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  • Aspire » Leadership

    25 Aug
    photo by Jan-Erik Finnberg via Flickr

    photo by Jan-Erik Finnberg via Flickr

    With most of the schools back in session, the number of buses on our roads has increased significantly; latest estimates have the number at about 500,000 school buses in the U.S.  All those yellow school buses created the opportunity not only for a PSA to be a be aware the buses and 26 million students riding them, but to think about your own (business) bus as well, even if it is just metaphor.

    The Business Bus….

    In his 2001 best seller “Good to Great”,  Jim Collins used this bus analogy; you have to get the right people in the right seats on the bus.  Starting with the bus driver’s seat; think of the bus seats as an organizational chart of your business.  Every seat contains a list of duties and responsibilities and it the bus driver’s responsibility to see that the right people are assigned to the right seats.

    As a business owner you are the driver.  There can only be one driver.  You may have a management team; you may be part of ownership group that allows different drivers behind the wheel at different times, but at the end of the day there can only be one driver.   Every business must have a bus driver, the place where the buck stops, the person who is ultimately in charge of everyone on the bus (or in the business).

    Filling the seats…

    Once a seat is filled, the (owner) bus driver needs to monitor the person they placed in the seat, but they need to let them do their job.  This is where so many small businesses repeatedly take steps backwards; the owner(s) need to stay out of other people’s seats!   The seat contains duties and responsibilities; you placed someone in that seat to complete those tasks.  Once you do that, you need to allow them to do what was asked of them.  There isn’t room in the seat for you too!

    Disrupting the seats….

    Although it can happen in any business, for some reason this seems to be a bigger problem with family owned businesses more than others.   In family businesses, there often are multiple owners and even though they have agreed to sit in certain seats (their org chart) they are always bothering family members in other seats they have agreed to stay out of.   All it does is creates havoc and stress on the business.

    To make matters worse, rather than asking them to step into a private location and discuss a difference of opinion they stand up in the front of the bus and undermine or question their authority in front of all the other people on the bus.   Which ultimately leads to the absolute worst scenario of all….(again metaphorically speaking) they  throw them the under the bus.

    “You’ll never get the right people in the right seat on the bus, if you are constantly throwing your people under it!”   – Aspire Business Development

    If owner(s) are constantly being disrespectful of their peers or their managers in front of all the other employees by questioning their actions, discounting their procedures, or overriding their requests,  how are those being disrespected ever supposed to win the respect of everyone else in the company?   Not only is it personally disrespectful, but it diminishes the importance of the tasks they are responsible for in the first place? You reap what you sow.  You may need to change the seats people sit in, you may need to let someone off the bus, but do not throw your people under the bus!

    Remember as the driver (owner) you have the ultimate responsibility for the bus. Even if someone else is struggling in their seat, that’s on you. You can help fix it, you can replace them, but you can’t blame them for struggling.

    So what do you think?  How do you think your Business Bus is doing?  Do you respect the people you place in the various seats on your bus?  Do you compliment them on the bus in front of everyone and talk to them about issues in private?    We would love to hear your thoughts on this in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    12 Aug
    photo by JD Hancock via Flickr

    photo by JD Hancock via Flickr

    If you don’t understand your business, who will?

    That’s the question that came with the 5th and final piece of the business advice given by a dealer peer/mentor in 1997.  This one was the bullhorn that screamed the significance on not only working IN the business, but working ON the business.

    As mentioned in the previous Winning Advice posts, the total length of this handwritten manual for business success was only 1 ½ pages long and barely contained 200 words.  But, compared to the four bullets of advice that preceded this, #1 People, #2 Customers, #3 Profit Margins, and #4 Collections,  almost half of the words in this business manuscript were reserved for this final secret to success.

    It was about ….Working ON the business…!

    ….And, as it was originally written, this was the 5th and final instruction.

    “5. Manage & understand all phases of the business.

    A. Manage Purchases according to Sales & Potential Sales.  Turning _X_ times a year.

    B. Watch parts sales, paperwork flow, direct ship orders, attached to factory invoices, accuracy of parts to internal repairs, customer machine repairs, obsolescence, top parts customers.

    C. Actively watch service dept operations, talk openly with customers as to how the service dept. is doing for them.  Identify all problems or issues.  Know Lip Service versus Real Service.  Make sure all hours worked on any machine is log’d correct.  Make sure return rentals are inspected for repairs, and invoiced with a week.  Look over rental equipment repairs for patterns.”   


    Now let’s white wash and scale the message to benefit your business…

    On the surface,”Manage & understand all phases of the business” doesn’t need a lot explanation.   But notice he used the words “manage and understand” notindividually master and be an expert of” all phases.   That was important to note; the underlying message is effective delegation is part of long-term strategic growth.  Lack of delegating can be a ball and chain for business owners when they try to be involved in every detail of their business.

    Example:  A business owner should have a general understanding of their financials.  However, as a business owner, is it really the best use of their time to be involved in every step of creating each financial or other business tracking report?  Even for smaller businesses, it can easily be more cost effective to have an outsourced CFO, bookkeeper, or CPA assist with these functions.  The business owner or management team can then monitor the information generated.

    1. Managing Purchases (Inventory)….
      1. If you carry inventory, do you know & track your turns per year?
      2. Are you tracking what is in the pipeline for potential business?
      3. What about seasonal purchasing and tracking?
      4. All this involves “forecasting”, some business owners still discount the importance of managing their inventory but ….if you sell hotdogs & mustard you need them on your shelf before July 4th.
    2. Watch Parts Sales….etc.  Though the focus was about “Parts Sales” as it related to the equipment business, the bigger message in this bullet was the significance in having reliable systems and procedures in your business.
      1. How much work are you doing for free?
      2. Does your business capture all the billable materials or services it performs?
      3. Do your employees unnecessarily give away billable labor?
      4. What do your top customers value most about your business?  Maybe it is time to ask them.
    3. Actively watch service….etc.   There was a statement in these final sentences that has stuck with me as much as any piece of business advice I have ever been given.

     The statement was “Know Lip Service verses Real Service”.  Strong customer service was one of his mantras, so I am sure he still preaches that today.  The thing that always puzzled me was the spelling of the word “Know”.  Was it intentionally spelled that way or by accident?

    Honestly, I think he meant to write “No” as in, “Don’t say something you can’t back up”.   As time went by, I was always glad he wrote it as “Know”, because in the context of “Know lip service” the sentence took on a much broader meaning that reminded me that as a business owner, one must always be managing, asking, listening, observing, and leading.

    It would become an ongoing decree of responsibility that as a business owner one must not only keep their own commitments, but they would also be held accountable for the actions of their employees and all who represented their company.   As the owner, you need to “Know”.   And when employees don’t act or speak in a way that aligns with your values, it can’t be overlooked.

    Well that covers it; People, Customers, Profit Margins, Collections, and Management.  The five key areas generously shared by another dealer to ensure a healthy dealership in 1997.  By sharing these in a way that applies to business in general, hopefully you have been able to pull some useful nuggets out of his words and put them to work in your business.

    Thanks Jr., know that a copy of your hand written document still remains inside my business folder today.

    As always we value your thoughts and feedback.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    04 Aug
    photo by US Army via Flickr

    photo by US Army via Flickr

    Great leadership is critical for business success, but it’s rarely a matter of life and death. Which is why it makes sense to look to the US Armed Forces as an inspiration for leadership ideas – in the Army, not only is leadership the key to long term success…it’s also the driver for survival in enemy territory.

    With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the US Armed Forces takes leadership study very seriously. In fact they go back to 1948, when they first published the Field Manual on Leadership, which is built around 11 key Principles that were uncovered in all sorts of real world situations.

    What is surprising is how timeless those principles have turned out to be.  According to this great summary by Tom Deierlein of Combat Leaders those same 11 principles are still taught to all levels of the military today…despite being consistently reviewed every couple of years at the highest levels to determine if they are still valid or if they’re missing anything.

    These principles have held up for over 60 years and are used to grow strong leaders in life and death situations…I suspect they might apply to your business as well.

    11 Principles of Leadership (US Armed Forces)

    1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement

    Before you can lead others you must be able to lead yourself…which means you MUST understand your own strengths and weaknesses. It’s equally important that you are continuously looking for ways to improve yourself. Success isn’t a snapshot in time, it’s a journey and the most successful people are getting better every single day.

    2. Be technically proficient

    This one is interesting and pretty much shatters the concept of a ‘professional’ manager. People respond to competence and if you can’t do what you’re asking your team to do, then you’re likely going to struggle with leading them. You don’t have to be the best, but you need to be up to date and be able to appreciate what it takes to succeed from a skills / technical perspective.

    3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

    Being a leader isn’t about being given a title…it’s about making things happen. This principle also highlights a very strong belief of mine – Leaders never play the victim role…things will go wrong at some point, but a leader isn’t going to blame others (or the economy, the weather, etc.). Instead a leader takes responsibility for the situation, analyzes it, takes corrective action and moves on.

    4. Make sound and timely decisions

    Although it’s important to think through challenges and issues, it’s even more important to make a decision and keep things moving. Nothing will shut down an organization like the inability to make a decision.

    5. Set the example

    Hopefully your team is listening to you, but you can be sure that they are watching you.  And if you aren’t ‘walking the walk’ at all times then it won’t matter what you say. Leadership is especially challenging because it requires you to live as a leader and take on the burden of role model and it’s 24 x 7.

    6. Know your people and look out for their well-being

    Have you ever seen a master mechanic or craftsman with shoddy tools? They know the formula for success includes taking care of their tools. A leader understands their role is to SERVE their team – understand what they want, what their strengths are and creatively find ways to help them grow. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of the work that needs to be done.

    7. Keep your workers informed

    Good communication is critical. In battle everyone has a specific role, but they’re also clearly told what the overall goal is as well. This becomes especially important when things break down and team members have to improvise on the fly. If they don’t understand the big picture and where they fit in, they won’t be able to reach your collective goals.

    8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your workers

    Contrary to a lot of management theory from the early 1900s, people want to take on responsibilities…and if they don’t feel any ownership for what they’re supposed to do, then you’re not going to get much out of them. The best teams own what they need to do and take responsibility for the outcomes. Your job as the leader is to help them figure that out.

    9. Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished

    It’s critical that you are communicating and measuring what you want done at a fairly detailed level, especially if it’s something new. I can tell my kids to clean the kitchen, but unless I’m specific in what that means, I’m not likely to get the result that I really want.

    10. Train as a team

    If you want to get the most out of a group, then you need to play to their individual strengths and they have to be able to work together. Pick your favorite sport and it’s obvious that players have specific roles and the whole thing works only when all of them work together. Your team has the same challenges and need to train together to develop the communication and understanding it takes to blend.

    11. Use the full capabilities of your organization

    A healthy team is continually growing but that growth requires the application of different skills over time. If you’re consistently just using your core capabilities, the team…and the team members aren’t going to be growing. Find creative ways to use all of the skills and capabilities in the team.

    That’s the list – what do you think? Are there any key principles wrong…or missing? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    19 May
    Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr

    Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr

    The ability to focus is a critical element for strong, effective leadership.   Historically, we have thought of being focused as simply reducing distractions…concentration.   Now, recent neuroscience research demonstrates it is more than simply concentrating.    There are actually three distinct ways leaders are required to focus.   Without all three of them you are limiting your ability to lead.

    Daniel Goleman explained these three types of focus in a recent interview for the Harvard Business Review.  Goleman describes how these three elements work together in defining how top executives and business owners get to the heart of effectively executing focus not only personally but across their companies.

    Focus:  Inner, Outer, and Others

    Inner Focus: This is the most common form of focus.   It allows you to block out other distractions, focus on what is at hand, and stay calm under pressure.  It is the basis for intuition, trusting your gut, and good decision making.  As a leader, inner focus allows you to stay focused on the goals you have set for yourself and for your company.   Leaders who master this type of focus have few issues in following their own value system and managing their own schedule.  If the average person was to define the word focus, they would more than likely be referencing this type of focus in their definition.

    Focusing on Others: Sounds easy enough, but if you aren’t intentional about it, you will fail at this type of focus.   Have you ever been in a meeting and lost interest in the discussion only to have it circle back to you and you are disconnected?    I think everyone has at one time or another.   You allowed your focus shift from others back to inner.   To effectively focus on others, it’s all about empathy.   You need to understand how another person thinks, how they feel, and with that be able to sense what you can do for that person.  This is critical because empathy is the basis for all relationship skills: influence, team work, collaborations, inspiration, etc.  As a leader, if you have employees you must be able to focus on others with an emphasis on how you can help them.

    Outer Focus: This is being aware of larger forces that are affecting your business.   Without this type of focus you cannot think strategically.   Without this type of focus as a leader your business is a horse with blinders on.  You aren’t paying attention to your surroundings.   Economic conditions can change but you don’t make adjustments.   Not having Outer Focus is a dangerous way to lead. Practicing Outer Focus is asking questions.   It is systems and process awareness.   It is looking at other products or services in the market place that on the surface may appear disconnected from your business, but on the broader scale have implications and opportunities that can impact it for either better or worse.

    Leadership Focus - Gradient

    Want to get better at each focus?

    Warning: For trailblazing Type- A business owners, some of these suggestions may sound hokie, but give it a go before you discount it!


    How to improve your Inner Focus.   (Practice mindfulness)

    10 minutes/day (min):  Conscientiously monitor what you are thinking about.  Monitor your thoughts and feelings without getting reactive.  Think about what you’re thinking about.   You might be surprised how many places your mind goes in 10 short minutes.   This strengthens the mental muscle for attention and inner focus.


    How to improve your ability to Focus on Others.  (Practice empathy)

    Simply ask for feedback.   You need to know if you understand what the person is saying, what they are feeling, or thinking.   Not comfortable doing this with employees or clients?   Practice with your spouse, your kids, a trusted friend or coach.   Someone who you know will give you honest feedback and not just what you want hear.


    How to improve your Outer Focus (The broader scope)

    Find someone else who has abilities you admire.  It may be an industry peer, a mentor, or a coach.  But seek out someone who will want to help you get better.  Someone who will challenge you to look at the bigger picture of your business and what you are really trying to accomplish with your business.


    As a leader:  How to help your team improve their focus

    By demonstrating or applying any of the above examples you are effectively modeling to your peers, co-workers, and employees.    So much of what we learn happens unconsciously modeling an action we see or hear.    Think about how a child learns, they model what they see and hear.   Don’t overcomplicate it, just do it.


    Check out the entire HBR Interview:  Daniel Goleman’s Three Kinds of Focus.  What do you think? Do you do one better than the others?  Which would you or your company benefit from the most by improving?  As always we love to hear any thoughts or comments.

    Chris Steinlage  Kansas City Business Coach

    14 Apr
    Picture via Office Space - 1999

    Picture via Office Space – 1999

    What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about employees? Hold that thought…

    There’s a lot that goes into successful business growth – you’ve got to have a great product (or service), you have to have good marketing and sales and you have to do a lot of other things right. But perhaps the most important thing for most businesses that want to grow beyond the founder…you have to have great people helping you make things happen.

    That’s a hard statement to argue with – on paper at least.

    But if everyone really believes that’s true, then how do you explain the huge volume of businesses that have dis-engaged employees?

    A recent Gallup Study found that only 13% of employees are actively engaged in their work – 63% are not engaged (just going through the motions) and 24% are actively dis-engaged (trying to disrupt things)!

    What’s driving all of that dis-engagement? There are a lot of factors that go into creating a Great Place to Work – an expert from Deloitte, Josh Bersin, wrote a great article on The Five Elements of A ‘Simply Irresistible Organization’ and his assessment was that you need these 5 things:

    • Meaningful Work – which includes autonomy, just enough challenge and being part of something bigger.
    • Great Management – which I would describe more as leadership…how to help people become better
    • Growth Opportunities – people need to be able to expand into new challenges
    • An Inclusive, Flexible, Fun Environment – you spend the bulk of your time working…it’s good to be able to enjoy it
    • Leadership We Can Trust – a focus from the top on making things better for everyone, not just the ownership

    It’s a great list to start with (and the article is definitely worth a few minutes to read) but I think you can simplify a lot of these ideas into a root cause…a basic belief that drives how people are treated.

    So here’s the question:

    Do you believe your employees are collaborative partners who bring diversity, creativity and ideas well beyond what you bring…or do you believe that your employees cannot be trusted and must be tightly managed at all times if you’re going to get anything out of them?

    That single belief will dictate how you run your business and in today’s world, it will also dictate how successful you can be – assuming that success is driven by those employees.

    The concept of management (and how we traditionally treat employees) was originally developed over 100 years ago by a guy named Frederick Winslow Taylor way back in 1911 when he published The Principles of Scientific Management.  Taylor had a lot of good ideas and he certainly impacted productivity in factories…but a lot of his work was based around the assumptions that employees were lazy and…not very bright and therefore had to be managed tightly if you wanted to get them to actually do the work.

    In the sweat shops of 1911, there may have been a lot more credence to his theories then there are today. Most jobs in the US today require a level of creativity and non-linear thinking (most of the linear, simple jobs have been outsourced or automated). That means you need employees who can make decisions, deal with uncertainty, come up with new ideas and handle people. You’re not going to get much of that kind of help if you treat people like they are lazy and stupid.

    However…if you treat people like they’re your partners…and you have the right people…imagine what could be accomplished.

    It’s not just Touchy Feely Stuff…

    The Great Place to Work institute has been studying this idea for quite a while now and they’ve discovered there is a huge financial incentive to creating a workplace that employees want to be part of – check out their statistics that show Great Places to Work outperform the S&P 500 by about 2 to 1!

    Do you believe your employees are collaborators or that they must be tightly managed…almost like children?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach