There’s Power in Mistakes

You can tell a lot about a leader – and a company’s culture – by how they respond to mistakes - statuemistakes. I appreciate the title of Dan McCarthy’s blog post, “Say Thank-you to Mistakes.”

My experience with mistakes is much like McCarthy says. Mistakes “can often be the by-products of and catalysts for innovation, empowerment, delegation, development, change, and continuous improvement.”

Innovation. Empowerment. Delegation. Development. Change. Continuous Improvement…most business owners and leaders WANT these in our companies!

We’ve seen business owners, leaders and even managers who strive to keep such tight control that they don’t allow for “mistakes” (learning, growth and solution opportunities!). They think they’re doing right, but more often than not, they’re impeding growth and crippling the business (progress, people, culture, ability to adapt, etc.). If you hold the business reins too tightly, you’ll keep control – but as with horses, the steps will be smaller and growth will be slower (or even stop).

Conversely, I encourage, celebrate and congratulate leaders who reduce the layers of restrictive rules (formal and informal) and increase the creative freedom they offer their employees. Such leaders tend to follow three guides:

  1. Determinedly HireA Players” – along the lines of the Netflix model of building a team of “ever more high performance people.”
  2. Ensure their A Players (and other team members) are aligned with a). the market, b). each other, and c). with the company’s vision, purpose (mission), values, and strategic direction.
  3. Enable – and nurture – their A Players to fulfill their roles and accountabilities – without tightly controlling every step nor decisions along the way. Guideposts are good – measures and indicators of success are good – regular communication is good. Not so good: requiring permission for actions or decisions that are reversible and not “harmful” to the business or its customers.

When A Players make mistakes, there’s huge opportunity for resulting benefits! McCarthy’s three open-ended questions to ask following each “mistake or unintended outcome” start the benefits in motion:

  1. What happened?
  2. What have you done / will you do to fix it?
  3. What did you learn?

Notice, what’s not beneficial are the questions or statements that follow most mistakes…the following are generally counter-productive: “How could you do that?” “You’ve ruined this for us!” “Whose fault is it?”— or even,  “I’ll fix it for you.”

A Players are continuous learners. They’ll respond to those three questions and turn them into innovation, empowerment, delegation, development, change, continuous improvement, solutions and growth!

The added bonus is that McCarthy’s three questions can help create more A Players! Getting B Players to clearly define the facts, be accountable and responsible, think for themselves, and turn the mistake into learning are key ingredients for developing them into A Players.

Embrace mistakes and the “mistake” makers: the results can be powerful.


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4 Themes at the Heart of “Transform, Perform, and Grow”

Volunteering, delivering papers, mowing lawns, and working in the family business as a youngster in Dubuque, Iowa, taught me a lot news deliveryabout helping others, and seeing what “success” looks like through their eyes.

Ever since, I’ve had a drive and a passion for helping people achieve what matters most to them – in their ventures as well as their adventures.

Somewhere along the way I put the words Transform, Perform, and Grow to this work. Because I find those powerful, interconnected ideas to be what does matter most to passionate and dedicated leaders, owners, and executives.

  • We need to Perform well in order to Grow.
  • When we Transform, we look for new ways to Perform.
  • When we experience Growth, our Performance needs often change.

And there we are: TPG Companies. Transform. Perform. Grow.

At TPG, we’ve found there are certain mindsets and actions – themes – that are at the heart of helping a business, person, or entity Transform, Perform, or Grow. For instance:

  1. Integrity is Paramount.
    My years as a member of Rotary International have ingrained in me the words of the Rotary Four-Way Test. It is a top notch way to describe an approach to operating with integrity, respect, and honesty:

    1. Is it the truth?
    2. Is it fair to all concerned?
    3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
    4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

The Four-Way Test is a standard we go back to time and again. I simply don’t believe we can truly be helpful to other entities unless we hold ourselves to a standard of high integrity.

  1. Tend to the Relationships.
    We care deeply about the people we work with, and the success of their companies and organizations. If you care deeply, you do your best to tend and nourish the relationship – by acts of care, being authentic in your communications, active listening, and by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to see and experience from their perspective.  “We’re in this together”  – believing and making this true can build valued and valuable relationships.
  1. Words Matter.
    I veer away from using the term “customers,” or even “clients,” as those words imply a transaction rather than the deeper, longer-term, and more mutually beneficial transformative relationship we experience with many entities. Relationship language is so deeply valued at TPG Companies, we’re in a constant mode of re-training and reminding ourselves, because word choices matter.If we say we’re about Transform, Perform, Grow, but our words don’t reflect that, then somehow we’re not actually telling the truth (see #1 above!). I’ve written more about words here.
  2. Keep Learning. Filter and Integrate What’s Learned.
    I’m an information collector – just ask my colleagues. I’m drawn to knowledge that helps owners, leaders, and executives think and act in better ways – to achieve and grow results. Collecting and learning are strong values at TPG.Filtering and integrating that new knowledge is key, though. To truly tend to our relationship (see #2), I need to be highly discerning about when integrating the “new” is of value to you and your business, versus when it’s just overwhelming.

And it all started with volunteering, delivering papers, the family business, and mowing lawns…seeing the world through the eyes and the stories of PULMs (People Unlike Me).


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Words Matter: From Transactional to Transformative Language

Too easily, we fall into using the wrong words – and it’s costing us business.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between Fireflylightning and the lightning bug.” –Mark Twain

Example: we fall back on transactional language, even when we believe the value we bring is transformative.

In our culture and in business, it’s common to deal in transactions on a daily basis. We’re surrounded by transactional language like:

  • Buying and selling.
  • Quotes and bids.
  • Rates and deliverables.
  • Products.
  • Customers.
  • Buyers.

For some businesses it’s the accurate terminology. Yet, I’m convinced that we’re so used to this transactional, vendor-supplier language that often it’s applied too broadly – to the disadvantage of all involved.

So many businesses offer much more than a transaction, but their language hasn’t evolved to indicate that. So there’s some “discord” between how they describe themselves and who they actually are as a business.

If the words I use are transactional, should I be surprised to be treated as the next vendor in line?

At TPG, we help owners, leaders, and executives Transform, Perform, and Grow their businesses, people, and corporations! We care deeply about their culture, vision, goals, and passions, and we’re in it with them.

We don’t view what we do as transactional, because with each entity, we build a greater connection and relationship between us than a transaction involves. It’s a transformative relationship.

Therefore, the words we use to do business need to reflect that transformative nature. We want our words and language to truthfully reflect the kind of relationship we’re in.

I’ve found we’re more accurate and in sync with who we are as we’ve trained ourselves to use a vocabulary more like this:

  • Instead of selling a job or tasks, we begin a project, relationship, venture or initiative together.
  • Instead of producing deliverables, we identify (together) the results or outcomes we seek through a mutually-developed Scope of Work.
  • Instead of quoting a fee, we define the investments appropriate to pursue or achieve desired results, outcomes, and impact.

This isn’t just word manipulation for marketing purposes. It’s about changing how people understand who we are and what we do by choosing the right words.

Because words matter.

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It’s Not Your Father’s SBA

Check your assumptions at the door.

If you think the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is only there to make loans, and downloadrequires a deep dive into the land of bureaucracy, check again.

I have worked with an array of entities over the years who have benefited greatly from the SBA as they started up and established themselves in business. The SBA has much to offer in a range of areas, from startup and growth resources, to regional innovation clusters, to training & support for businesses led by veterans, immigrants, military spouses, and more.

And yes, funding. With dramatically less red tape these days.

National Small Business Week is May 1-7 this year. Here in my home state, there’s an Iowa Small Business Week Awards Reception coming up on Friday, May 6, and I plan to be there, to celebrate entrepreneurial businesses that are making an impact.

Will you join me? It’ll be a good opportunity to connect with one another and focus on what’s working for small businesses in our region.

Not an Iowan? Check with your state’s SBA office to see what they’re doing to celebrate National Small Business Week – and to discover the SBA of today.


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10. Don’t Lose the Core to Do the More: Maxims for Impact and Effectiveness

Tenth and last (for now) in a series of ten maxims I find myself repeating often. 

The Next Big Thing can be great – except when it isn’ core

In the world of VUCA, permanent whitewater change, and the imperative for innovation, there’s pressure all around to grow – change – grow – change – and at a faster pace.

That can be a good thing. It can even be great. But like every good thing, it can also be problematic – even severely so.

I’ve seen countless companies grow and change, achieve success and commendable profitability, when that growth and change occurs from a place of clear knowledge of who they are at their core.  But – companies that Lose the Core in order to Do the More, are almost always less likely to succeed.

KnowingCore-New Idea who you are at your core comes from being crystal clear about your company’s Mission, Vision, and Values – and then making sure that your innovation, growth, and change is grounded in that core.

Your Core grounds you, but it isn’t necessarily static.

It’s best if company leaders check in with their Core at least annually (or ideally, quarterly or even monthly)  – does this still represent us, and tell the world who we really are? Does it still represent how we function and where we are going?

Don’t Lose the Core to Do the More. Know what your Core is, and you’ll know if the More aligns with it or not.


So there you are. Ten Maxims to Boost Business Impact and Effectiveness. I hope they resonate with you as they do with scores of business owners and leaders we have coached, advised, or otherwise helped.

I’ve got more Maxims, too. What are yours?


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Here’s What an Award-Winning Entrepreneur Looks Like

Matthew Perry

Matthew Perry, President of GENESYS Systems Integrator

I’m so proud of (and excited for) my friend and client Matthew Perry, President and Partner of GENESYS Systems Integrator, recently named a 2015 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year! This prestigious award illuminates the expertise and passion of GENESYS’ entire team, and it recognizes someone I greatly respect and enjoy.

Since 2012, TPG Companies and I have worked with GENESYS – a global player in systems and technology integration. We can testify to the entrepreneur and leader Matt is, as well as to the vision and energy of Matt’s partner and brother, Pat Perry.

Matt and Pat Perry

Brothers Matt and Pat Perry at the EY Central-Midwest Region Award Ceremony

Early on, we helped GENESYS see the rationale for separating their CEO/President position to fit the respective personalities, interests, and capabilities of the owners. I saw Matt as the right person to take on the role of President, and had the joy of advising, coaching, and mentoring him as he took the reins, restructured the organization, and led its growth with enthusiasm, vigor, and humility.

At a recent breakfast with Matt, I felt again how he makes others feel appreciated and honored. Like how he has said to me, in true Matt style, “I’m so grateful for how much stronger and better I am – and GENESYS is – with you and TPG Companies on our side! And through it all, I am proud to call you a good friend.”

Matt and GENESYS have been through a number of transformations in recent years including, as he says, “becoming less of a commodity and more about bringing value to manufacturers – being a hero to entities who need a company like GENESYS to get them to the next level.”

Matt’s video for the EY award shows his heart for this work. I’ve seen it first hand, having helped create or facilitate more than 25 strategic projects and growth initiatives at GENESYS over the past three years.

As a winner of Ernst & Young’s Central-Midwest Region award, Matt moves forward to the national competition and gala in November 2015. TPG Companies and I are pleased and honored to be trusted and relied upon by such a fine person – and to work with all the leaders and owners of GENESYS Systems Integrator.


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9. Let It Play Through: 10 Maxims for Impact and Effectiveness

Ninth in a series of ten maxims I’ve cultivated and use regularly to enhance business.

Immediate action isn’t always the right move. It may be better to Let It Play Through. Golf

Conventional wisdom tends to reward fast action in business. Respond quickly. Think on your feet. Anticipate needs.

I like responsiveness and proactive action as well. But quick action is not always needed nor effective and thus does not apply universally.

In some situations, the more strategic response is to Let It Play Through.

Example: Have you just put an offer on the table?
I’ve seen good people get nervous waiting for a response, or tie themselves up in knots trying to anticipate nearly every possible request or objection. You know how it can play out when one is not patient in such offer-making situations: “And if that doesn’t work for you, we could offer this…and this…or we can give you …or perhaps a discount…etc.”

Hold on and be patient. Let It Play Through. Give the other party time to internalize and embrace your offer. And time to enlighten you with their response such as about their true needs or questions. Jumping in early can mean lost opportunities and lost value for you and all concerned. Also, your nervousness or lack of patience can give the impression that you’re indecisive and may not stand behind what you’re offering. Therefore, be patient, wait and listen – and learn what really matters most to them.

Example: Is a potential business partner slow to move forward with your joint plans?
Try Letting It Play Through. The foot-dragging could be a cue to a whole range of things, such as:

  • Maybe the other party is less eager for the partnership or plan than you thought – in which case forcing a decision or action now can cause resentment and even a broken relationship, while alternatively Letting It Play Through can provide space and time either for coming to agreement on something you both can fully commit to, or parting amicably with an intact relationship.
  • Maybe some distraction is happening in your partner’s business or personal life – in which case Letting It Play Through shows respect for your partner, which can pay dividends in your eventual business relationship.
  • Maybe your partner needs time to disentangle from commitments that could interfere with the plan or partnership – in which case, again, the relationship and plan results can benefit from Letting It Play Through.

Whatever the reason, if you allow some space and time and Leave the Door Open, the situation tends to become clear, as does the right next step.

For golfers, letting someone play through means letting another party move ahead of you on the course, so they can get through more quickly. Let’s be clear: when I say Let It Play Through, it’s not about letting the competition get ahead of you. It’s about gathering the insights you need and making the strategic decision, at the right time… and having the Calm Confidence to and skills to catalyze desired events to unfold.

Let It Play Through isn’t always the right tactic. But it’s a tool and a mindset option that can boost impact and effectiveness, when used at the right time.


Check out our previously-posted Maxims for Impact and Effectiveness, all of which I find myself repeating often. I hope they resonate with you as they do with scores of business owners and leaders we have coached, advised, or otherwise helped. Watch this space for number 10 – coming soon!


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Strategic Thinking According to Kasparov

I enjoy chess, but seldom give myself the time and space to sit down for a game. After Kasparovreading Harvard Business Review’s interview with world chess champion Garry Kasparov, I’m re-thinking that.

Kasparov uses his deep experience with chess to teach, write, and speak about strategic thinking and decision-making*. For business leaders, his insights are astute.

Here are a few quotes from the interview that resonated with me, as I’ve found them to be true both in my own business and as I’ve worked with owners and leaders across diverse industries:

On building upon – and using to advantage – your own particular skills, abilities, knowledge, tendencies, and personal characteristics:

“You have to understand who you are, know what you’re capable of and what you’re not, and then try to construct a game – or a deal or a campaign – in which your superior qualities will be factors and your disadvantages will not be displayed.”

On becoming better by facing stiff competition:

“To discover what you’re capable of, you need strong – or even better – opponents. It’s like an iron in the fire: When pressed at a very high temperature, it either breaks or turns into steel.”

On the crucial importance of staying nimble, and always open to learning:

“Many people think that if something worked yesterday and is still working today, it will work tomorrow. That’s wrong, because people on the losing side will come up with a new strategy. I stayed on top for 20 years because I knew that even if you win, there are things to learn.”

The brief HBR interview gives just a few nuggets of Kasparov’s thoughts on these topics – it left me wanting more. Maybe it’s time to set up that chess board.

*Not to mention the role he’s come to play as a pro-Russian-democracy leader…but that’s a different topic.


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8. Excellence End to End: 10 Maxims for Impact and Effectiveness

Eighth in a series of ten maxims I’ve cultivated and use regularly to enhance business.

Like this Mobius strip, Excellence End to End is a Mobius stripnever-ending cycle.

Awhile ago I worked with a company that offered some of the highest quality services in their industry – arguably the best in their geographic area. They knew their field inside and out, they had a commitment to excellence second to none, and they were adamant about doing it not only right, but better than anyone else. Great people.

And they were slowly but surely losing customers and market share.

Here’s one thing we figured out: their focus on excellence was all about the service delivery itself – but they needed to pay more attention to Excellence End to End.

Excellence End to End means putting energy and effort into more than just providing a great product or service. It means Excellence from before the point of first contact with a client or customer, all the way through to after you’re done with the current project, however small or large.

How do you show Excellence at the front End – before your first point of contact?

  • You build a track record of Excellence End to End with others, so the word on the street is good.
  • You have a positive, attractive visual image – which may include your logo, your facility, your web site, and more (don’t forget the power of factors like a clean and inviting office space, and the impression left by the first voice a prospect hears, or the first face a customer sees).
  • You’re known and thought well of by people your target customer knows and/or respects.
  • You’re known to Take the Principled Approach.

And in the middle?

In your own business, you know what it means to show Excellence during the course of a project or engagement – or you wouldn’t be in that business. Suffice it to say that Excellence on the Ends only holds up if the “middle” – the core of what you offer/provide/sell – meets the level of Excellence that you promise to the market you serve.  A VUCA Prime Mindset keeps you in the game.

How do you keep showing Excellence at the other End – after completing a client project?

  • You show respect and appreciation for the business and the relationship that’s been established.
  • You maintain enough contact so your name comes to mind first the next time (and not so much that you’re annoying!).
  • You Leave the Door Open.
  • You seek new ways to practice Excellence End to End.

Excellence End to End is a mindset, a practice, and a worthy goal. And I’ve seen it boost impact and effectiveness, for my own company and others we’ve worked with.


Check out our previously-posted Maxims for Impact and Effectiveness, all of which I find myself repeating often. I hope they resonate with you as they do with scores of business owners and leaders we have coached, advised, or otherwise helped. Watch this space for numbers 9-10 – coming soon!


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7. Leave the Door Open: 10 Maxims to Boost Business Impact and Effectiveness

Number 7 of ten maxims I’ve cultivated and use regularly to enhance business.

Good things can arise – and come back around – if you just Leave the Door Open…Open door
…mentally and emotionally, to possibilities
…in relationships
…so other options and opportunities can see the light of day.

You might think of Leave the Door Open as the more positive version of “don’t burn your bridges.” My use of Leave the Door Open goes much deeper than just not burning bridges.

Example 1: When you get what seems like bad news (someone else got the contract, was hired, won the popularity vote, was picked first, etc.), make your response one that is memorable for its Open Door. For instance, I’ve often said:  “If your [the other party’s] needs or circumstances change or new opportunities arise in the months or years ahead, feel free to be back in touch.”

I’ve had more than one client engagement or partner agreement materialize because their initial choice/attempt with someone else didn’t work out, or a new opportunity came up and we were at the top of their minds – because we Left the Door Open.

Example 2: When you’ve met someone who impressed you, whether or not you have an immediate business opportunity together, it’s smart to Leave the Door Open. For instance, a speaker I recently exchanged business cards with included these words in her follow-up note to me: “Please let me know if there is something that I can do for you at any time.”

Just that simple line – a step beyond the exchange of business cards or a LinkedIn invite – lets me know that the Door is Open. I’m more likely to re-connect with her because of it.

Example 3: In the office, as a leader or manager. Literally, Leave the Door Open (or at least figuratively, if you don’t have a real door!). You can learn so much.

There are plenty of times when I need to close my office door. But by intentionally Leaving the Door Open at other times, TPG team members know I’m available to them, that I’m in this together with them, that I’m swimming in the same ocean they are. Plus, I get a daily sense of the pulse, the pace, the energy, the atmosphere – which helps me be more effective when I’m choosing how/what/when I communicate and interact with the team members.

With off-site team members, Leaving the Door Open happens in other ways: a brief check-in call, a text or email saying thanks for work well done, an inquiry about their life beyond TPG Companies. All of it serves to build trust and unity, and pays dividends in team effectiveness and spirit.

TPG team members like to say, “Everything Begins with Hello.” That’s true, but what happens after Hello is key as well. I’ve built better relationships and greater success when I let the other party know I’m Leaving the Door Open for future possibilities together.

Leaving the Door Open doesn’t mean we’ll be waiting by the phone – it shows respect for the people and the relationship and points toward a future that evolves and creates diverse possibilities. Really, it’s a way of using a Principled Approach, with a VUCA Prime Mindset.

Check out our previously-posted Maxims to Boost Business Impact and Effectiveness, all of which I find myself repeating often. I hope they resonate with you as they do with scores of business owners and leaders we have coached, advised, or otherwise helped. Watch this space for numbers 8-10 – coming soon!

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