Start A Business at 49? Yes

My great grandmother (GG Kate) immigrated here in the early 1900’s, when she jumped on a ship and landed in the USA from Lithuania.  As a teenager, she had the courage of a lion, to leave her family and country, and go abroad. She lived in East Chicago and bought apartments one by one, and then bought the entire building(s).  During the early 1970’s when our family traveled to Daytona Beach, FL, we visited my great grandmother.  She was a woman entrepreneur,  living near the beach, and a  good story of immigration done right.

Fast forward approximately 100 years from when she fled Lithuania. It’s now 2013. When you’re 49 years old,  and you want to start a real estate business, well, you just do it.  You courageously, just like your GG Kate, buy some properties, evaluate, buy and sell more, and now five years later, you have a profitable business that serves others in a very desirable community. And serves my bucket list of travel, enjoying life, and helping others.

Here are some TIPS on what TO DO as you start a business, and what NOT TO DO:

  1. Prep: Walk, think, look, inspect, read, listen. Before I bought my first three homes in the same week in June 2013, I walked the streets of downtown Carmel, looking at traffic flow, understanding prices, learning about infrastructure, asking other landlords how to be landlords, etc. for 18 months. NOT DO: buy properties based on emotion.  Instead, make business decisions.
  2. Draft: While in bed one evening in April 2013, I hand-wrote a business plan on one piece of paper. It was short, to the point, and gave me great clarity.  In short, it stated, “Provide homes with incredible walk-ability to shops, schools or restaurants. Be able to walk or jog to these homes. Focus on ranch homes for the safety of families and older clientele. Ensure that 10% gross income is achieved annually on your initial investment.” This draft helped me start my business and invest in homes the following 60 days. NOT DO: wing it, with nothing written down.  Instead, do the prep, plan, and then execute.
  3. Team of Advisors: Call an attorney familiar with establishing LLC’s, especially a law firm that understand real estate laws.  Not only did they help get the LLC going, but they provided me with a detailed and fair lease. Get a CPA who has other clients like you.  Align with a good realtor.  Find ethical and reliable contractors, and then pay them quickly. Establish a very strong relationship with at least two bankers.  Understand your own financial plan with your financial advisor.  NOT DO: Not willing to pay or slow to pay for advice and help. Instead, realize there is always risk with any business and pay for guidance, help and advice. Build your team by sharing your vision and business plan.
  4. Work: On a downright yucky/rainy/cool Sunday in Spring 2013, I walked the streets of downtown Carmel.  When open houses were cancelling that day, I was out there working.  In the next week, my realtor helped me on offers, buy and close on three homes within 1/2 mile of each other. NOT DO: Rest, assume others will find the homes and do the work.  Instead, YOU do the work.
  5. Adjust: Of the 3 homes, the first home was rented quickly. The 2nd home was a ranch, but it was dated and had two bedrooms downstairs in a dark basement. The 3rd home was my personal home.  Adjusting quickly, I sold the 2nd home to a realtor and cleared a few thousand dollars, thank the Lord.  And I sold the 3rd one, my own home, after I remodeled it and captured a nice gain 2.5 years later. NOT DO: Move slowly. Instead, when it’s the wrong decision, quickly own it and fix it. Learn from it.
  6. Care: Once you have a client (tenant), take good care of them.  Your first client should help you quickly learn what’s important to them/future clients. If a client needs something and it’s a reasonable request, do it quickly.  NOT DO: Ignore your clients.  Instead, remember they are paying you, providing revenue, so be thankful and aware of what feedback they are providing.
  7. Ask: The first home that I bought had a nice home next to it. So I asked the owner if he would be willing to sell it.  Timing was everything.  I got it bought before he put it on the market.  And then I asked my realtor about buying the messy/skinny/wooded lot on the other side of the first home.  Within a few months, I had 3 properties next to each other, directly on The Monon in downtown Carmel. Location, location, location. NOT DO: Wait. Instead, you will make the difference in your business. You are in charge of the decisions. No one else.
  8. Track: Once the business starts, track every single expense and revenue.  I set up a spreadsheet, put it in the cloud, and can view the status of all the homes from anywhere.  And I can share this easily with my accountant to assist with tax prep. Created folders for every home, for every receipt, for every year.  NOT DO: Fall behind in tracking expenses.  Instead, to be profitable, you need to know your revenues and expenses.
  9. Grow. Let others/neighbors/tenants/realtors know that you are a local business owner, looking to grow the business, wanting to buy more homes, etc. Good people will help you.  Be opportunistic, and buy distressed assets. And update your assets AND your business plan regularly. NOT DO: Get lazy.  Instead, keep learning, sharing, and growing.
  10. Buy Low, Sell High. Seems simple, but the lower priced homes with nice remodels or updates are the ones that are most liked by our clients and most profitable.  Sell them when you are comfortable with the gain.  NOT DO: Sell Low, Buy High.  Instead, be wise. Have a goal for your profits and then execute.

Since my grandmother came to America in the early 1900’s, she grew, learned, moved, and leveraged advisors.  GG Kate owned multiple properties, and even had a will in place when she passed.  Her daughter (my grandmother Bernice) and my paternal grandfather George owned real estate. And my mom and dad own land, as well. So one might say that I have a natural gene that’s called, “the love of real estate.” What’s YOUR plan to start YOUR business? Don’t let age, or being a woman, or fear stop you.  Instead, be courageous like a lion, execute with a plan, and make YOUR dream a reality, just like GG Kate did in moving to America. And then truly becoming an entrepreneur.

 

It’s Time For Fun, Isn’t It?

On a cool, rainy evening in October 2018, Hoosier Park was hosting the “Super Night” of Indiana’s best in harness racing.  And a long-shot named “It’s Time for Fun” was in 6th place as the horses came down the stretch. But then “Fun” hit a faster gear and sprinted past them all and won easily.  Friends and four generations of the breeder and owner got to the winner’s circle just in time for the celebration and fun. And that owner shined a grin and said, “It takes a team!”

Who is the owner and breeder of “It’s Time for Fun”? My dad, Lynn Wilfong, 79 years young. I intentionally used the word “young”, as he sure loves his phrase that he shares regularly: “Have someone to love.  Love what you do. Have something to look forward to.” And he has also been heard to say, “I will die with my boots on.”

Love. Four generations showed up to see “It’s Time For Fun” win the 3 Year Old Filly Indiana Sires Stakes: his wife, Barbara, of 58 years; his three adult children & their spouses; and some of the grand children and a great grandchild.

Work. Lynn has been working with harness horses since he was a young boy.  And he continues to be patient with them, even after 6-7 decades of being around these large and loving creatures.

Look Forward. Although my dad has suffered some losses and also some health challenges in the last couple decades, he sure studies his own health and how to improve it just like he studies harness horse breeding and racing. He is looking at ways to find the right mixture of breeding to win at the value that he is willing to pay, and still bring a return to his harness racing business.

How does he do this and also leverage his team? He has a vision, and that is to keep winning, especially in Indiana and Illinois. He and mom, along with my brother and his wife (Brett and Candy), truly have defined roles.  Dad studies and recommends breeding, and helps ensure the mares have healthy foals.  He and Brett raise and haul them, and Brett trains them.  My nephew, Kyle (Brett’s son, who is 4th generation in the harness racing business now) is the driver.  Kyle’s girlfriend, Nicole, is the caretaker (groom) of the horses that are being raced and trained, and she is growing and now a trainer.  And the revenue and expenses are tracked by Barbara and Candy.  For decades, Barbara leads the effort to ensure all of the horses are named and registered.  Very clear roles, with a goal of winning in Indiana and Illinois with well cared for horses.  They also leverage vets, blacksmiths, and feed companies. All of these roles are very specific, and they rarely duplicate work.  The goal for everyone is to be accountable to helping the horse(s) be as healthy as possible so that it can professionally perform in nearly any condition (rain, heat, sleet, wind and cold weather).

With a clear Vision, clear Roles, and clear Goals for each person on your team, you will most likely continue to succeed even as you approach your 8th decade.  In my coaching work, I can sense dysfunction or lack of accountability quickly.  It typically is because something is NOT clear with the Vision, or the Roles, or the Goals.  If all three are clear, you can most likely expect good results.  And good results just might lead to “It’s Time for Fun”.

 

 

Please, Take Vacation.

Please, Take Vacation.
Millions of vacation days every single year in the USA go “unused.”  This makes me shake my head. As we approach the end of our lives, loads of research indicates that our seniors/elders say that they remember the memories and relationships. They also  wish that they would have worked less, and been more bold and courageous. So please, take vacation.
What a recent, one full week of vacation did for me and my partner?
Rest.  We didn’t wake up before 6am and we fell asleep around 10pm or earlier every night. That’s at least 8 hours of sleep. Yes, the amount of sleep that we are encouraged to get by all health experts.
Recover. Enjoyed downtime by the pool and the Caribbean Sea did wonders for my soul and mind. The water and sun were soothing.
Health. The resort had a  spa that was very handy; it offered hydrotherapy, massages, pedicures, manicures, personal trainers, etc. It was integrated right in to the resort, instead of being a separate building. The four restaurants all had vegetarian options, which played right in to my new focus of eating no meat or dairy.
Prioritize. Being away from my coaching work and my companies actually allowed me to refocus and re-prioritize what I needed to improve upon during the next 90 days.  It also gave us both great satisfaction as we reviewed what we got accomplished in the last 90 days.
Read. I finally had time, yes time, to sit and read a very impactful 400-page book. This book, “Being Mortal”, will probably help me age more gracefully and also help us as we help care for our parents as they age, too. It was a pivotal read, and I can’t imagine NOT taking the time to read it. And by the way, it had been on my bookshelf for 3 years…
Write. You see that here.
Reconnect. The time out of country, for the second time this year, allowed my partner and I to really connect, talk, and just be together. We were NOT busy, we were instead very present. We were there for one another. And yet still had our own alone time to do whatever the heck we wanted.
So please, take vacation.  It is good for your soul, mind, body, and your relationships at home and work.

90 Day Priorities

You have some goals and priorities at the “new year”? Do you keep those goals progressing every 90 days?
Here’s a hint to help you execute on those goals:
Write them down. 
Review them and discuss them with someone you deeply trust throughout January.  Weekly. Then do that same process again in February. Weekly.  And again in March.  Weekly.
Wisely attack a few of your goals. All of your annual goals do NOT have to be started in January.
For example, I have always wanted to read more. Every single year. But in 2018, I was more specific with my “read more” goal. I wanted to read books that would help me improve my leadership training and business ownership skills, and to help me coach others on sales growth. After discussing this with a ferocious reader, he recommended that I utilize an app and listen to books as I drive. So I downloaded the mobile app Audible, and got my first book free. I have already finished it, downloaded another book and finished it, too. And have read five hardback books that were within reach in my office. Yes, three books read by Feb 4. And now 7 books read by March 17, 2018. A new record for me, all because I changed a few critical behaviors: downloaded an app, listened/listening to books on Audible, and taking more time to read the good books that I already own.
The annual “eat more healthy goal” was also written down. However, this year I am taking trips to the grocery store and buying different type of foods. Olives. Oranges. Sugar-free dark chocolate. And I listened to a podcast on mindful eating; now I am much more aware of WHAT I am eating and the size of portion, as I now compare those portions to my palm and hand.
Lesson learned for me is simply this: take VERY specific actions to change behavior quickly, after you write down and share your goals. Review your progress weekly, and then re-evaluate every 90 days.  Simply ask yourself, how did you do? If you progress and achieve at 75-80% success rate, pat yourself on the back, and continue your progress.  Kudos to YOU!

Your Outlook Matters!

Are you a Woman in Leadership in a corporate or entrepreneurial setting? Or do you have a desire to become one? We work with women like you. Women who aspire ‘to sit at the table’ confidently; to run the financial side of business; to lead, collaborate with, and facilitate others; to let ambitions go hand in hand with a good work life balance; and to turn ‘hard work’ into ‘heartwork’, as this propells their leadership.

Our passion is to support/coach women, helping bring out their full potential and taking their leadership to a next level. We focus on the whole person, both work and private life, as we don’t see these as two separate worlds. With our monthly blog, (leveraging examples from our coaching and consulting practices), we provide tips, advice, and new outlooks which will encourage you to move forward. In our blog ‘What’s your top priority?’ we focussed on the importance of putting yourself first (#1), as leadership starts with you. What’s next?! Let’s start with a test.

Test your outlook (Self-Assess)
Answer the following questions with yes or no. We recommend you just follow your heart with your answer, not thinking too long. Tip: why not share your answers with a trusted friend or partner? It may turn out to be the start of your heartwork ‘support-team’.
1. When I wake up, I usually think ‘yes, this is going to be another good day!’.
2. When I receive a ‘bad’ comment, I typically view it as a learning opportunity.
3. I truly believe that not all people have to like me.
4. When my boss wants to have a talk with me, I don’t expect ‘trouble’.
5. When things go wrong or not as planned, I look forward to find the best solutions.

What’s your score?
Did you score four or more yes answers? If so, then there’s a big chance you are the optimistic type who sees the glass as always half-full. With mostly no’s on your list, you are probably the type who’s glass is half-empty or as a person with a pessimistic outlook. Did your answers ‘split’ with 2-3 yes’s or no’s? Then you first have to do some work on self. With a coach, you can explore what makes your answers a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, what’s getting in your way, and find out more about your outlook.

Does it matter? 
Yes! In our practice, we see that optimism facilitates women with their heartwork. Optimists stay focussed, action oriented, and keep moving ahead instead of spiraling down when things do not go the desired way. Optimistic ‘framing’ supports women to sustain themselves on their path to leadership.

Good news!
If optimism does not come naturally to you, the good news is that it can be learned. You can train yourself to be more optimistic, use less energy on negative thoughts, and prevent yourself from spiraling down. In our practice, here’s what we have learned as some tips from other women:
1.    Reflect on what’s really meaningful for you. Listen to your heart and make ‘adaptations’ in your (whole) life, if needed. It ‘brightens up’ your outlook.
2.    If you are a ‘worrier’, list all things you worry about. Which ones can you truly influence? Think of specific actions that will help you influence & solve them,  and then do it!
3.    When something goes wrong, do not think of the worse-case scenario. Instead,  reverse it! As a practice, sketch the positive scenarios first.
4.    Do you often have a little voice in your head that amplifies and/or dispapproves of  every mistake? Talk back and move forward!
5.    Are you an ‘approval junkie’? Then reflect on ‘What makes others opinions more important then my own?!’
6.    Do you avoid conflicts? Remember that conflicts are part of life and not the end of the world. On the contrary, they often lead to the long sought-after solution! Embrace this solution.
7.    Is your environment a bit ‘gloomy’? Then step out of this environment regularly. How? By meeting new people and doing new things. Like siging up of an art or fitness class, doing community work, reading inspiring books and articles…….
8.     Go the appreciative way: look for what works, instead of what does not work. It ‘opens up’ new possibilities and changes your worldview.

Just do it
It is this ‘simplicity’ which will make the tips effective. At the same time, this is the ‘difficult’ part. It requires letting go of old habits, exploring new territories, and adapting your framework. Yes, this is a challenging process and it may take some practicing. Where do you start? It all starts with a choice: choosing yourself and engaging in heartwork. Once you have taken this leap, practice is the key. Take many small steps (instead of one big step). Be aware of ‘overdoing’ it, as being too optimistic often leads to excuses. With all that in mind, just imagine what could happen if you go the optimistic way? Do not stop there, just do it!

Note: Authors Maleene de Ridder and Jen Wilfong are passionate about developing women as leaders. They embrace purposeful balance, wellness and ongoing learning, as well as leveraging global trends to further their coaching & consulting businesses. Both are certified coaches from the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, CA. For more information, check them out on the web at www.maleenederidder.com and www.jenwilfong.com

Get Connected!

Are you a Woman in Leadership in a corporate or entrepreneurial setting? Or do you have a desire to become one? We work with women like you: those who aspire ‘to sit at the table’ confidently; to run the financial side of business; to lead, collaborate with, and facilitate others, and to let ambitions go hand in hand with a good work life balance. Women who want to turn hard work into heartwork as this propels their leadership.

Our passion is to support/coach women to help bring out their full potential and take their leadership to a next level. We focus on the whole person, both work and private life, as we don’t see these as two separate ‘worlds’. With our monthly blog, from our coaching and consulting practices, we provide tips, advice, and new outlooks which will encourage you to move forward. We started with “What’s your top priority?” and focused on the importance of putting yourself first (#1), as leadership starts with you. The second “Your Outlook Matters” blog underlined the importance of optimistic ‘framing’. As nobody does it alone, this third blog is about the relationships you build along your way to leadership. We see that women with strong networks and the ability to connect benefit from it. Personally, and professionally, and their team benefits, too!

Use your Connecting Talent

Connectedness is the core to heartwork. It is essential to your sense of meaning and fulfillment. A leader with strong connections can share this with her colleagues and team members, and by doing so, inspire others to commit to the work. So it can work both ways, as employees thrive on the support from the person they work for. It gives the leader the most important support she can get: commitment from her ‘team’.

Most women are natural ‘relationship builders’ and most are focused on inclusiveness. These strengths can make women extremely effective leaders, capable of mobilizing talent and inspiring commitment. With our clients, we see many women under utilize their connecting talents in an effective way to network for work for them. Why? Women tend to build deep relationships and therefore have a relatively small network. Men, on the other hand, tend to build broader and shallower networks, making them more visible and thus have a wider range of resources available for career opportunities. Furthermore, many women do not allocate the time to build professional networks. Main reasons are their home responsibilities and ‘aversion’ to networking. To be an effective leader, women need to use their connecting skills intentionally and do business networking actively. It is not optional; it is a must to turn your connecting talent into a value.

Become a Connector

Connecting starts with you. Read our blog ‘What’s your top priority?’ on how to connect to the things that are meaningful to you and what makes work heartwork for you. Connecting with the people inside and outside your organization starts by recognizing and ‘reading’ one’s own and others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence (EQ) plays an important role in this regard. It requires awareness of emotions and the effects of it on self and others, managing those emotions, and building relationships by the ability to inspire, influence and develop others. The good news is that EQ competencies are not innate talents, but rather learned capabilities that must be worked on and can be developed to achieve outstanding performance.

Start smart

Where to start? First step is to ‘assess’ your own EQ. Explore and note how you read your own and others’ emotions? And then assess how you manage your and others’ emotions? Start with your strengths. Other actions to become a connector might include:

– Ask instead of tell. It makes people feel worthwhile and creates followers;

– Practice inclusiveness;

– Build a broad network with lots of casual connections;

– Use your network on a regular basis. How? By ‘giving and taking’;

– Find a sponsor.

CV becomes Connecting Value

Leaders who are motivated to work on both their EQ, as well as their network, will strengthen and enlarge their connecting value and improve their leadership. For them, this CV will matter more than their other CV (resume). What’s your next step?

Note: Authors Maleene de Ridder and Jen Wilfong are passionate about developing women as leaders. They embrace purposeful balance, wellness and ongoing learning, as well as leveraging global trends to further their coaching & consulting businesses. Both certified coaches from the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, CA. For more information, check them out on the web at www.maleenederidder.com and www.jenwilfong.com

Can Leaders Become Master Gardeners?

As I began planting flowers this spring, I noticed a lot of similarities between developing businesses (and people) and growing a garden. My grandmother had a natural green thumb; she just knew how to get plants to take root and grow. She passed her love of gardening on to my mother. Mom has won numerous garden show awards by showing flowers and arrangements from her English-like gardens in the country. As for me, I can only hope to be as accomplished as they both were with their gardening skills, since I thoroughly enjoy working in my yard, especially with flower containers, and in community gardens, routinely checking out the multitude of flower beds. However, as I work in those beds, I find that I am using it as time to fine tune how I might help develop businesses and the people who make those businesses grow.

Here are the similarities that I notice between gardening and growing people and businesses:

Cultivate the soil. As you get ready to start your businesses, preparation is key. You may pull all-nighters thinking about the idea. You might provide a business plan to your banker, your partner or investors. You might even work for a competitor to learn and establish your own secret sauce. The key here is prep. The seed might just take root if the soil is cultivated just right.

Plant the seed. Once the prep is done, it’s time to plant the seed and get the business growing. Be watchful, to ensure the seed or idea sprouts. However, be patient and allow time for the business or person to grow. All things take time, but all things need a bit of attention, too. Be very selective with people; like seeds, they’ll grow best where the soil is ready and the support is easily available.

Water it/let it rain. Flowers and plants need the right amount of moisture, or they can’t produce nutrients for themselves. Water is the No. 1 need for plants and humans. How can you keep your employees fluid and engaged, bringing their ideas forward and solving problems quickly? Whatever you do, don’t let your people or your business idea dry up.

Sunshine. The sun is the most amazing star, at the center of the solar system. It gives plants, flowers, and people rays of hope. Employees need encouragement and recognition. Businesses need to see lights at the end of the tunnels. We all embrace sunrises and sunsets because of their simplistic beauty. Give your business and employees plenty of sun!

Fertilize appropriately. Every now and then, we all need an extra dose of something. A flower container might be stagnant, but with a shot of fertilizer, it can grow to a whole new height. Employees and business owners who gather advice, mentoring and coaching along the way have a better chance of having a growth spurt than those who don’t ask for feedback.

Remove the weeds. As business grows, you may have to eliminate some products, services, locations or employees. Toxic employees, processes, ideas or suffocating customers can kill growth. Just like a flower or vegetable garden, don’t allow the weeds to take over your harvest.

Just like gardening, there is rarely a magical fix when developing successful businesses and people. It takes continual good decisions with a mixture of appropriate actions for a business and employee to thrive. Too much of one thing can quickly overcome a business (or a garden). Be watchful and attentive; but once you have it figured out, watch it grow to an amazing garden/business/employee.

After a while, a flower garden can become overgrown. The gardener then splits up some of the flowers and transplants them in a new flowerbed. In business, that might mean finding a new location, expanding services or adding new employees to further grow the business. Whether you’re an emerging leader, a woman in leadership, or an entrepreneur, embrace becoming a master gardener for your business!

At 50, Leverage Your Strengths

Today I was prepping for some Strengths Finders training that I will be attending during the week of July 6 in Princeton. In reviewing my strengths that I took back in 2013, I was reminded that discipline is my top strength, closely followed by focus, achiever, responsibility, and learner. Thus, it is probably not a surprise that I am prepping 2-3 weeks in advance, being someone with those discipline, focus, and responsibility strengths.

Before turning 50 in August 2014, my partner and I made the pledge to look good in our photos during our trips to Italy, Chicago, and the lake in the summer of 2014. That pledge really leveraged my strengths of achiever, but also discipline and focus. As we traveled last summer, our snaps turned out great and we felt good in the process of hitting the big 50. We had energy, we enjoyed friends and family, and felt great.

After I turned 50, I quickly became a bit lazy and quit leveraging my discipline strength. I gained weight back, even though we were working out and ran a half marathon in the Fall 2014. But in January 2015, I wrote down: “get in the 150’s (pounds) and stay there.”  By writing that down and embracing my strengths, I have found it easy and focused to eat less this year. And I weigh 8-10 pounds less than I did while on our trips last summer.

I want to be role model of wellness at 50, and so my strength of responsibility is really kicking in right now. The self esteem burst of “look good, feel great” is worth the effort to the daily rejection of sweets, desserts, extra helpings, and that extra drink. My focus on wellness is delivering on this:  Be happy. Be healthy. Be connected. Be grateful. Be well. Be encouraged. Be a role model.

What are your strengths? I bet you are using them at work. But how about in your personal life and with your own well being? My hope for you is that you deploy your strengths routinely in your blended life of home, play, family, friends, faith, and yes, at work.

Volunteering Catapults You & Your Career

Are you stuck in your role at work? Are you missing opportunities to get that promotion? Are you not viewed as a leader yet? Your answer could be as simple as volunteering. Every time I volunteer, it helps me build my network and further my career. It has also made me better and more informed as a leader and community member. Let me share a few examples.

In 1987-1988, a mid-level leader asked me to coach basketball with him, as his daughters were on the team. After declining a couple times, I finally agreed (after someone else encouraged me to do it). Our results with these middle school girls helped change their lives; they won more games during those two years than they ever had in the past. Many of the girls said that winning improved their confidence levels. As for my takeaway, the mid-level leader I coached with became a senior executive a few years later and was a strong supporter of mine during my entire career.

In 1993, a senior executive asked me to help manage the United Way (UW) of Middle Tennessee campaign for our financial services company. This was my first experience working with a national non-profit organization and it was also the first time a campaign had been run at this Company. We accomplished a spike in giving to United Way by our employees and leaders, and they also became involved in additional volunteer opportunities. UW of Middle TN recognized our Company for being an outstanding first time campaign. My takeaway? The senior executive who asked me to run the campaign became one of my biggest and longest supporters in the Company.

In 2000 I lost my battle with ulcerative colitis. I began walking to raise money for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). I quickly realized that walking actually helped me feel better physically. I also noticed that as I asked people to donate to CCFA, it gave me the opportunity to refine my message, i.e. “why am I involved in CCFA”. This helped me when I spoke to all size groups. Within a few years, speaking became a strength for me. When I launched my own non-profit and scholarship fund (Can Do 4:13 Scholarship & Mentoring Program), the practice I received with CCFA gave me the confidence to state my goals for Can Do, including why I created the program, and why people should donate. I utilized these same skills as I articulated business plans and marketing strategies as a senior leader in my Company.

Because of my work with CCFA and Can Do, a fast moving leader (who also was a previous boss) asked me to replace him as a Board Member at the Community Foundation of Central Illinois in 2005. This was a huge step for me, as I had never been on a Board. The role had fiduciary responsibility, as well as being more aware of what was going on in the community because we selected grants to distribute. The experience helped me improve my financial business acumen, clarify my values, and refine my message on my passions. Fast forward to 2010; guess who my new boss was? That same leader who recommended me for the Board position.

Volunteering and continually being nudged along by key influencers definitely helped my career. More important than my career, it helped me become a better, more informed and caring woman. So what’s getting in your way of volunteering? Are you a woman in leadership or an emerging leader? If you want to build your network, increase sales or make a difference, pick a volunteer opportunity that you are passionate about, or have a leader/colleague/friend gently nudge you along. It just might catapult you and your career to new heights.

Why I like the NFL? Vision and Role Clarity

Why do I love the NFL? It is a great mixture of world class athletes, intense and emotional competition, vision and strategy, precise execution, fan interaction, and big business.  For example:

It’s emotional. Only one team wins the big prize annually. The Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy is adorned; grown men have tears in their eyes while they embrace that trophy like their own child, after winning the Super Bowl.  For teams who don’t follow the rules, they get penalized. Teams lose players to short and long term injuries, which can be devastating to the player, the entire team, the fans and the owner’s bottom line.  Players are locked out. Referees are too. Owners balk, and then agree. Egos abound!

It’s consistent. During the fall and early winter, the games are all day every Sunday and Monday evening.  And now every Thursday. Although lifestyles are very busy, millions of fans routinely make time to watch this #1 sport in America.

It embraces strategy. The owners are willing to invest a lot of money into players, coaches, fans, and facilities, to get a higher return on their investment.  During the games, the teams have gameplans (strategies) on how to prepare, compete, and win. Countless hours are spent in the film rooms AND on the field prepping for the competition as well as honing the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

It’s about leadership.  Each small group on every NFL team has a coach. Sure, there is a head coach.  But there are also running back and linebacker coaches.  There are owners and general managers. If all of these leaders are executing with precision to the strategy, it can be magical.

It’s all about execution. The team that executes with precision, wins. Execution is difficult to do, but easy to identify when it is done right. Whether it is scoring with 12 seconds to go in the first half to take a lead in to halftime or defending a goal line stance during the last two minutes, you know execution when you see it.

It’s about change. It is interesting how quickly a team can come together, even though EVERY team roster changes annually. Audibles are utilized and implemented within seconds after the offense reviews the defense stance.   Each player has to perform and adjust as the game develops.

It’s about role clarity. It is fascinating to see how each player clearly knows his role on each play. A wide receiver runs his route, with timing and yardage completely in sync with his quarterback’s release of a throw.  The offensive lineman block to protect the quarterback and to help gain yardage for the running back. The special teams help block for the punt returner. The athletic trainer and doctors know when to administer what treatment for injuries and pain.

It’s hi-tech. The stadiums are electric with big screen replays of nearly every play. Fantasy football allows the fan to build and manage his own team, anytime, anywhere. Nearly every game can be viewed ubiquitously, whether on a mobile device, laptop, via the internet or satellite TV. Games can be watched later in either full or 30 minute versions.

It gets people together. In the fall of 2011, 23 of the top 25 shows viewed were NFL games. And in many cases, these NFL games are watched in groups of fans who are eating, talking, and drinking together. Tailgating starts on early Sunday mornings in the stadium parking lots and goes well beyond the end of the game.   Camping in the woods and parks has now moved to asphalt parking lots near stadiums.

It’s about patience.  The teams who consistently perform at the highest levels are the teams with lack of turnover. For example, the NY Giants have remained committed to Tom Coughlin even though the NY press wants to fire him annually. Coughlin’s answer? Two Super Bowls in five years. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been in the hunt for decades, with the same family leading the franchise and purposefully selecting coaches who embrace their values. The Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers were truly dominating in the 1970s’s and 1980’s, respectively, with steady ownership, coaches, and quarterbacks.  The New England Patriots have an owner in Robert Kraft and coach in Bill Belichick that trust one another and demonstrate excellence year after year.  The Green Bay Packers fans are the most loyal in the business, as they own the team. That is not going to change.

It’s BIG business.  Billions of dollars in television rights across five networks (NBC, FOX, CBS, ESPN, and NFL Network) and stadiums worth hundreds of million dollars grab the attention of fans, hopes and dreams of children, and other businesses who want to be a part of the NFL picture to broaden their brand.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that high-performing teams on the court/field and in business have the ability to perform at a very high level because each and every person on the team clearly knows the vision and their role, and executes it with precision.  In today’s business world, role clarity and execution are becoming more and more important, as the room for error is so slim due to increased governance, regulations,  shareholder and customer expectations.  Is your team operating at a level that meets your vision? If not, identifying your vision and further clarifying roles might be the first steps to address.  The NFL demonstrates this every week, on five different TV networks, with 32 teams owned by 32 different men in 32 different locations, with 53 players, who all know their role. Complexity in business can be overcome by a clear vision and role clarity. The NFL is a living and successful example.