie. They go to the next barrel and make more pie, until eventually they get to where they want to be.

Don’t sit and wait for the ‘perfect time’ to go after your passion. Don’t settle for something that’s easy and safe and then spend the rest of your life lying to yourself about how happy you are. Do figure out exactly what you want, and start taking the steps that will get you there. It may take months, or years, or most of a lifetime, but you’ll get there. And you’ll be energized on the way because you know that the journey ends in the place you are supposed to be. Go there now.

change billboard

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 7/27/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln

These days, everyone is busy. Almost any time you ask someone how they’re doing, they’ll answer with some form of “busy”. Work, family, social, whatever – most people are always doing something. But is it the right thing?

Simple as it is, I really like today’s quote (maybe partly because it’s simple). Before you can be “a good one”, there’s a very important step that too many people overlook – what are you? No one can tell you what the answer is for you, but I can tell you what the answer isn’t – everything to everybody. Yet too often that’s what we’re all trying to be.

Think about your business. What is the core thing you do? The most fundamental thing? And why do you do that? Too many businesses focus on the thousands of tasks or activities that take up each day. But is those things really what you do? Take a step back from the details. What is the thing that really identifies you? If you keep that in mind, would that change what you spend your time on? If you keep that in mind, would that impact what you think you need to excel at?

Think about your personal life and ask yourself the same questions. What is the core thing I do? The most fundamental thing? And why? Some people are doing so many thing every day it’s a wonder they have time to eat or sleep. Are all of those things really adding to the core thing you do? No chance. In fact, I bet some of them are actually detracting from it. Identify the core of what you are and think about what that means for how you spend your time.

We’ve been conditioned by our societies to feel that busyness leads to success. The reality is that busyness only leads to success if you’re busy doing the right things. Otherwise it just leads to stress & disappointment. Unfortunately, most people who go down that path never really understand why things haven’t turned out the way they’d hoped.

Be good at whatever you are. Just don’t forget the first step – make sure you know what you are.


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Date: 7/20/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

I had an invigorating conversation last week with a business owner who’s currently in the middle of a big growth spurt. I asked him what his biggest issue was right now and he said, “We have so many opportunities I feel like I’m not doing any of them justice – I’m afraid we’re going to miss something.” He went on to list all the things they have going on right now. He was right – it was a lot. By the time he was done my head was spinning.

It seems like we all feel that way on a regular basis these days. He was lucky enough that all his issues were positive – around growth, increased profits, etc. But regardless of the specific issues, nearly all of us at some point (maybe on a regular basis) find ourselves thinking the same thing this guy thought: “I’m afraid I’m going to miss something.”

We have to be intentional about what we spend our time doing; no more running from one thing to another in complete chaos. Face it: not everything we do is of equal importance. Some things are critical and others aren’t. Our job is to figure out which is which.

Start off by thinking about all of the issues you could be working on. Then ask yourself to what extent each of those supports your business’s competitive advantage (you actually have to know what that is). Then ask yourself which of those issues presents the biggest opportunity for your business to improve, however you define improvement. Which scores the highest?

Or try thinking about it a different way. Think of everything you could be working on. Which of those things could potentially be handled by someone else? If somebody else in your organization is capable of doing it, shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t you be focused on those things which fall within your unique skill set? Focus on those critical things that others in your organization cannot do and delegate the rest.

Regardless of your approach, one of the most important things you can do as a leader is figure out what’s most important for you to do and then be intentional about doing those things. Sometimes it’s hard to admit that we spend time on things that really don’t matter, but it’s a reality. If you’re spending your time on things that aren’t critical to your organization – why? And what are you going to do about it?


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Date: 7/13/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.” – Ernest Hemingway

There is a significant part of the population that suffers from a debilitating sickness masquerading as a positive character trait. The sickness is praised in many quarters as being a requirement for achievement, and many people who have it treat it like a prized possession. It’s perfectionism, and unless carefully monitored, it can ruin you as a leader.

There are certainly things that demand perfection. If somebody’s going to perform brain surgery on me tomorrow, I’d like them to aim for perfection. For most people in most situations, however, perfection is an enemy of action.

Too many leaders are afraid to make change “until everything is ready”. Something isn’t quite right in the market, something isn’t quite right with our people or products, etc., so we wait. And we wait. And pretty soon years have passed and we’re still standing in the same place – no closer to what we want to achieve. Eventually we’re so far behind we can never get caught up.

The same could be said for our personal lives. Similar excuses: It’s not quite the right time, or I’m not quite sure about this particular factor, or I don’t have quite enough information. So we wait, and eventually our lives are over and we’ve never done the things we always wanted to do. And we can never figure out why we’re not happy.

Yes, there are things that need to be in place before we can act – but are we really trying to put them in place? Or are they just convenient excuses to cover our fear and/or laziness? “It’s just not the right time” is more often an excuse than it is wise insight.

Think about the changes you need to make, whether personally or professionally. What reasons are you giving for not making those changes? Are they really things that have to be in place? Or are you using perfectionism as an excuse to avoid doing what you need to do? Don’t stand in the same place 10 years from now wondering why things didn’t go the way you wanted. Just start doing it – NOW.

do not wait strike action

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 7/6/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain

I’m sure it would not come as a surprise to anyone reading this that succession planning is a critical issue facing a huge number of the businesses we work with. That’s true virtually everywhere. In the U.S. alone somewhere over 50% of privately owned companies will change ownership in the next 10 years.

And yet, there is a huge number of those companies that have not done anything to plan for that change. When you talk to leaders of those businesses they all acknowledge there’s a problem. They all acknowledge they should do something about it. But time continues to roll on by and they do nothing.

There are a lot of reasons why people don’t address key issues they’re facing, but I think one consistent factor is that they don’t know where to start. That’s true whether you’re talking about succession planning or anything else. People are faced with complex issues that have a lot of moving parts and they feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do – so they don’t do anything.

Unfortunately (and obviously), that doesn’t work. Not only do those issues not go away, but there are more and more complex issues every day. We live in an increasingly complex & unpredictable world, and if we can’t handle those kinds of things, we’ll soon drown.

So start small. Break down your complex issue into all its parts. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking time alone or with a few key people and brainstorming everything. Write it down and look at it. Chances are, your urge to feel overwhelmed will start kicking in again – “I can’t do all of this!” And you’re right, you can’t do all of this – right now.

What you can do is think about those pieces and ask: Which of these have the biggest impact on dealing with this issue? What would be the very first step? Then do that one thing. Then do the next thing. And the next. Maybe you start with things you think are easy, just to build some confidence. Whatever the case, start with something. One thing at a time.   And go from there.

We all tend to feel inadequate when faced with certain issues. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Failure only happens when you stop trying (or don’t start trying) to address the issues anyway. And the best way to address them is one piece at a time. Start now.

how do you eat an elephant

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/29/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“If you don’t drive your business, you will be driven out of business.” – B.C. Forbes

I recently spent some time with a business owner in our area. He’s a nice guy, but it was exhausting. His view of the world is pretty simple: everyone else has resources I don’t have, I can’t possibly compete in my marketplace, my organization can’t get any more efficient than it already is, customers aren’t interested in buying, the government is out to get me. No matter what suggestion or question I raised, he answered it with some variation of those world views.

The end result is that in his mind there’s no point in attempting to do anything, because it won’t work. Now things have deteriorated to the point where he really doesn’t have many options. If he’s lucky he’ll be able to sell the assets he has – probably for much less than he wants – and that will (perhaps mercifully) be the end of it.

The problem is that there are a dozen or more businesses in our area doing the same thing he’s doing – and many of them are very successful. And there are literally dozens (hundreds?) within a radius of a few hundred miles who are doing what he’s doing. Guess what – many of them are very successful as well.

So what’s the difference? You know where this is going. The difference isn’t that everyone else has resources he doesn’t have, or that his competitors are just too strong (his competition is actually pathetic), or any of the other excuses. The difference is entirely in his view of how the world works.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of leaders out there who think like this guy. They think they don’t control anything, that nothing they do impacts whether they’re successful or not, that no changes they could make would help them be more successful, etc. Things just happen and they’re along for the ride.

But they’re wrong. We can impact the future. We can make changes that impact our success. The businesses like this guy’s that are successful are also aggressive, and taking action, and not just sitting there hoping something good comes along. They are actively driving the bus where they want it to go. And it’s working.

Someone once told me there are three kind of people in the world: Those who make things happen, those who have things happen to them, and those who wonder what happened. Be in the first group. Be a real leader.

a year from now

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/22/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“The world is full of people that have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for.” – Joseph Campbell

I like to give people credit for being fairly intelligent. I like to believe that everyone has at least a basic level of common sense. I like to think that there is a limit to how ‘dumb’ people can be. I also like to think that most people have some fundamental level of knowledge about what is right and what is wrong. Unfortunately, all of those thoughts are routinely tested.

It seems as though virtually every day we hear stories about businesses who are dealing with some sort of poor behavior. It doesn’t always rise to the level of being a crime, but it’s at least unprofessional or unethical or dysfunctional. Quite often it’s employees of the business who are behaving this way (although leaders are certainly far from exempt). And almost without exception the leader seems stunned that any of the employees would behave this way.

While there is no single, all-encompassing explanation for bad behavior, I do believe that at times in our organizations we take our core values for granted. Too many leaders assume that the people who work for them know ‘how to act’. Too many leaders make a speech every few years where they use a few words like ‘integrity’ or ‘ethics’ and then think they’ve done their job. Not enough leaders consistently and intentionally stress the importance of organizational values on a regular basis.

We’ve talked a lot in this space about consistently communicating the company vision so that it becomes ingrained in everyone who’s part of the business. When you’re communicating that vision, are you including the part of the vision that says what kind of behavior you value? Or is it just about growth, opportunity, etc.?

More importantly than just talking about them, are you modeling those values? You can’t emphasize the importance of certain behaviors one minute and then completely ignore them the next. Your walk has to match your talk.

Don’t make assumptions. Make it a point to emphasize those values that are crucial to you. Talk about it regularly. Live it always. I’m not suggesting that you’ll never have to deal with bad behavior, but it’s a lot easier to deal with when what you value is clear to everyone around you. Make sure your people know who you are.



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