The Most Valuable Lessons

“So what’s the most valuable lesson?”

I find this an almost impossible question to answer. For several years, my response was something along the lines of,

“It all depends.” I would qualify this by considering the most pressing challenge at that point in time. The most pressing challenge so to speak.

Recently, I rethought this matter, however, and I decided I could do a little better.

Lesson 1: Do The Right Thing

I think this has to be the fundamental premise not only when leading an organisation, but in general for all of us. Simply do the right thing. We all know what the ‘right thing’ is.

Not that long ago I was invited to attend a board meeting comprising of a CEO together with her executive sales team. I asked the top-ranking salesperson about what he was doing differently, resulting in over 85% of sales within the whole group. He shrugged his shoulder and mentioned he had no idea why he outperformed everybody combined.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the CEO went on to privately mention to me that the ‘superior’ sales professional was in fact the landlord of the commercial space she had leased for her business, and as such he had the first and best pick of incoming sales inquiries in exchange for reduced rent. Needless to say, her sales force soon departed. That this situation was wrong was obvious to all.

Lesson 2: Find Out What The Customer Values

All of us see the world not as it is but through our distorted, perceptive filters.

Unfortunately, this does not serve us well when it comes to delivering real value to our clients. Everyone that arrives at the door of our business deep down is driven by two forces. The first desire is to move away from their fears (nightmare), and the second is to meet their needs (aspiration).

Yet many business leaders in co-ordination with their marketing and sales departments remain fuzzy about what the target customer truly desires.

A young Steve Jobs claimed that the Lisa computer would be successful because it was superior technologically to any of its competitors. Indeed at the time, it was by far the most advanced piece of hardware in the world.  It would be years before many of its features would be implemented on any other computer. Still, Jobs was wrong.

All of these features resulted in Lisa’s high price of about $30,000 in today’s dollars, and so buyers opted for the far less expensive, although inferior, IMB at less than a third of the investment. Apple’s prospects valued cost above technological superiority at that time.

Lesson 3: People Placement

Careful consideration must be given to fit when it comes to the people in your organisation.

Gone are the days of the generalist employee. Today the most successful leaders gather people who are highly competent in a narrow field.

Always keep in mind, the right person, at the right time, in the right position will be an asset to your company. They will bring far more to the enterprise in comparison to their compensation.

Become accustomed to seeking and attracting the best people you can bring into your business. People who buy into your mission, purpose, and high standards. Employing sub-standard people or misjudging their ability to meet the requirements for a position will greatly set you back.

On the flip side, the right person with the right expertise can exponentially propel your enterprise forward in leaps and bounds, saving you years of wasted time and effort.

Lesson 4: Think For Ourselves

What everyone knows is usually wrong. Or as Keith Cunningham underlines in “The Road Less Stupid”, the ability to avoid major errors in judgment is far more important than taking the ideal course of action.

What is critical is that important decisions are considered carefully by the business leader. Yes, the group will come through with a given consensus, but ultimately the buck stops with the executives at the head of any organisation, and it is they who must make the final decision.

At the turn of the Millenium I was fortunate enough to be working with a gentleman who had major shareholdings in over 300 successful companies across the globe. As a venture capitalist, he had exposure to thousands of business proposals every year, only to accept a limited few.

His secret as he relayed it to me, was to take a minimum of three months when considering potential partnerships, making his final decisions following careful consideration of all the financials, management structures, and background analysis of key people. As always after considerable patience and rational reflectance, the final decision was always his.

I guess that’s why he was so successful in picking the right partnerships across a spectrum of industries and cultures.

Lesson 5: The Tortoise and the Hare

The Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon was held in the years between 1981 and 1993 and was regarded as the toughest footrace in the world. It was 870 km long and took up to seven days to complete.  Most athletes ran all day and rested at night.

In 1983, and unknown sixty-one-year-old potato farmer by the name of Cliff Young entered the race. Many thought he would be lucky to finish. But Young didn’t accept what everyone knew to be true or follow the way things had always been done. He thought about the race, not from experience and expertise but from complete ignorance.

He realized he could walk the distance and that he wasn’t required to stop overnight. So he didn’t. Result? He won, shaving two days off the previous record and finishing a full day ahead of the next runner who was half his age.

The moral of the story? The race never goes to the quickest. It goes to the person who is consistently committed.

Lesson 6: Finally – Think and Ask Questions

Everything you need to know to take you where you wish to go in any facet of your business and life is within reach.

The challenge for many of us today is that there is an endless supply if new ‘shiny objects’ that arrive to steal away our time and concentration.

Successful people make and take daily increments of time so that they can think about and strategically decide how to align their resources towards a grander mission and purpose.

Thinking time followed by asking a set of better questions that open up your thinking to the answers already available separates the few from the many.