Twenty Things I've Learned in Twenty Years

1)  People are willing to help you

When I started my consulting business in 1993 countless individuals gave me the gift of their time to listen to my business concept and to provide feedback.  I continue to pay that forward any time I’m asked for a similar meeting.

2)  Be willing to walk away

I think I learned this lesson in my first year of business but it seems like maybe I had a couple occasions over the last 20 years where I needed to learn it again!  Taking a client or project for the wrong reasons will not lead to good outcome—be willing to walk away.

3)  Don’t be envious of someone’s success unless you want their troubles

It’s human nature to be envious of someone who seems to have abundance beyond their needs, but somewhere along the way I learned that even those individuals have their challenges.  If you think you want someone’s successes, think twice about taking on their troubles too.

4)  Don’t judge your “insides”, by someone else’s “outsides”

An addendum to lesson #3….when someone seemingly has it all together and you feel like you’ll never measure up, remember that you’re only seeing the outside ‘packaging’.  Everyone has their personal struggles whether it shows or not.

5)  Discover your Hedgehog Concept

In the book, Good to Great, Jim Collins talked about finding the intersection of three overlapping circles: 1) What you are deeply passionate about, 2) What you can be the best in the world at, and 3) What drives your economic engine.  Maintaining this focus may mean turning away some opportunities, but being clear on how you bring value means you’ll naturally attract and draw yourself to those clients you’re best suited to work with and you’ll push away those you’re not meant to work with.

6)  When the hair on the back of your neck goes up, it’s not a good sign

A couple of time over the years I have had the sensation when talking to someone of the hair on the back of my neck going up.  In one case I agreed to have this person as a client….big mistake.  Always trust your instincts. He ended up being a very difficult person to work with and the only client over twenty years that didn’t pay his invoice.

7)  Don’t do business with mean people

These people don’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up….they’re just mean!  I actually started working with such a person early in my business and it was the first and only time I cried in a professional setting.  Don’t do business with mean or crazy.

8)  If you’re not learning, you’re stagnant

Anyone who has worked with me in the assessment realm knows I’m high theoretical, and so maybe I’m biased, but I can truly say that continuing education is the reason I’m still in business twenty years later.  There is always more to learn and every business owner needs to have a generous budget dedicated to learning.

9)  Time doesn’t expand for you

In 2005 when I was Chairman of the COSE Board of Directors I had just about pushed the boundaries of the time/space continuum with everything I had said “yes” to.  President Bush was coming to Cleveland for a visit through the Department of Labor and as I was preparing to participate on a panel that day, my husband looked at me and said, “You know time doesn’t expand for you right?  “You have this perception of time as a big balloon that expands for you as you add things to it.”  Wise words….obviously time does not expand for me or anyone else.

10)  Sometimes it’s good to go it alone

When I incorporated the Coughlin Group in 1993, I was in an alliance with another distributor with the Stephen Covey organization.  Although I love Covey’s concepts to this day, let’s just say that the collaboration really wasn’t a good fit.  It seemed so much better to jump off the cliff with someone else but in reality I was better going it alone.

11)  Surround yourself with top-notch advisors that care

From day one I engaged an attorney, accountant and marketing firm that were ‘out of my league’. It was by far worth the investment for the insight and guidance they’ve provided over the years.

12)  Everyone needs a peer advisory group

When you run your own business, regardless of the size, you need to have a forum to share your ideas, frustrations and plans.  Meeting on a regular basis with other business owners provides you with an opportunity to share experiences, learn from other’s mistakes, and gain inspiration from their strength during adversity.

13)  Don’t take non-response as rejection—it’s not about you

I vividly remember a time early in my business when a woman I met talked enthusiastically about collaboration on a project and asked me to follow up with a phone call.  My calls to this person were not returned and I mentioned to a colleague how frustrated I was.  I later learned that this person had passed away unexpectedly.  This was a sad and dramatic example of how rejection is not always what it seems.  Needless to say, this lesson was impactful to me at the time and remains so twenty years later.

14)  Challenge procrastination by removing a task altogether

If you’ve had an item on your “to-do” list for more than a year, it’s probably not really that important to you.  I think we’re all guilty of setting goals for completing a project or starting a new initiative that we think is important to our business.  I’ve learned to challenge myself on the validity of some of those ‘to-dos’ as I’ve learned that the distraction and guilt from the unexecuted task is draining.

15)  If you’re not feeling it, don’t expect great results by ‘pushing thru it’

My husband helped me to recognize that instead of ‘pushing thru’ a project I was not feeling motivated about, perhaps I’d be better served by revisiting the subject at a later time.  I have found this to be true and have learned that usually the outcome will suffer if you weren’t in a good frame of mind.

16)  Being in business and making money is a morally good thing

Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote an excellent book called, “Thou Shall Prosper, Ten Commandments for Making Money,“ in which he explains how running a successful business is a morally good thing.  He demonstrates that there is a dignity to wealth creation through honorable business that is unlike anything else on earth.  There is no crime in handing someone a dollar for a job well done, and there’s certainly no shame in accepting it for providing the service.

17)  Make family a priority

It’s impossible to keep life in balance all the time.  I’ve found that priorities ebb and flow depending on what’s happening in the business and in the family.  Sometimes things are out of balance by choice or necessity.  But on the whole, I have found that keeping family the higher priority will always be the right choice.

18)  Writing down your goals really does make a difference

There’s really not much I can say here that hasn’t already been written by numerous self-help gurus from Norman Vincent Peale to Jim Robbins.  In addition to writing them down I would also contend that reviewing them on a daily or at least weekly basis is also extremely important.

19)  If you don’t like someone, chances are they don’t like you

I forget when or where I was first exposed to this concept but it really blew my mind at first.  I thought that couldn’t be true, that surely I could hide my dislike but be liked by an individual.  There’s probably no way to test this concept definitively but I have to say that anecdotally I have found it to be true.

20)  Keep the promises you make to yourself

Trust is built by doing what you say you’ll do and that circle of trust (with a shout out to Robert Dinero in “Meet the Parents”) starts with keeping promises you’ve made to yourself.  Personal discipline can be one of the toughest things to sustain but it ultimately yields dividends worth the effort.