Position yourself for a promising future

The future ain’t what it used to be.

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges of any life – or any business – is adequately preparing for the future.  Knowing what lies ahead, even with the most thorough research and best available information, is hardly a science.  Tomorrow remains a mystery.  We can make plans, make predictions, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  Sometimes we get lucky.  How do we ensure that those “lucky” days happen more often than not?

itoynbr001p1At the age of 81, historian Arnold Toynbee reflected upon life as he had known it. He said:  “As one grows older, the temptation to dwell on the past and to avert one’s eyes from the future grows.  If one were to fall into this backward-looking stance, one would be as good as dead before physical death had overtaken us.

“Our minds, so long as they keep their cutting edge, are not bound by our physical limits; they can range over time and space into infinity.  To be human is to be capable of transcending oneself.”

Humans have demonstrated hope for the future since Adam.  Planting a tree, building sturdy shelters, populating the planet – all showed optimism for the future.  European explorers braved uncharted seas and flat earth skeptics to reach the New World.  American pioneers pushed westward in search of a better future for themselves.

Did they have a business plan?  Were their actions based on the latest research?  Were they brave risk-takers?  No, no, and yes.  Because the future involves taking risks.

But there are some steps you can take to minimize risks before you jump in with both feet.  Whether you hope to start your own business, plan to rise to the top of the organization you currently work for, or just want to support your employer’s success the best you can, understanding how a business grows and survives is central to a successful career.  These factors will influence your fortunes and your organization’s growth over the long haul:

  • Trust.  At every level of your organizations, insist that workers understand the importance of keeping their word and living up to your values.  Customers and co-workers want to know they can depend on you.
  • Decisiveness.  Learn to make decisions promptly instead of waiting for every last piece of data.  An imperfect decision that you can correct later is almost always better than a right answer that comes too late.
  • Competition.  Study your market and get to know everything you can about other players in your industry.  You don’t want to be caught off guard by a rival’s new idea, and you don’t want to always be on the defensive against what the competition is up to.
  • Records.  Document your activities thoroughly.  Good records help you preserve ideas, establish your credibility, and prove your point when the facts aren’t clear.  This applies to finances, employees, ideas, and everything else you and your organization are responsible for.
  • Network.  Build relationships and connections with a wide variety of people in and out of your industry.  Your network can be a source of ideas, employees, and advice, so take the time to build it up.  Don’t miss any opportunity to meet new people who can help you, and make sure you are available to return the favor.
  • Patience.  Concentrate on incremental progress. Overnight sensations and blockbuster victories are usually optical illusions facilitated by months or years of quiet effort.  Establishing a habit of slow but steady success will build everyone’s confidence and minimize risk.
  • Risk.  Sometimes you simply must take a risk to move forward.  With all the other factors solidly established, you should be in position to predict potential success.
  • Optimism.  Maintain a positive attitude rather than an outlook of impending doom.  The future looks brightest for those who look for the bright side.

A long time ago, I discovered the following mantra which helps me focus on my future.  It is a simple formula that links the present to the unknown.   The words vary, but the sentiments have been attributed to a number of great planners such as Mahatma Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher, among others.

Watch your thoughts for they become your actions.

Watch your actions for they become your habits.

Watch your habits for they become your character.

Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.


Mackay’s Moral:  We may not be able to predict the future, but we can prepare for it. 

March is Women’s History Month

A man and his father are traveling by car.  The car stalls at some railroad tracks.  A train comes along and hits the car.  The father is killed instantly.  The man is severely injured.  They take the man to the hospital.  The surgeon takes one look at the man and says, “I can’t operate on this man.  He is my son!”

How can that be?

Answer:  The surgeon is his mother.

I’ve been posing this riddle during many of my speeches for years and asking how many people got it.  The number of hands that shoot up has increased dramatically.  Today it is nearly 30-40 percent.  Fifteen years ago it was only 5-10 percent.  Hopefully 10-15 years from now it will be near 100 percent.

Womens-history-month-450pxWhy do I bring this up?  March is Women’s History Month to highlight the contributions of women in history and contemporary society.  International Women’s Day is March 8.

It’s interesting to note that Women’s History Month traces its beginnings back to 1911 when the California school district of Sonoma started a Women’s History Week.  But it wasn’t until 1980 that President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week.

The proclamation stated:  “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation.  Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed.  But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well ….”

Throughout the next several years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as Women’s History Week.  In 1987, March was officially declared Women’s History Month by Congress.

Make no mistake; women have always worked in this country.  But they became most visible during World War II, when women worked on the production lines in factories that manufactured many of the supplies for the war effort.  Remember Rosie the Riveter and the motto commonly associated with her image?  “We can do it.”  But those jobs returned largely to men after 1945, and there was a perception that women were no longer qualified for those jobs. It took another 30 years to establish that skills, not gender, determine the ability to perform on the job.  As Faith Whittlesey observed, “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.”

Women have been fighting to prove their worth in the workplace for generations.  The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 1970s signaled a real turning point.  Progress has been steady, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

Here are the stats from just a few months ago from colleges and universities across the United States.

  • 61% of all the pharmacy graduates are women
  • 63% of the auditors and accountants are women
  • 41% of MBA students are women
  • 47% in law school are women
  • 48% in medical school are women

The number of women entrepreneurs is multiplying two to four times faster than men, depending on which part of the country you study.  Last year 74% of all start-up companies were women.  According to Carlson Wagonlit Travel, women business travelers will equal their male counterparts in three to five years, up from 18 percent 25 years ago.

The statistic that really grabs my attention is that women entrepreneurs and business owners employ more people than the Fortune 500 companies combined.

In June 2009, women held 49.83 percent of the country’s 132 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and their numbers are growing in the few sectors of the economy that are expanding.  In health care, for example, women have accounted for 79 percent of jobs gained (4.52 million), whereas men represent just 1.18 million new jobs.  In government, women hold 94 percent of jobs created (1.76 million), and men account for 12,000 new jobs.

Still, salary disparities persist, although the gap is narrowing.  Just not quickly enough.

I like the story about a first grade teacher who asked her students to fill in the blanks on famous sayings.  On the blackboard, the teacher wrote, “A miss is as good as a ________.”  Immediately a little girl raised her hand, stood beside her desk, and said proudly, “A miss is as good as a mister.”


Mackay’s Moral:  History is herstory too.

Great stories make great management lessons

President Abraham Lincoln was once criticized for referring to the Confederates in kind terms.  A woman critic asked the President how he could speak generously of his enemies when he should rather destroy them.

“Why, Madam,” replied Lincoln, “Do I not destroy them when I make them my friends?”

The moral of the story:  Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.

Few people have had the ability to tell stories to illustrate points like our 16th president.  I love good stories that teach a lesson.  Here are a few of my favorites.

genie-lampLesson 1:  A sales rep, an assistant and their manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp.  They rub it and a Genie comes out.  The Genie says, “I’ll give each of you just one wish.”

“Me first!” says the assistant.  “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.”  Poof!  She’s gone.

“Me next!” says the sales rep.  “I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of piña coladas and the love of my life.”  Poof!  He’s gone.

“OK, you’re up,” the Genie says to the manager.  The manager says, “I want those two back in the office after lunch.”

Moral:  Always let your boss have the first say.

Lesson 2:  An old man, a boy and a donkey were going to town.  The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked.  As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding.  The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people who remarked, “What a shame; he makes that little boy walk.”  They then decided they both would walk!

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride.  So they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed people who shamed them by saying how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey.  The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey.  As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal, and he fell into the river and drowned.

Moral:  You can’t please everyone, so don’t try. 

Lesson 3:   A frog asked two geese to take him south with them.  At first they resisted; they didn’t see how it could be done.  Finally, the frog suggested that the two geese hold a stick in their beaks and that he would hold on to it with his mouth.

So off the unlikely threesome went, flying south over the countryside.  It was quite a sight.  People looked up and expressed great admiration at this demonstration of creative

Someone said, “It’s wonderful!  Who was so clever to discover such a fine way to travel?”  Whereupon the frog opened his mouth and said, “It was I,” as he plummeted to the earth.

Moral:  There is no “I” in team.

Lesson 4:  An empress with no children decided to hold a competition to determine who would succeed her when she died.  She summoned all the children in the city to her palace and gave each one a seed.  “Plant this seed, care for it, and in one year bring back the flower that grows from it.  Whoever brings me the most beautiful flower will be the next empress.”

One young girl planted her seed in a pot and watered it every day, but nothing grew.  At the end of the year she was devastated, but on the day set for inspection of the flowers she picked up her pot and carried it to the palace.

All the other children brought colorful, vibrant flowers, but the empress only glanced at them.  She walked straight to the young girl and smiled.  “All the seeds I gave you had been boiled and were dead.  Only you were honest enough to bring back the original seed I gave you.  You will be a just and wise empress.”

Moral:   Tell the truth, even when it seems easier not to.

Great stories bring real life to essential lessons.  They illustrate difficult situations.  With practice, you might be the next Aesop!


Mackay’s Moral:  The real moral of this fable is that stories are a “fabulous” way to teach and learn!

Integrity needs no rules

When Janet looked at her pay stub, she was pleasantly surprised to learn that her company had deposited more than her normal wages into her bank account.  However, on the next payday, her paycheck was significantly less than what it should have been, and she went to her boss to complain.

“I’m curious,” her boss said, “Why didn’t you say anything when we overpaid you the other week?”

Janet responded:  “I was willing to overlook one mistake, but two is pushing it.”

Integrity:  either you have it or you don’t.  It’s not something that you can have one day and not the next.  It should be a constant in your life, like brushing your teeth.

I was invited to speak at the third annual Integrity Summit in Phoenix.  Its mission is to significantly increase the integrity quotient in organizations and across the marketplace.  The annual event was co-founded by Jerry Colangelo and Gregg Ostro, who also created the Integrity Business Institute for whom I’m a special adviser.

Integrity Summit 2013’s theme of Inspiring Individual Integrity to Win could not have come at a more critical time.

It seems the anti-heroes – those doing wrong – versus the heroes, who do right, are being promoted and celebrated in America all too often.  Too many messages in the media and across society seem to say that getting what you want – regardless of the means – is just fine.  Well, it isn’t.  You know that and I know that and so must our employees and job applicants.

Cheree McAlpine, chief compliance officer for Avnet, the world’s largest computer parts supplier and a founding sponsor of the Integrity Summit, said:  “Our ability to impact change, drive strategy and our ability to lead are all based on integrity.  Integrity is not that complicated.  It’s not academic.  It’s actually quite simple.  It’s the lessons we have learned to do the right thing; to stand for what we believe in.”

wrong or right ethical questionIntegrity begins at the top.  As leaders we must set the example – that alone inspires our employees to do right.  We must live by it in all we do, starting in the corner offices and promoted and expected throughout the organization, ensuring integrity is first and foremost in our decision-making.  Enduring leaders know that the numbers will be better if integrity is not optional.

Peter Fine, CEO of event sponsor Banner Health, said:  “If you’re going to be an organization of integrity, you have to communicate what that means to employees on an ongoing basis.  The integrity of our employees is the very best selling tool.”

I think it’s smart business to recognize acts of integrity and celebrate and reward them in organizations just as much or more than financial achievements or increased efficiencies or even a brilliant idea are rewarded.  Make no mistake, when employees understand that management requires integrity, it will become the norm.

Russ Johnson, CEO of Merchants Information Solutions, also a founding sponsor of this event, has a remarkable job applicant integrity test of which I’m a huge fan and a consultant.  We use it at MackayMitchell Envelope Company.  It screens out the bad apples who are work-comp abusers, commit fraud, steal, are hostile and so on.  It also reduces work comp rates, as well as worker turnover and unemployment payouts.  The test takes 15 minutes, is in 21 languages and costs $20 or less.  The test is available at integritybusinessinstitute.com/test.

Here’s an example of what integrity looks like:

Tom, a hotel worker could not afford a computer for his son who desperately needed one for school.  At the end of a hotel event with everyone gone, Tom discovered a laptop had been left behind.  He waited awhile, and no one came back.  Was this the computer he so needed for his son?

No one would know he took it.  No cameras were in the area, and no other workers were around.  Tom knew it was wrong to steal, but isn’t helping your son a good and righteous thing?  He decided to take the computer.  As he went to grab it, his values and his boss’s words about always doing what’s right kicked in.

Tom turned in the computer to his boss.  Later that day, Tom received a $1,000 check from the executive who owned the laptop, plus he was promoted to supervisor.  Tom’s son had a new computer that night.


Mackay’s Moral:  Only those on the level can climb the highest peaks.

You know who, but does who know you?

In my entire career, I have never once heard a successful person say he or she regretted putting time and energy into building their relationships and contact management system (CMS).

That’s why my interest was piqued when I recently saw a blog by my close friend Brandon Steiner, CEO and founder of Steiner Sports in New York.  It addresses what Brandon calls “Next-level networking.”

What Brandon is referring to is, “If my contact at a company left, who would I still know there?  Would I still be able to work with that company?”  If the answers are “No one” and “Maybe not,” then you could be in trouble.

That’s why it’s always been my philosophy to get to know as many people as you can at the organizations you do business with.  Always have your antennae up.  Never pass up an opportunity to meet new people.  Develop a relationship with the gatekeeper.  Seek out introductions from your customer.  Do your homework on the company.  Learn about your customer’s organizations and groups and possibly get involved.

I call this “dig your well before you’re thirsty,” which happens to be the title of one of my books.  You’ll never know what kind of relationships, ideas or even deals can come out of these new contacts.  Consider it a great networking insurance policy.

Also, don’t forget your former contact that flew the coop.  Just because they’ve moved on is no reason to yank their entry in your CMS.  In fact, there’s a reasonably good chance they’ll become even more valuable members of your network.  For one thing, your former contact knows where the bodies are buried at his or her previous company.  If your network is going to work, you have to stay plugged in and keep the wire humming.

networking-next-level-400Consider the Law of Large Numbers.  An entire industry – insurance – is built on the principle of the Law of Large Numbers.  There are around 317 million living Americans.  Insurance people can tell you within one-fourth of one percent just how many of us are going to die within the next 12 months – and how – and where – and in what age bracket, sex, color and creed.  That’s pretty amazing.  The only thing they can’t tell us is which ones!

The Law of Large Numbers can work for and against you in sales.  First, when you are trying to break into accounts, strive to position yourself as #2 for every prospect on your list and keep adding to that list.  I can promise you that if your list is long enough, there are going to be #1s who retire, die, jump to another company, are terminated and succumb to the Law of Large Numbers.  What I can’t tell you is which ones.

But fortunately, as in the insurance business, “which one” doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that you have the perseverance and patience to position yourself as number two to enough different people, and the Law of Large Numbers will do for you what it has done for the insurance industry:  You will be an extremely successful and wealthy salesperson.

But what if you are #1 and your contact leaves?  Then you have to compete with the salesperson that is #2 and has a better relationship with the new decision maker.  That’s why you have to develop relationships with as many people in the company as possible.  You know who, but does who know you?

If you want your CMS to produce a fruitful harvest, you have to be persistent and you have to keep on hoeing.  An ancient Chinese proverb advises:  “If you want one year of happiness, grow grain.  If you want 10 years of happiness, grow trees.  If you want 100 years of happiness, grow people.”

Never underestimate the importance of people in your life.  Next-level networking doesn’t work unless you master first level networking.  With practice, using your CMS becomes more than a discipline; it’s a way of life.

It all comes down to liking people.  I get a real kick out of adding people to my CMS.  I try to stay in touch with the bulk of my network every year, but I might not see someone for five or ten years.  Sooner or later they crop up again, and it’s always fun to get reacquainted.

And that’s how you take networking to the next level.


Mackay’s Moral:  People aren’t strangers if you’ve already met them.  The trick is to meet them before you need their help.