Such encouraging words from Nelson Mandela. He continues, “Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” While these words were written more than 20 years ago, they still ring true today. Most importantly, these words should give hope to our society. Hope that one day, we can all learn to love a little more and hate a little less.
Nelson Mandela was a prisoner at Robben Island for 18 years. In 1982, he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. Despite the terrible conditions that he lived in at Robben Island, change was not easy. He writes, “I have always found change difficult, and leaving Robben Island, however grim it had been at times, was no exception.” Change is difficult for all of us at times. We get comfortable with where we are in life. We get used to the idea of our current situation. But complacency robs us of our fullest potential. It tells us that we are fine. Complacency says, “You could make more money and be more successful, but it is probably not worth the stress.” And so, we maintain our current situation. Looking back on the past year, where have you grown complacent? What would have been different had you pushed ahead for change?
One can measure the quality of a leader by their accomplishments. Real leaders produce results. Those who are unable to produce results are not really leading. And yet, sometimes the results of a leader’s actions are not always known. Because sometimes, the best course of action is taken in private, behind the scenes. Not because a great leader must be sneaky or manipulative. On the contrary, the best leaders often act with a disinterest in public credit for their achievements. The primary goal of a great leader is the greater good of the organization. They are more interested in advancing their team than in their personal achievements. So they unselfishly lead their organizations, giving credit to the entire team when an achievement is known. They know that sometimes an achievement is reached that only they can appreciate.
Are you waiting for the perfect time to make your move? Perhaps you are considering starting a new business. Maybe you want to expand your current business into a new market or launch a new product. Or maybe you desire to find a better job. Whatever it is, the timing will never be perfect. Stop waiting. Don’t procrastinate another day. Take some time and decide whether you should make a change or not. If the answer is yes, then make your plans and set a definite timeline for completion. No, you should not quit your job today. But start doing the things you need to do so you can quit your job tomorrow, next week, or next month. Still having trouble committing? Be careful asking others their opinions. Instead, seek out a mentor or coach to help you work through the issue to make the best decision for you.
The best companies recognize customer expectations, manage customer expectations, and exceed customer expectations. And these companies are rewarded with a loyal, zealous customer base. Their customers become their biggest advocates. They offer word-of-mouth advertising, testimonials, and reviews on social media, Google, and product sales sites. But the majority of companies promise more than they deliver. And while most customers will forgive you for one failure, you will be held accountable for routine failures. As in, customers will find someone else to do business with. Because ultimately, regardless of the industry you are in, you cannot maintain respect with your customers if you do not keep the promises that you make. Great companies know the importance of delivery. They meet the expectations set at the beginning of a contract. Most importantly, if their contract terms are not competitive, they make internal adjustments. They do not make promises they cannot keep.
Nelson Mandela believed education could make anyone succeed. “It is through education that… a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation.” Want to know how to succeed? Seek out every opportunity to improve your self. Dedicate yourself to a lifetime of growth and personal learning. Your success is driven in part by everyday opportunities to learn. So, never shun the opportunity to learn something new. You never know when a new skill will open a door to a new possibility. Or maybe open a door to the opportunity to learn even more. Just look at how successful people spend their time reading and learning in subjects far beyond their field. Fortunately for us today, learning opportunities abound. Take an online class, listen to a podcast. Seek out the opportunity to learn something new today. You never know where your knowledge will take you tomorrow.
Everyone has told fibs, half-truths, and white lies. Especially when we were younger, when experience had not had the opportunity to teach us the dangers of omitting the truth. And fear took over our better judgment. Now that we are adults, we should shed these childhood habits and embrace the whole truth as the only way to deal with others. Because the only way to be successful is to treat everyone you meet with respect. And respect dictates that you are truthful with others. In contrast, falsehood represents a contempt for others. It shows that others cannot be bothered with, do not deserve, or cannot be trusted with the entire truth. Long lasting, deep relationships are never built on falsehood. So, the next time life confronts you with the temptation to skirt the truth, remember that only the truth will lead you to a lifetime of success.
Live long enough, and eventually, you will consider your legacy. Sam Walton will always be remembered as the founder of Wal-Mart. Yes, there are many good things that he was able to accomplish with his wealth. But Wal-Mart will always be first in everyone’s mind. Sam Walton worked hard all his life. And at the end of his life, when he was suffering from cancer, he naturally looked back and wondered. Did he make the best decisions in his life? His conclusion, as recorded in Made in America, was yes, he made the best decisions. He would not change a thing. Which is wonderful. A life without regrets is a life well lived. What about you? Will you look back at your life and think that you did the best you could? What regrets will you have? Don’t wait until it is too late to make a change.
While it is awesome when your employees buy in to your company’s culture and way of doing things, this buy-in can become a weakness. Employees start to believe that your way is the only way. This is especially true for employees who have only worked for your company. When you hear these employees say things like, “we have always done it this way,” you know you have a problem. Sam Walton was a big believer in experimentation. As he adapted new ideas, he forced his employees to adapt to change. I guess you could say that change became an important part of Wal-Mart’s culture. So as Wal-Mart grew, new ideas were adapted and old ideas were discarded. And Wal-Mart became a company of change. Yes, they experienced may growing pains. But management did not allow these growing pains to stop them. They made changes. And the company grew.
When Wal-Mart started growing, they did not have much of a distribution system, especially when compared to their competitors. Out of necessity, the company made the decision to only add stores within a day’s drive of a distribution center. While the competitors were haphazardly adding stores across the nation, Wal-Mart was growing from a central point, saturating the market as they expanded outward. This strategy had many unexpected benefits, such as lower advertising costs due to market saturation. But the most important thing about how Wal-Mart had to grow was management’s recognition of the advantages. In The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday wrote, “Great individuals, like great companies, find a way to transform weakness into strength.” For Wal-Mart, their weakness was a poor distribution system. But instead of internally blaming each other for their situation, management found a way to grow and developed their way into a winning strategy.
Like it or not, the people you hire will be the face of your company. As such, they will have a tremendous effect on your overall success story. Their interactions with your customers will determine whether you succeed or fail. Because unhappy employees will make unhappy customers. And unhappy customers will go somewhere else. As a business owner, you need to attract the right people to work for your organization. And the right people want to work for someone who takes an interest in their employees and provides a positive work environment. Sam Walton identified taking care of his employees as the “most important single ingredient of Wal-Mart’s success.” It is that important. So, if you have unhappy customers, look to your employees. Are you taking care of them, or are you neglecting your most valuable asset?
Sam Walton established Wal-Mart with two principles, low prices and satisfaction guaranteed. And he never wavered in his dedication to these principles. In fact, he was a fanatic when it came to having the lowest prices anywhere. Much of Wal-Mart’s early success resulted from this absolute dedication to low prices, not from doing everything right. Actually, there were many, many things that Wal-Mart was not good at in the beginning. But they stuck to their core principles. So, when people shopped at Wal-Mart, they expected low prices. And that is exactly what they received. All too often, businesses fail to understand the one or two core factors that have the greatest potential to drive their success. If you own a small business, what are your core values? What do your customers expect to receive from your company? If you do not know, it is time to start figuring it out.
Everyone experiences failure in life. But not everyone accepts a failure as the end of the road. Sam Walton was the founder of a highly successful retail chain. But he experienced failures, too. He just chose not to quit whenever he failed. Early in Sam Walton’s career, he franchised the Ben Franklin store in Newport, Arkansas. It was a terrible store. But he set a goal to become the most profitable Ben Franklin in Arkansas within five years. And through his hard work, he accomplished his goal. Unfortunately, Sam Walton had only signed a 5-year lease for the property. Now that the store was profitable, the landlord wanted the store and would not renew the lease. So, in the midst of accomplishing his goal, Sam Walton had to walk away from the Newport store. And that could have been the end of the Sam Walton story. But it wasn’t.
Sam Walton was passionate about retail. His passion drove him to create a great company and to achieve unimaginable personal success during his lifetime. No matter where he was working at the time, whether it was for J.C. Penney, as a Ben Franklin franchisee, or as the founder of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton always strived to be the best. Because when you are passionate about your work, you want to be the best. No one can deny the success that Sam Walton achieved. And I do not think anyone can say that Sam Walton’s success was a result of personal circumstances or a lucky break. Sam Walton was just simply a constant competitor driven by a great passion for what he was doing. You may not reach such financial heights by following your passion. But one thing is certain, you will certainly not be successful unless you follow your passion.
You have goals, and you know exactly what you need to do to accomplish them. This knowledge puts you ahead of most of the world. But you are never going to accomplish your goals if you never begin. Franklin was right. Most people do not know what is best for them. Those who do have a difficult time doing what is in their best interest. Whatever it is that is keeping you from beginning, get over it. Waiting for the perfect time, the proper motivation, or the positive attitude is just that. Waiting. Instead, press on towards your goal. Pursue your dreams. Start today.