Extra! Extra! Newspaper Routes Create Leaders

This week I taped some segments for my new talk show, “Talk About Choices.” Once again, I asked successful, entrepreneurial leaders, “What was your very first job?” And once again, I heard the response: “I had a paper route.”

One of my first guests, Bob Carey, chief market strategist for First Trust Portfolios, told me how having a paper route shaped his business acumen. Bob had a route that few kids in the neighborhood wanted–all his customers were in a retirement community. Previously there had been a lot of turnover because kids his age didn’t want to deal with older people. Bob took it on and built his route from 30 customers to 100. What were the secrets he learned as a paperboy?

“Provide great service,” he said. “Show up. Do what people want and good things happen.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in there for anyone running a business, leading a team and/or serving clients and customers. Let’s break it down:

  • Provide great service. This seems obvious, but anyone who is in business knows it’s easier said than done. How do you define great service? More importantly, how do your clients or customers define it? Do they expect you to return your calls within the hour? Within the day? 24 hours? When is the last time you asked them how they define great service? There’s sometimes a gap between what we think is great service and what the client thinks is great service. We need to be crystal clear about their expectations if we want to have any chance of meeting them.
  • Show up. There’s a saying attributed to Woody Allen (no longer my favorite director for reasons that should be obvious, but have to give credit where credit is due): “85% of life is just showing up.” Ain’t it the truth? Or, to quote the old tagline from the lottery, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” Showing up on time, showing up ready to do business, showing up all ears, committed to listening–those are variations on the theme. But first, you gotta show up.
  • Do what people want and good things happen. Let’s assume that what people want (the market) is what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about and what you are burning with desire to deliver (your service). And let’s assume it’s legal, moral and ethical. Do that–just that–and good things happen. Deliver the paper on time, every day, on the stoop where they like it, collect on time and have a smile on your face when that customer opens the door, and good things happen. For Bob, those good things include a role as chief market strategist for a highly respected investment management company, a role that allows him not only to make a difference in the world of finance but also subsidizes his penchant for fabulous guitars.

What was your first job? I’d love to hear about it. (Comment below, please.) Did you have a paper route? Did you babysit? That was my foray into entrepreneurship. I’ll save those stories for another blogpost. First, I want to hear yours.

P.S. Millennials, since paper routes for kids may have gone the way of the rotary phone, please tell us: what was your first job?

 

 

The Picket Fence Dilemma

Being an entrepreneur has its advantages. There’s flexibility, the ability to do work that aligns with your vision and values, the challenge of generating new business and balancing sales with service. Every day, an entrepreneur gets to choose what action steps she needs to take that day to meet her goals and objectives.

Being an employee has equal advantages. When you work for someone else, you have the satisfaction of being part of something larger than yourself and working with a team. While there may be politics, and no company is safe from change, working for a company typically provides stability that includes a steady paycheck, benefits and other perquisites.

What, then, do we do when we can’t decide between the two–entrepreneurship or employment?

Picket FenceI call this “The Picket Fence Dilemma.” You might also call it The-Grass-Is-Always-Greener Syndrome. People who are employed have wild fantasies about what it would be like to work for themselves. “Isn’t it great being your own boss?” people asked me when I left my job as vice president of marketing for a hospital to launch my coaching practice full-time. “Don’t you just love the freedom?”

“Yeees,” I would reply cautiously. How could I communicate the cost, and benefit, of being an entrepreneur? How could I tell people who are dreaming of bolting from a corporate cubicle that running your own business isn’t really being your own boss? Running a business is like having dozens of bosses, and they’re called “clients.”

When I work with career coaching clients, one of the first things we have to discern is which side of the fence they are choosing: employment or entrepreneurship. Getting a job and keeping it involves a host of skills and talents that are quite different from running a business. Choosing self-employment is not, I would venture to say, the easier choice. Gratifying, yes. Challenging for sure. But not easy.

The worst thing of all is to be on the fence about that choice. Whether you want to be employed or grow a business, choose. Pick a lane. Then give it all you’ve got. Otherwise, you’ll end up straddling that picket fence. And that’s gotta hurt.

Putting the “Dead” Back in “Deadline”

Pere Lachaise Cemetery
The graveyard is full of great ideas that were never heard (Photo: Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France)

My friend Greg Crawford had a wonderful saying he once shared with me. “I love deadlines,” he deadpanned. “I love the sound of them as they go whooshing by…”

Boy, can I relate. Even with the discipline of having been a journalist for a daily newspaper (read: daily deadlines), I struggle with those commitments, mostly the ones I make to myself. That’s why I loved hearing the audio promo from the August 2013 issue of SUCCESS magazine, in which Publisher and Founding Editor Darren Hardy cites a story about a French mathematician who learned the value of deadlines.

Évariste Galois was a young Frenchman who was born with amazing brilliance in math, particularly algebra. But it wasn’t until he was challenged to a duel that he took the time to furiously scribble 60 pages of notes, ideas that would later lead to a revolution in higher algebra. Sadly, Monsieur Galois lost the duel… thereby putting the “dead” back in “deadline.”

Why is it we’re our most productive when there’s a (literal or figurative) gun to our head? Mr. Hardy of SUCCESS Magazine says this story demonstrates the need for tension, pressure and urgency to push our ideas out of us. “Otherwise the feeling that we have an endless amount of time is insidious and debilitating to the mind,” he writes in his publisher’s letter. “Our attention and thoughts become fractured and dispersed. Our lack of intensity makes it difficult to jolt our brain into high gear, into that higher state of creativity and mental lucidity.”

One of the reasons I love coaching people in mid-career is because somewhere around 40, we start to hear the ticking of that proverbial biological clock. The career trajectory that we saw as endless opportunity in our 20s suddenly has some very real parameters around it. If we don’t do what we were designed to do now, then when? Barbara Sher wrote a book called It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start NowJohann Wolfgang von Goethe, known as Germany’s Shakespeare, is often quoted as having said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Maybe the  best quote of all is from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Don’t die with the music still in you.”

In other words, we need to get off our duffs (OK, need to get off my duff) and get busy, creating whatever it is we’re going to create. If you want to start a business, begin working on a plan. If you’re dying to become a professional speaker, sign up for one of the many National Speakers Association Speakers Academies around the country. (Shameless plug: I’m dean of the one in Chicago that starts in September–visit NSA-IL for details.) If you have an aria to sing, find a stage and some folks to listen.

While we may not be facing a duel tomorrow morning at sunrise, we don’t get any guarantees. What would you scribble on those 60 pages if you knew your days–even minutes–were numbered? What’s the music still left inside of you?