Tao te cha-ching

Fear is the only darkness.

Fear is the only darkness.

6 simple principles for achieving inner peace while running a profitable business

Who among us would argue that harmony in one’s work life comes from earning? Shallow as it may seem, fulfillment is about satisfying a need, and a sustainable business needs profits. In my experience supporting owners of small-to-medium-sized businesses, I’ve learned that much of what it takes to build and grow a business comes not from an MBA, but from wisdom hard-fought through trial and error on the battlefield of the balance sheet. Read Tao te cha-ching by @ParagMamnani to protect both sanity and profits. Click To TweetUnfortunately few soldiers make it past the front lines to drink from the overflowing chalice of accounts receivable. For those who need a faster path to enlightenment, I give you the way of the profitable warrior. No nunchucks required.

Be transparent, not translucent. In other words, speak the truth and don’t color the message based on how you want your audience to perceive it. Remind yourself that the perception of others is none of your business, your only job is to report the news. Whether you’re sharing quarterly earnings with the board or selling software over the phone, know your truth and stick by it. A word of warning, Grasshopper: Managing with transparency is not for the faint of heart or the small of balls, but it does wonders for taking the drama out of most any business situation and building trust with those who work with you. As a wise TV character once said, “Fear is the only darkness.”

Never skip recess. Be vigilant about taking time away from your day-to-day routine to asses the impact of your work. Although it seems counter-intuitive, this little nugget is especially important for those of us who love what we do. Unless we step away, breathe some different air, and dance a different step, we have no perspective. It’s taken me years to understand that my data-driven, spreadsheet-loving mind operates far more efficiently after a just few minutes of Above & Beyond’s Group Therapy.  If you don’t believe me, just check the Bueller bylaws: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

Use tools. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The Force is actually a highly sophisticated collection of apps that simplify your business—true story. Struggling with inefficiency? Make a list of the top three most annoying or time-consuming tasks you to every day, for example, data entry, accounting, strategic planning, managing vendors, project management. The issues may vary but the solution is usually the same—turn to technology.  Don’t be afraid to invest in automation and mechanization. If you’re running a business or a team, you’re time is valuable. Seriously, even Yoda used a lightsaber.

Know what you don’t know. The biggest business you’ll never hear of was likely run by a person who thought they had all the answers, otherwise known as a wolf pack of one. Look at the business leaders you admire and look into what makes them successful. I’m guessing you’ll find work habits built upon humility and teamwork, not on ego and singularity. Find a mentor who’s “been there, done that” in your field and hire folks who know more than you do in their areas of expertise. Delegate. Among colleagues, just say no to the toxicity of a siloughed workplace and make friends with complementary departments. That way you’ll have all the help you need when it’s time to bring that jungle cat back to Mike Tyson’s house.

Measure, rinse, repeat. Don’t be afraid to build a culture around data. Whether you’re running a company, a department, or a 7×7 cubicle of your very own, know what’s on the damned TPS reports. Developing simple habits of measurement and follow-up help you make decisions based on fact, not fiction. Don’t make it more complicated than necessary—distill your numbers and the actions you take on a short-term and long-term basis down to five KPIs that inform you about the health of your work. If data gives you a case of the Mondays, find a business intelligence tool to measure and record metrics for you.

First learn no, then learn yes. Forgive me for paraphrasing Mr. Miyagi here, but I believe it’s important to master the skill of knowing how and when to say “no” in business. Give yourself permission to “think it over” if needed, but set a deadline for making the decision. Once you come to a conclusion, never flip-flop, there is nothing that will kill trust faster. Stand by your decisions and have clear reasons behind declining a request. Don’t be passive aggressive about your answer. Sometimes it takes decades of practice to be able to draw clear boundaries with leadership, colleagues, direct reports without alienating or caving in, but you’ll find that clear communication will take far less energy to manage. Wax on, wax off.

We all have those days when nothing works out—you’re on your last dime, you’re about to pull the trigger on layoffs, your VC firm just backed out. This is when it’s time to check in with your own personal fight club and ask the tough questions: Is the road less traveled actually helping me avoid delay of gratification? Am I willing to hold on for one more day? Can I be the wind beneath my own wings? Is it really fun storming the castle? If you’re lucky, it’s on these days you‘ll be able to channel your inner Dragon Warrior: “There is no secret ingredient. To make something special, you just have to believe that it’s special.”

Namaste.

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