One of my favorite business books was published in 1988. It was a very simple book entitled, “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten”. The premise of the book is that the simple lessons we learned in Kindergarten can carry us through the balance of our life. We would all be more successful and the world would be a better place if we applied a few simple rules. Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.
As I have advanced in my career, I have realized how true Robert Fulghum’s words are. The business executives who I have the most respect for, play by these simple rules. These executives attract the best talent. They have the strongest business partners. And, they have had the most consistently successful careers.
I find it interesting how often I am in business meetings and we are analyzing a very complex business issue. It may have to do with a channel partner relationship, an acquisition target, a business management process or a marketing campaign strategy. However, after lengthy dialog, it often comes down to a simple discussion about “doing the right thing”. The ultimate question is typically very easy to answer.
Ironically, many executives have spent so much of their career focusing on forecast models, margin analysis, manufacturing metrics and development cycles, that they have lost the ability to make simple business decisions based on common sense.
To be a successful business executive, there is always a baseline of business knowledge that is necessary. You need an understanding of finance, manufacturing, sales, marketing, product development, as well as industry domain expertise. Yet, the truly great executives are able to see beyond manufacturing variances, product margin, time-to-market advantage and fundamental ROI and distill the business decisions down to very a simple analysis. They remember that customers will purchase from you if you treat them fairly. They understand that employees will be loyal if you treat them with respect. When appropriate, they accept the blame and apologize for their mistakes. They understand that you can’t manage a business from a balance sheet alone.
Recently, my eight-year-old daughter asked me how my day went. I told her that I was in a business strategy meeting most of the day. I couldn’t describe much of the meeting to her because she wouldn’t have understood it, so I just gave her a very high-level description of the problem. Out of curiosity, I asked her what she would have decided, and without hesitation, she gave the right answer. I smiled and told her she was right. It took my eight-year-old daughter about three minutes to get to the same answer that it took eight extremely well paid executives five hours to get to. Sometimes the answer is easier than you think. I’ve gained a new respect for “bring your daughter to work” day.
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