Random Thoughts

Leading Through Failure

How to Excel at Failing

As a business leader, entrepreneur, and human being I’ve had my share of failures. When I think back on the massive pile of ideas that I’ve tried to turn into businesses over the years, I’m surprised I’ve only failed several times instead of hundreds. 

Let’s see, I started a computer training school that went nowhere. I also built a customized marketing collateral portal that I pumped hundreds of hours (and many dollars) into only to find out it was not a business I could sustain without investors. Oh, and it wasn’t good enough for investors to want to invest in anyway. I’ve got 4 books started and each one I’ve failed to finish. They’re all good (I think). What else? I could go on….

Each of my failures has shaped who I am today. They taught me something about myself, about the marketplace, about technology, about finance — and I’m grateful for each. The lessons I learned by failing, even though it may have stung pretty badly each time, are lessons I never would have learned if I had never tried.

I used to let the fear of failure stop me from moving forward. I don’t do that anymore. However, here is the one thing I’ve learned through my failures that I want to share with every entrepreneur and leader:

Learn to understand when it’s time to pivot, or even let go.

I get it, that’s not always easy. But it’s critical to learn, and to do. There’s a great quote by Eloise Ristad. She said, “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” 

Failure is part of the road to success: for you, for your team, and for your family. Be flexible when you need to find another path. Be open to a new perspective. And most importantly, be honest with yourself when something is simply not working.

Think about this when you lead or manage your team. How can you make a change that will increase the likelihood of success? What can you let go of that’s holding you back? What can you do to help yourself, and others, get off the path to a truly epic fail? 

And most importantly, make sure you help them learn from their failures. As Henry Ford once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” 

Notifications Steal Attention and Impact Communications

Notification Overload

Text messages, emails, apps, social media, and Microsoft Teams … and don’t get me started on the Notification Center on my Mac. With all of the notifications that ping and ding us all day long, how do we ever get anything done?

Of course, I want to be available and responsive to my clients and colleagues — but then again, I do value my privacy and my personal space.  

I’ve found a sense of balance by wrangling my notifications and using certain settings to stop them from interrupting me when they don’t need to. This allows me to stay focused when I need to, and also spend down time with my friends and family without interruption. 

So, here is my methodology — in case it helps anyone else find the right balance. 

Separate Calendar and Mail Apps

I use Apple products for personal use, and Microsoft products for business use. This creates a natural separation between my work and personal notifications. It’s a bit cumbersome at times because my work and personal calendars are not commingled, but I’m working on a solution for that as we speak.

Since I use Microsoft Office for all of my business communications, I fire up Outlook, Teams, and a bunch of other apps that come with my Microsoft 365 subscription when I’m ready to work. On my computer, I’ve set these apps only to notify me when they are open, and not in the background. This way I only see notifications when I want to (including the ubiquitous red notification badge on the Outlook app). If I need to focus on a particular task without interruption, I simply quit the apps and I get uninterrupted time to concentrate. I also quit the apps when I’m engaged in a conversation on Zoom or on the phone. The only notifications that are allowed to come through when the Outlook app is closed are my calendar reminders.

During the day, I don’t open the Apple Mail program and Calendar apps (which are where my personal communications live) unless I’m taking a break from work. This way they are not intruding on my dedicated work time. And yes, you guessed it, I’ve turned off notifications on those apps as well, so I only see new messages or events when I fire up the specific apps. 

I also don’t use Messages on my Mac (which is an app that delivers text messages to the computer at the same time they land on your other devices). It’s enough that my phone and iPad get notified when I receive a text. I don’t need those on my computer too (even though it is convenient at times). The sacrifice of convenience for less distraction is worth it to me.

I’ve even gone as far as using two different task apps for personal and business reminders. Microsoft To Do for work, and Apple Reminders for home. Works great. 

Taming My Phone

On my phone, again an Apple device, I stick to similar rules. The Microsoft Outlook and Teams apps are where all of my business communications are housed. The personal stuff stays within the native Apple apps like Mail and Calendar. Outlook notifications for upcoming meetings are turned on since I rely on that feature to keep me on schedule, but incoming email notifications are off. I have to physically tap the Outlook icon to get new mail. The same is true for the Apple Mail app. I don’t need to know the precise moment that an email shows up.

This stops me from being tempted to check email constantly during the evening hours, and especially during dinner. I only check when, and if, I’ve decided it’s time to sit down and look.

Bottom Line

As much as I talk to people about being present during both professional and family moments, I’ll admit how hard it is to ignore your phone when it dings or buzzes. 

The name of the game for me has been to ensure that the apps I use for work and for personal communications are not notifying me when I’m spending time on one or the other. So far, it’s working great. 

If you’ve got other tips for preventing notifications from stealing your attention, I want to hear them. Please share in the comments. 

Doing What You Love Takes Hard Work

Never Work a Day in Your Life?

There’s a quote I see often. It goes like this: “If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.”

Spoiler alert…

That’s a lie.

Definitely find a way to do what you love. But don’t do it because you don’t want to look at it as work. It’s quite the opposite, actually. When you do what you love it becomes more than work. It becomes part of you. So much so that you can overwork yourself pretty quickly. That’s not good either. 

Now listen, I understand the message behind this famous quote. It’s a good one. It’s saying, “Don’t sit there and work for the sake of working. Find a way to do work that is meaningful to you.”

That’s good advice.

But as an entrepreneur I know that doing what you love means being all in. And your passion for it will help you weather the inevitable storms that will come your way — and there will be many. 

Do what you love. Period. End of story. 

It will take lots of hard work, but it’s worth it. 

Leadership Quote

Take the First Step

“Trusting that there is a next step is the first step to figuring out what the next step is.” — Jennifer Williamson 

I hope you and your families are doing well both physically and emotionally during this unprecedented time.

Step by step, day by day. Do your best, and know that your best is good enough.

We’ll get through this.

Inspirational Quote Everyday Heroes

Everyday Heroes

Every week I share one of my favorite quotes with my team as a look-back on the week and a little inspirational push into the weekend. This week I shared the following short one:

“The simple act of caring is heroic.” —Edward Albert

Business as usual does not exist now — for anyone, and a little extra empathy and caring goes a long way. Keep it up everyone!

The Gift of Time

The Gift of Time

I’ve always been good with time. I can easily assess how long it will take to get from point A to point B, and I’m particularly good at estimating the time needed for individuals or teams to complete projects. 

As I get older, my thinking about time has shifted from something that I have plenty of to something that is so precious that I don’t want to waste a single moment. This shift has helped me focus more on the things that matter.

Time is something we all share. Sometimes it passes more slowly or more quickly than we’d like, but once it’s gone we can’t get it back. 

How we choose to use time is up to each of us. I’m on a mission to ensure I give more of it to the people that matter, and that I don’t ever wish it away or waste it.

And don’t forget — taking care of yourself is not a waste of time. It’s an investment in yourself and in your ability to lead and care for others.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash
Practice Makes Experts

Practice Makes Experts

“Nothing can help the person who does not practice.” I read that in a Forbes article about public speaking tips. It made me stop and think about how easy it is to look at someone you admire and think they are a natural at something. The truth is that they worked very hard to be so awe-inspiring.

While it’s likely that highly talented people possess genetic factors that play an important role in their successes, training is necessary to become an expert. And with any kind of training, practice is key to honing one’s craft.

My first full-time job after college was as a high school teacher. I had some practice during my schooling, but not enough to make me a true expert on the subject matter, and not enough to confidently manage classrooms of 28 different personalities 5 times a day. And then, there I was on day one, alone, responsible for over 100 students a day, and running the show. 

I’ll never forget how quickly I noticed that my first period public speaking class really got the short end of the stick. Each day they were my test subjects for the day’s lesson, which always went better the other times I would perform it later that day. So, I started to rehearse my new lessons the night before. That practice helped. 

When I got my first graphic design job many years ago, I didn’t know the software like I really should have for the position I landed. I had to create my own projects and practice every night to quickly get myself up to the level the position required. 

I used to be a very good pianist. I could sight read almost any song, and enjoyed playing at parties where people wanted to sing. After a decade of little to no practice, I get frustrated every time I sit down at the piano. I can’t play anywhere near like I used to. Three weeks ago, I vowed to change that. I’m now practicing a couple hours a week and I’m slowly working back to the musician I was ten years ago. All it’s taking is a little practice.  

And even though I’ve taught public speaking to high school and college students, coached executives through high stakes presentations, and presented more workshops and agency pitches than I can count, I still practice my presentations over and over — until I know that I’m ready. 

And knowing when I’m ready has taken practice, too.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
No More New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions, Change, and the Next 10 Years

Those of you who know me personally know that I am typically quite thoughtful in my decision-making. I like to spend time thinking through the options in order to make the best decisions I can for all parties involved. However, sometimes my problem is that I want to move too fast once I make a decision. I get excited because I know what I’m doing is right, so I want to get it done right away! That doesn’t always work. 

As I look back on the past two decades, I’ve made a lot of big decisions. And for the most part they’ve been good ones. But the ones that I was more thoughtful and methodical about implementing were the most successful. 

That’s one of the reasons I gave up New Years’ resolutions many years ago. If I want to make change happen in my personal or professional life and I want it to be successful, I know it will take time. It will also take dedication, accountability, and flexibility. It may even take a failure or two before I get it right. Or you know what, I might fail completely. And that’s okay, too. Risk is always part of meaningful change.

What important change will you make this year, or in the next decade? If you’re passionate about it and honest with yourself about the time and effort it needs to be successful, I know you’ll make it happen.

Happy holidays to you and yours! May they be filled with kindness, laughter, love, and warmth.

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash
Invest in yourself. Do it today.

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot

I always tell people that it’s amazing what you can accomplish by devoting 15 to 20 minutes per day to something that matters to you. That’s how I started most of the things that have defined my career, including Imbue.

The title of this post is inspired by the musical Hamilton, which I recently saw in New York City. The music, the lyrics, the acting, and the visual experience of the show are so masterfully intertwined that you can’t help but be enthralled with it all. I kept thinking about the time and talent it took to create it. Yet, it had to start somewhere. 

Early in the show, Alexander Hamilton sings a rousing song called My Shot. The lyrics begin with Hamilton passionately repeating the phrase, “I am not throwing away my shot” and the song ends with the cast driving home the point that you need to rise up and take a shot, your shot — the one only you can take. It made me think of my own experience and the rewards that have come from taking risks, sharing my unique perspective openly and honestly, and generally taking responsibility for (and control of) my future. 

Don’t throw away your shot, and even more importantly, don’t limit yourself to just one. Start tomorrow and make time to invest in yourself, your ideas, and your passions. Do it every day. The payoff may not come quickly, but I assure you the time spent will be worth it. 

Parents are a Model of Leadership

Parents and Leaders

I was recently asked a simple question by a colleague: “Who do you admire?”

Wow, what a loaded question. I admire many, many people—they are mentors, good friends, and talented colleagues. I also admire several artists, musicians, writers, athletes, and educators. The people I admire most are those I find talented, honest, kind, and giving. I also admire people who have the courage to lead, whether they are the type that does it quietly or the kind that enjoys the spotlight.

But when I think about who I admire most, it’s probably parents. I don’t have children myself, but when I look at parents today and consider the magnitude of the task of raising children in a world that seems to be moving faster than they can possibly keep up with, I have to give them kudos for being the leaders that they are.

Parents love through the times when those they lead are the most unlovable, guide their children to do what’s right even when it’s not easy, and sacrifice their needs for the health and success of the family. They show up every day, teach and train, troubleshoot, motivate, and lead by example. 

A good business leader shares a lot of traits with a good parent, don’t you think?

And while there are some essential things that make a good parent, everyone finds their own unique way to perform the role. Just like the best leaders.

Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash
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