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  • Aspire » Leadership

    12 Jan


    With the Kansas City Chiefs on their historic run of 11 consecutive wins after starting out with only one win and five losses and the Powerball Lottery having its first ever 1 billion dollar plus jackpot, we are hearing a lot of talk about the odds of winning.  However, as a business owner, you make decisions every day that affect your odds of winning (success), it just goes mostly unnoticed.

    Increasing your odds…

    After week 6 the Kansas City Chiefs were given a 2% chance to make the divisional round of the Playoffs.  A 98% chance they wouldn’t be playing, yet here they are 13 weeks later, heading into the divisional playoff game with their first playoff win since 1993 already in their rear-view mirror.  It’s truly a remarkable turn of events.

    How does one turn around a season with 2% chance of succeeding?

    Ultimately the answer to that question has many variables that contributed to it.  Not to mention, a little bit of good luck never hurts either!   That said, here are a few observations of steps the Chiefs organization have executed over the course of this season that could easily be applied to your business too.

    1) Leaders Accept Responsibility

    During the losing streak Head Coach Andy Reid was quick to accept the blame, especially when talking to the media (his customers).  Clearly there were times blame could have been placed on specific individuals or on the offense, defense, or special teams.    That is not to say there weren’t very direct conversations in private with specific personnel regarding mistakes, but what the team experienced as a whole was a leader accepting the responsibility for the loss and it was his responsibility to lead the efforts to correct it.

    2) Allow your Manager’s to….Manage

    Andy Reid says his Quarterback Alex Smith has “got the keys to the car.”   Reid has had a reputation of developing quarterbacks throughout his career.   Have you ever thought maybe it is more about developing leaders than developing quarterbacks?    Being a good quarterback in the NFL is not just about natural athletic ability, Smith knows that Reid and the coaching staff trust him,  they have empowered him to make decisions on the field.

    Did Alex Smith get the “keys to the car” without instructions?  No.   He gets coaching and assistance along the way.  But he is not micromanaged to the point he doesn’t have the opportunity to make his own decisions and occasional mistakes.    In business, almost every position has some level of responsibility tied to it, whether it means the employee is directly managing other employees or not.   Effective business owners are able to give the “keys to the car” to their managers and let them drive.

    3) Don’t underestimate the Power of a Team Building Exercise

    On Nov. 1st the Chiefs flew to London to play the Detroit Lions.  The bad news was it meant 9 –  10 hours on a plane.  The good news was it meant about 9 – 10 hours on a plane!  Why?   Once the plane door is closed who you can interact with is limited and you’re in a relatively confined area.  It turned out to be a perfectly timed event to build some camaraderie among an emerging team.    It may not have been planned, but Andy Reid has identified that focused time on the plane as one of the turning points of the season.

    The best team building exercises are events away from your business.   With the Chiefs locked on a plane at 30,000’ they were offsite (not at Arrowhead), all the employees (players, coaches, etc.) were there, and they had limited access for any outside interruptions….a great recipe for team building!  Maybe the game in London wasn’t such a bad idea after all?

    4) Focus on what you can control     

    After the decisive win in London, questions starting brewing about strength of schedule, what if this and what if that.  As a fan, it was easy to start looking ahead.   Yes, they had just snapped the 5 game losing streak with two wins but there were still a lot of unanswered questions about the rest of the season and what was in front of them.

    One of the things you started hearing repeatedly from the front office on down was we are just “focusing on our next game”.  A message of “we are doing somethings better, but we know we have a lot of room to improve.”  It was a pretty consistent message coming out of One Arrowhead Drive; we will focus on the things we can control.  There are some things that are simply out of your control as a business owner.   Focus on the things you can control and don’t waste precious time on things you can’t.

    There is no silver bullet for increasing your chances of winning in business, but there certainly are steps you can take to improve the odds.   These are only a few that I think have served the Chiefs well so far this year.    Maybe some of them can help your business too!  What would make an impact to your business plans?  As always we appreciate any comments in the space below and Go Chiefs!

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    04 Jan

    leading or walking

    There’s a great Proverb that gets to the heart of leadership:

    “If you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.”

    As we kick off another New Year, now’s a great time to be thinking about the future. What are your goals, hopes and dreams? What did you learn from last year that you can incorporate into this year’s planning?  The tendency is to create a long list of goals and resolutions for yourself and your business.  If that’s the case – stop what you’re doing and slow things down. One of the biggest reasons that people get frustrated at this time of year is they inevitably try to take on too much. It’s a leap of faith, but you’ll actually get a lot more done by doing less.

    As a leader, your first job is to find a way to get your team focused on what really matters. Hint – everything on your long list can’t be equally important, there should be a handful of things (3 to 7) that are the most important things you should be focusing on for this year. If you want your team to keep following you enthusiastically, you need to be driving the focus. If you lose sight of that, it won’t be long before you find yourself alone on that walk.

    To help you avoid that situation, here’s a good starting checklist of five things you should be thinking about as the leader of your team:

    1. Make it Simple

    An important part of focusing is simplifying. As the leader, you not only need to see the big picture, you must get to the essence of that big picture and simplify it down so the larger group can easily get on board.  More than that, you need to constantly work on simplifying operations – what’s being done and how it’s being done.  Complexity leads to chaos. Simplicity leads to leverage and growth.

    1. Leverage Strengths (your own and your team’s)

    You’re good at a lot of things…but you’re not good at everything.  Being an effective leader means you understand your own strengths and weaknesses and that you consistently play to your strengths.  It also means that you understand how to effectively delegate and surround yourself with a team that complements your strengths – your team should be much better than you are at many things. What are you currently doing that you don’t enjoy or aren’t very good at? How can you give that to someone else?

    1. Have a Clear Vision

    You can’t lead without a destination – it’s your job as the leader to paint a clear picture for where you’re heading long term.  That outcome likely will change over time so creating a vision isn’t a one time exercise, it’s an ongoing job. And it’s also not just about creating the vision – you have to constantly be communicating it. You’ll be sick of talking about it, but the message needs to be out there at every possible opportunity.

    Just as important as the long term vision – you must also create the short term road map of how you’re going to get there.  What has to be accomplished this year?  What are the highest priorities for the next 90 days?  This is what keeps the team focused.

    1. Drive to Create Systems

    Brute force only gets you so far – so a big part of being an effective leader is identifying opportunities for creating leverage.  Every business is a system of systems. There is a process you use to deliver your product or service.  However if that process isn’t documented, if you haven’t looked for ways to improve it or automate it, then you’re not creating systems.

    Typically it takes more work up front to document and improve processes than it does to just do it – which is why it’s a leadership effort to push your team to take the long term view rather than the short term path of least resistance. Do you have some kind of documented operations manual? How do  you train new employees?

    1. Continually Build the Organization

    Continued growth and success bring new challenges.  What you did last year likely won’t continue to work without some changes.  As the leader, you need to understand the big picture, understand the changes that need to be made to continue progressing…and most importantly understand how to build your team to address the new and improved ways of doing things.

    Do you have the right people in the right seats?  Are you structured in the best way for the challenges you have today?  What challenges will you have tomorrow? Are you and your employees constantly focused on learning new things?  If not – what could you do to change that? (Maybe attend some Book Reviews?)

    As the leader of a growing business there are a ton of things you could focus on and every situation and business is different – but this is a pretty good list to start with. What else would you add?  What am I missing here? Share your thoughts in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    30 Nov
    Picture from netsnake via Flickr
    Picture from netsnake via Flickr

    One of the ‘secrets’ to a successful small business is having employees who are aligned with what you’re doing, engaged, and enjoy working with you and your team. We’ve all experienced businesses where the employees are clearly just showing up for the paycheck and don’t care at all about what they’re doing – that’s a business on life support. It’s equally easy to see when employees genuinely like and believe in what they’re doing…and that makes all the difference.

    It’s an easy observation to make – the real challenge is what can you do to that will help drive that engagement? Here’s an idea from a friend of mine – I’ll share the idea and then I’ll dig into why it works, which might help you come up with your own variation.

    Gratitude Darts – Courtesy of Ben Brasel at Benjamin Lawn and Landscape

    Ben Brasel is the founder of Benjamin Lawn and Landscape and has a successful, growing business that primarily operates around the Prairie Village area here in Kansas City.  It can be challenging to find and keep great employees in the Lawn and Landscape industry. It’s hard work and very competitive, a situation that lends itself to a lot of turnover and often unhappy employees.

    However Ben has figured out a few things that are making a big difference with his employees and his clients. The best example is a weekly game that he plays with his staff that he calls Gratitude Darts.  Here’s how it works:

    At the weekly team meeting, bright and early, Ben reads the comments and thank you notes from clients from the past week. For every ‘Thank You’ or compliment from a client, the team member (s) responsible for the service gets a dart.  On top of that, team members also have a chance to call out their team mates to thank them for something they’ve done over the past week – which gives a dart as well.

    At the end of the session, maybe 5 to 10 minutes later, most team members have at least one dart and a few might have several.  Then they take turns throwing at a target and who ever’s closest to the bulls-eye wins a gift card ($5 to $10 to a local store). The game then winds up with a few final comments and everyone is on their way ou2015-Award-Winnert to help the next round of clients.

    The results?  The team has a blast at their weekly meetings and although they’ve only been doing this for 3 or 4 months, Ben has already seen a huge lift in employee’s spirits and how well the team gets along.  He’s also seen a noticeable lift in their focus on helping clients and being engaged in the work that needs to be done. The company also recently won The Best of KC Pitch award for 2015 – maybe not directly because of this idea, but it’s another indication that they’re headed the right direction.

    Why this works…

    You may or may not be able to implement something like Gratitude Darts in a similar fashion to what Ben has done – that depends on your industry and the overall personality and culture of your company. However, you can certainly implement something that shares the important characteristics – here’s what you need to think about:

    1 – What’s important…what do you stand for?

    Ben and his wife Heather identified early on in their business that doing great work and making their customers happy is key to their long term success. They’ve incorporated that into pretty much everything they do – from sales, to scheduling, to doing the work and following up. Gratitude Darts directly reinforces this idea and is one more way to focus the team on what’s most important – client satisfaction.

    2 – Make it fun

    A big reason why this works in their environment is because the staff is naturally competitive with each other and they enjoy the good-natured opportunity to show each other up. Darts are kind of an equal opportunity kind of skill that anyone can at least hope to be lucky at…and they’re just inherently fun to do as a group.  And because the prizes are small and weekly, it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot on the line, so the team just enjoys it for the fun and somewhat silly competition that it is.  If they had made it a big dollar prize, it likely would have backfired because people would have started trying too hard to win all the time. Which leads to…

    3 – Don’t take it or yourself too seriously

    In order for something like this to work, it has to feel somewhat natural, it has to be simple and you have to not make too big a deal out of it. Owning and running a business is often hard, but sometimes we make it more difficult than it needs to be. If you’re clear on what you’re doing, if you care and genuinely want to help your clients and your employees…that attitude will show through and it’s okay to just have fun now and then. If you know Ben and Heather, then you know that they check off all of those boxes in spades. They are building a great business, but more importantly they genuinely care about their employees and creating a great outcome for their clients – the real secret behind their success.

    Do you have your own version of Gratitude Darts? If not, what would it take to implement something like this in your world? I’d love to hear your thoughts – let me know when you get a chance (and thanks to Ben and Heather for letting me share a bit of their story).

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    28 Sep


    You will deal with adversity.

    Some days things just aren’t going to go your way. The day that you come in and find out:

    • You’ve lost a long term client or
    • You missed out on a deal that you were sure you were going to land or
    • A good employee unexpectedly turns in their resignation – leaving you with a big hole to fill or
    • You get sick or injured in some way…

    Those are all bad days – but it doesn’t have to be just big stuff that will throw you off. Sometimes it’s the little things: You hit all the red lights coming into work (and run late for a meeting), you forget your phone, your favorite restaurant closes down, you miss a flight or a connection when you’re travelling, you completely forget a meeting. None of these are big deals by themselves – but add a couple of them together and you’re going to have a bad day.

    You can’t always control what’s happening to  you – sometimes bad things happen, no matter how prepared you are.

    The question is – now that you’ve gotten slapped down by life…how do you respond to that adversity?

    The real question – how do you deal with it?

    Here’s the thing – whatever your challenge might be…big or small, you get to choose how you’re going to respond.

    It seems like a small thing – barely worth considering, but the reality is that your choice, that space between stimulus and response means everything.

    “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”    – Viktor Frankl

    If you’re not familiar with Viktor Frankl here’s a quick background: He was a neurologist and psychologist who was also a holocaust survivor and much of his life’s work comes from what he learned during his horrific experiences in the concentration camps. The idea that the last freedom any of us possess is the ability to choose how we respond to situations. Of course he was dealing with far worse things than most of us can even imagine – but the concept still works for lesser challenges.

    You have 2 Choices when you respond to adversity

    1. You can dwell on the negative, on your bad luck or the unfortunate outcome. (victim)


    2. You can choose to learn from the experience and get better. (leader)

    It’s all pretty simple (in theory) – Option #1 – choosing to dwell on the negative clearly doesn’t have any value. There’s no upside to wallowing in your bad luck or complaining or being a victim to circumstances. Nothing good is going to come out of that approach.

    But if you choose to learn from the experience and get better, then all sorts of good things are possible, even when they’re started with a bad event.  You could learn about a blind spot that’s been holding you back, or at least get a wake up call that something needs to change.

    Or maybe you won’t learn anything new or useful…but by letting the bad event go, you can move on and get back to doing something useful.

    It’s clear that focusing on the positive side of things is your best bet.

    Unfortunately it’s not that easy.

    When you’re having a bad day, when you get bad news, the first thing that naturally kicks in are your emotions. You’re going to get mad, angry, upset, frustrated or sad (or all of the above) and any one of those emotions will keep you from thinking logically – and tend to drive you to option #1…dwelling on the negative.

    How do you exercise your choice?

    It can be challenging to respond in a positive way – here are some things that will help you take the time to choose your response:

    1. Remember that you have a choice

    Simply recognizing the concept of    Stimulus  >  Choice  > Response    (vs. just Stimulus > Response) will help you take that deep breath and hit the pause button long enough for you to make a better, less emotional response.

    2. Cultivate a generally positive outlook

    Every day, whether you’re dealing with adversity or not, it will help you immensely to look at the positive possibilities rather than focusing on the negative. That doesn’t mean you need to be some kind of Pollyanna who can never see anything wrong with a situation. Too much optimism isn’t healthy either, but you can try to be cautiously optimistic…start actively looking for good news rather than assuming bad news.

    3. Adopt a habit of doing an After Action Review

    Originally conceived as a very formal process by the US Army and later adopted by most of the corporate world in less structured formats, the idea of an After Action Review is to evaluate the outcomes of whatever initiatives you might have completed. If you made a big pitch to a client and they rejected it (or accepted it) take the time as a team and talk about what went right and what went wrong. What can you learn from the situation…and then make sure to apply those lessons going forward.

    Bad days, bad events, bad stuff are going to happen to you (and to everyone for that matter). What really sets apart the most successful people from everyone else is how they respond to adversity. They choose a positive path and try to learn and get better every single day.

    How do you respond to challenges? Do you find yourself complaining…or does it drive you to learn from it and do something about it?

    We’d love to hear your thoughts on this, let us know what you’re thinking in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    31 Aug

    Traffic jam

    Have you ever been stuck in your business? On the road but not going anywhere?

    There’s a trap out there for business owners and professionals that many of us will fall into at some point or another. It’s a sneaky sort of trap because it starts when things are going well – you’re busy, you’re making money, you’re getting by so you consciously or unconsciously lay off the gas – just a little…and then you get stuck. Here are some telltale signs:

    • You look at a calendar and realize that several months have passed by this year and you haven’t accomplished anything new
    • Last month was crazy busy…and it’s exactly like this month
    • You’ve been running hard but you’re not getting anywhere (and there’s no clear end in sight)

    If any of those things are happening to you, then you’re stuck (that’s the official technical term…). Once you realize it, it’s a frustrating place to be and if you can’t work your way out of being stuck it will start impacting your business and your life in a lot of negative ways. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse – and when you’re stuck, you’re definitely getting worse.

    3 Steps to Break the Cycle of Stuck


    When you started your business you had a dream. Maybe you wrote it down, laid out a 10 year plan and mapped out all the steps you were going to take. Or maybe you didn’t document anything – but you still had a dream.

    Maybe your dream centered around money. Nothing wrong with that – most business owners are at least partly driven by the desire to make more money or to even reach financial independence. In fact the essence of all businesses has to center around making money…specifically a profit, otherwise it’s a hobby, a charity or a job…not a business.

    Maybe your dream was about being your own boss, or making an impact on others (employees, customers, etc.). Maybe it’s something else or a combination of all of the above. Whatever your dream was – now’s a great time to take it off the shelf and revisit it.

    Can you remember the feeling of hope that you had? The sense that you could make some really cool things happen? You still can – but that feeling gets lost when you get stuck – and it’s critical to find your motivation if you want to get unstuck.



    When’s the last time you read a business book?  Or even just a book for fun? According to recent research – 1 out of 4 US adults didn’t read a single book in the last year. The average number of books read in the US is 5…less than one every two months.

    I know you’re crazy busy and that you legitimately believe that you don’t have time to read – but if you want to be successful in the long run, you’ve got to be learning new things…all the time.  The good news is that you have options – if you’re in the car a lot, check out Audible.com for a huge selection of books that you can listen to (I’ve been listening to books at the gym recently and it’s been a great addition to my routine).

    You could also check out a Business Book Review – you’ll learn the key ideas from a great business book and get to talk it over with other business owners…and get breakfast all in 90 minutes without having to first read the book.

    There are also tons of great podcasts, training sites and other places where you can learn new things. The trick is to make it a habit…part of your lifestyle that just happens.



    Finally the last step in breaking the cycle of being stuck is to take action. It’s a stupidly simple idea – but it’s one that a lot of people get stuck on:

    If you want a different outcome, then you have to take different actions.

    Dreaming and learning are critical in the process – they will both help you figure out what’s important and how it all works. But without taking action, without DOING something, then nothing is going to change.

    The best way to take meaningful action is to narrow down your focus and pick out the one thing that’s going to make the biggest difference in your business in the next 3 months. Obviously you’ll still have to deal with business as usual – all the day to day stuff and putting out fires, but if carve out even just a little bit of extra time…or start saying ‘no’ to some things that really aren’t helping you, then you’ll be able to work on whatever is most important to you – whatever will start making a positive impact. Start small, be consistent and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish even in a short period of time.

    Dream, Learn, Do. That’s how you get unstuck.




    What do you think? When’s the last time you felt stuck? Are you stuck now?  Would this process work for you? What else works? Share your thoughts in the comments below – we’d love to hear them.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach