A Bizarre 2020: The Good And The Bad

We prepare to close the books on what has been a most bizarre year. For most of us, probably the most bizarre year of our lives! For me, this seems a good time to reflect on 2020, and think about how to get 2021 off to the best possible start.

One of the best ways to improve results is to plan better. There’s more on that at the end of this message. Here, I will recommend primarily that you examine your personal habits. Make a conscious decision to develop more good ones and improve on those you have. You probably also have some habits that don’t serve you well. Decide to eliminate them!

This week I started this message by recommending a book that can be a great help in building new habits and ending the ones that aren’t serving you well. I’ll discuss that book in more detail next week. Here’s the link to its listing on Amazon.

Meanwhile, I want to take this week to remind us all of the value of reflection and planning to improve.

Whenever we’re faced with a challenge, it’s helpful to look for the benefits that come with it. As Napoleon Hill reminded us, within every adversity, there’s the seed of equal or greater opportunity. So look for that seed! Figure out how to make lemonade when lemons are delivered, even if by the truckload.

Let’s look at the particular example of COVID-19:

  • Can you find a way to react that improves your relative market position?
  • Was there an improvement that was in the back of your mind, and this has stimulated you to make it?
  • Have you been able to reduce costs with fewer in-person meetings, internally and with prospects/clients?
  • Will you be able to reduce office space as you continue with remote work for many?
  • Are your employees enjoying less commuting time and expense? Do you help them see and appreciate that benefit?

Of course no review would be complete without also reviewing the challenges we faced. While we’re looking at those, let’s also think about how, and how well, we met those challenges.

What happens is a fact. Remember that each of us is responsible. Responsible for recognizing the full truth of what happened. Responsible for how we react to it. Responsible for the outcome of the situation.

With that preface, how did you respond to:

  • The news of the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • The quarantine and shelter-in-place mandates?
  • Whatever disruption to your business resulted from all this?
  • The disruptions to your personal and family life?
  • The difficulty of travel?
  • Any other challenges you personally faced as a result, or not, of COVID-19?

Challenges On Your Team’s Performance!

2020 has been a challenging year. No disputing that! Likely, it’s been more challenging for many of your team members than for you personally. Or maybe you’ve had your own major challenges. In any case, what’s important is limiting the impact of those challenges on your company’s performance.

Gary Vaynerchuk, Chairman of VaynerX, and CEO of VaynerMedia, has some thoughts on how to accomplish that. Marcel Schwantes discusses those thoughts here.

As in all things in life and business, taking responsibility for what happens is key. As a business owner, you’re probably well aware of the importance of that fact. Your employees may or may not be.

If you have team members underperforming, there’s a pretty good chance they’re distracted by personal challenges. Here are some thoughts on how that’s best handled.

One possibility, of course, is to replace the low performer. There are at least three good reasons to find other options:

  • It’s expensive! That could well add to the challenges to the company.
  • Who knows what challenges will be facing the new hire? You could be “jumping out of the frying pan into the fire!”
  • It will surely add to whatever difficulties the employee might be facing. I hope the employees’ welfare is important to you!

Assuming that last comment is true – that you care about your employees’ well-being – what’s important is finding ways to help your team member through whatever he or she is facing. That’s part of your responsibility! And it’s where Gary’s suggestions may help.

There’s one way you can help them that requires only coaching. You can help them see the value of taking individual responsibility. That will, under any circumstances, lay the groundwork for whatever their specific situation requires. I recently wrote an article that may assist with that effort.

Within every diversity is the seed of equal or greater opportunity.

– Napoleon Hill quote

This is a concept doubly important in the current times.

Make A Decision!

Several months ago, we heard (literally, if you listened to the interview) from Dr. Benjamin Hardy. Ben is a coach who has been a great help in my becoming a better version of myself.

In this issue, I’ll focus on one particular idea he mentioned in that interview. I recently made this the topic of my monthly message to the managers of La Estancia de Cafayate, my home in Argentina.

Will Power Doesn’t Work!

That’s the title of Ben’s recent book (also note his other books down the page), and one of his central themes.

Have you tried to: 

Quit smoking?

Get up one hour earlier every morning?

Exercise every day or 3 or 4 days per week?

Stop eating chocolate, or stop drinking coffee?

Has it worked? Many people find that they gradually slip back into old patterns after a few days or a few weeks. Is that you?

Old habits are hard to change. We live in patterns. It’s natural for humans to do that.

Here’s a way that works. Make a decision! Once you’ve made a firm decision, never deviate from it. If you’ve decided not to eat chocolate, you don’t ever eat chocolate – not on your birthday – not on someone else’s birthday – not on Christmas – never!. You live by the decision 100% of the time and never consider anything else.

The difficulty for most people is that they’re constantly plagued by “decision fatigue”. They have to decide at every turn if now is one of the times they eat the chocolate. You must close off all alternatives to your new way of being. The decision is made, and it’s final. You never look back. Will power has nothing to do with it! You never have to decide again.

Struggling to change a pattern in your life? I would love to hear how this suggestion helps you. It’s certainly relieved me of much decision fatigue. In recent months I’ve:

  • Taken a one-minute cold shower every morning.
  • Risen every morning at the time I decided on the night before. On every workday, unless something unusual happened the night before, it’s 5:00 AM.
  • Fasted for 24 hours each week.
  • Written in my journal every day. In the evening I review the day and plan the next day. In the morning I review my sleep pattern, the new day’s plan, my “future self” plan, and my gratitude.

These are all significant changes in my previous patterns. I was able to incorporate them with very little difficulty, simply by deciding to, with commitment. Eliminating in my mind any other alternative.

The “Elon Musk Leadership” Effect!

The business world, and its observers, have been awed by Elon Musk’s wild success in business. As you probably know, he recently rose to the rank of second wealthiest man in the world. This is largely due to the increase in market value of Tesla’s stock.

Of course, the meteoric rise in Tesla’s stock price has been, at least in part, due to Musk’s visionary leadership of his team. If we look deep enough in any high-performing company, we nearly always find good leadership.

Recently I came across an article showing an example of Musk’s leadership style. Here’s Minda Zetlin, one of my favorite Inc. contriubutors, describing his recent superb communication with his team.

At Tesla, Inc., every employee has the opportunity to share in the company ownership through stock options. This is important to note in seeing the value of the email Minda describes in her article.

His email says, in essence, “We must not rest on our laurels and get loose with our wealth. We got where we are by producing and selling good electric cars cost-effectively. Our stockholders are betting on our ability to improve that capability. We must not disappoint them.”

He continues, “To maintain and increase our value to investors, including you, we must find ways to improve our cost-effectiveness while maintaining quality. Saving $0.20 or 0.50 per car is significant. Saving $5.00 per car is a home run”.

It mystifies me why so many companies fail to cut their employees in on a piece of the action. They can do that by means of an ownership stake, or a meaningful profit-sharing scheme. What better way to incent them to operate efficiently, and cooperate with their colleagues in that effort?

Businesses succeed long term by producing more value in their customers’ eyes than the prices they charge. They do that through the efforts of team members who produce more value than their wages. That’s how everyone wins in business!

Don’t Stress It!

24/7 high-level stress!


Start-up founders are famous for thinking they can work this way indefinitely.

Here’s the story of the co-founders of Front, who believed they could handle it, until…

One developed cancer. The other had a breakdown that left her unable to function for months.

When they were able to get their attention back on their business, they found that everything was working well. Their attention was needed for growth though.

From all this, they learned a few things.

  • Their attention wasn’t necessary in day-to-day operations.
  • The business needed their vision and planning to grow. Their attention mattered in the big picture – less so in the small picture.
  • Everyone from top to bottom functioned more effectively in a more relaxed environment. The frenetic “workaholic” approach of their earlier days wasn’t so effective.
  • Demonstrating vulnerability to your employees is a wonderful morale-builder.

These lessons are frequently ignored in Silicon Valley’s famously “high-octane” atmosphere. Many company builders would benefit from the lessons Collin and Perrin learned at such great pain.

Pretty much every human activity, other than breathing and pumping blood, benefits from regular rest and recuperation.