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Wednesday, 24 July 2013
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As I reflect on fifty years in business it is clear that the most important decisions I made were about the selection of the people around me.   If you associate with the right people and select the right people for your team you have the highest likelihood of success.  And, of course, the opposite is true – surround yourself with losers and you will likely not shine in life.

Let’s start close to home – your spouse. This is the most important decision you will ever make. Get it right.  Choose the best long term partner for you.  A failed marriage is disruptive to your life and your career. When your spouse is not only your lover but also your best friend and career confidant your likelihood of business success surges.

The same principle pertains to the choices you make about your friends and your staff. You will improve your skills most by associating with winners. You will enhance your chances of getting ahead by spending time with leaders who are willing to coach and mentor. And when it comes time to make decisions about promotion and hiring make it your number one priority. Select the best or as I like to say “surround yourself with stars and you can become a star.”

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Posted on 07/24/2013 9:34 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Tuesday, 09 July 2013
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I often coach business leaders by saying that “you are always on stage” no matter where you are and what you are doing. The same pertains to all of us all the time so let’s all put our best foot forward.  If you treat a waitress badly or act like a spoiled brat in a store it reflects on you and your organization.  Be professional all the time and that will reflect positively on you.

Whether with a friend or stranger, the first few seconds of any encounter sets the tone for what comes next so start with a smile.  A smile is positive and it puts others at ease. Now open the conversation on a pleasant note and what follows will likely go well.  There is much upside to being positive and pleasant and only downside to the reverse.

If you want to get ahead in life dress for the role you want, not the role you are in. Every person is a complete package.  The way you look, the way you conduct yourself and the content of your conversation all send a message to the world around.  You will be most successful in your career if you go through life understanding that “you are always on stage” and act accordingly.
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Posted on 07/09/2013 9:32 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Wednesday, 19 June 2013
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When you are in a leadership role it is incumbent on you to set the direction for your team.  You have all heard the old adage that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” A lack of direction on your part is a sure recipe for a lack of accomplishment.  On the other hand a clear, concise, measurable direction will put your team on a path for success.

Communication of direction is every leader’s responsibility. Start by explaining the organization’s overall mission and then dive into the direction for your unit. Be as clear as you can and then lead a discussion that includes questions so that you clear up any potential misunderstanding. Next, be repetitious - talk about the direction twice as often as you think you should.  The more clearly your team understands the goals the more likely they will help you achieve and the more likely they will add their own ideas that in many cases could improve the outcome.

Everyone wants to be a winner so report the results to the team.  The more measurements the better. “When I see myself as winning I will work that much harder.”  Leaders set clear direction, communicate regularly, listen carefully and report the results to the team.

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Posted on 06/19/2013 9:05 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Wednesday, 22 May 2013
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When you are in a leadership role it is incumbent on you to set the direction for your team.  You have all heard the old adage that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” A lack of direction on your part is a sure recipe for a lack of accomplishment.  On the other hand a clear, concise, measurable direction will put your team on a path for success.

Communication of direction is every leader’s responsibility. Start by explaining the organization’s overall mission and then dive into the direction for your unit. Be as clear as you can and then lead a discussion that includes questions so that you clear up any potential misunderstanding. Next, be repetitious - talk about the direction twice as often as you think you should.  The more clearly your team understands the goals the more likely they will help you achieve and the more likely they will add their own ideas that in many cases could improve the outcome.

Everyone wants to be a winner so report the results to the team.  The more measurements the better. “When I see myself as winning I will work that much harder.”  Leaders set clear direction, communicate regularly, listen carefully and report the results to the team.

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Posted on 05/22/2013 10:06 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Thursday, 16 May 2013
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When you are old and gray and look back on your career you will take the most pride in those you helped in their careers.  So try to put coaching on the front burner, not the back burner.  The same principle pertains to your family – spend time coaching your children because they are the ones you want to be most proud of.

Share your experiences – the good ones and the bad ones.  Conclude each coaching session with a discussion of the lessons you learned.  Telling real life stories is the best way to teach and coach those you are trying to develop.

When I worked at Tractor Supply I spent a big portion of my time on the road visiting stores with District Mangers and others. After each store visit we would recap that store and then move along to the next store which gave me time in the car to coach.  We did the same at lunch and dinner.  I took great pride in asking questions, telling stories and generally helping to build the skills of our leaders.

Leaders develop leaders and a conscious effort at coaching your stars will pay huge personal dividends.

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Posted on 05/16/2013 10:01 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Friday, 03 May 2013
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Life at work is full of negotiations with your boss, your employees and your peers over a whole variety of issues – some consequential and some not. In addition we seem to always be in some sort of negotiations with members of our family and particularly those closest to us.   It is a matter of give and take sometimes capitulating 100% and sometimes not at all. We all try to stake out the position we feel best about based on our unique experiences.

The one topic on which you should never negotiate is your values. If you know something is ethically, morally or legally wrong the time for negotiation is over. Bending the principles will get you in trouble every time.  You can negotiate most anything but never compromise on your values.

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Posted on 05/03/2013 12:37 PM by Joe Scarlett
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Wednesday, 24 April 2013
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If you are reading this blog you are most likely in a leadership role.  Your position puts you on a pedestal – maybe a small one or maybe a big one - but for sure you do have some clout.  When you speak, people listen, so make sure your words really mean something.  What is the one big idea that you want to promote that will help improve your business operation? Figure it out and then outline the way you want to convince others that this is the right path for the business.

Once you have decided on that big idea use the power of you role to promote that idea and stick to the one idea. A shotgun approach of new ideas confuses your constituents and blurs your message. Focus on a single topic makes it easy for people to follow. With a regular focus on one key thought people will likely get engaged and add to your thinking on the topic and may help crystalize your thoughts and words more clearly. Stay with your one really important idea and talk about clearly and at the most opportune times. I’ll bet you will be surprised at your success in bringing about positive change.

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Posted on 04/24/2013 8:37 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Wednesday, 10 April 2013
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What is your next career step? Do you have a plan? If not, you should build one.  Give it a lot of thought and get started. First decide where you want to be in a few years and then ask yourself what you need to do to get there. That thinking should lead to a preliminary plan.

Next talk to someone you trust – it may be your boss or maybe some other trusted individual in your company or a respected friend familiar with your situation. Ask key questions, listen carefully and say “thank you” because you may hear some things that don’t sit well.  Now build a more concrete plan that will probably include classes to take, books to read, experiences to have and beginning a new networking effort.  Write it down and schedule what you need to do.

Once you are comfortable with your beginning efforts it is time to talk with your boss or possibly the Human Resources Department about your goals.  Be careful to pick the right time to have this conversation. Don’t talk to your boss after a difficult day or late on Friday when she is heading off for the weekend.

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Posted on 04/10/2013 9:10 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Tuesday, 02 April 2013
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I know how often employees get frustrated with the boss. “What is the matter with him? What was she thinking? That’s stupid.” We have all heard and probably said similar things from time to time with the assumption that the boss is doing things we think are stupid. Hold on. No boss I know ever sets out to do anything other than try to do what is right for the business. So don’t get frustrated when things don’t seem right.

When the right time comes, ask the boss about her big picture goals.  Most bosses will be happy to share and that will help you understand. And if you have a suggestion, the boss is likely to really appreciate your contribution. I remember a time in my career when I had a new boss who really did not understand some key points in the operation.  I pitched to help him learn and it worked to my advantage in a later promotion.

Bosses are trying to do the right thing and the best that we can do for the boss and for ourselves is be supportive and try to understand as much as we can about the overarching business goals so we can provide the maximum contribution to business success.

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Posted on 04/02/2013 9:32 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Thursday, 28 March 2013
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I used to think “stick with facts” and you will make the best decisions. Then early in my career I had a real wake-up call when I hired the “perfect candidate” for a position and it wall went in flames a month or so later.  My instincts said this was not a fit but the facts on the resume said this was a perfect fit.

That lesson put me on a path of blending the facts with how I feel about the situation. The same could be applied to any decision – personnel, strategic, or financial.  In making product line decisions at Tractor Supply we would often hear “but we can sell that” and in fact we could sell that. However sometimes my instincts would lead me to question whether that was the right product and did it fit our image in the eye of the customer.

The message here is not to skip the facts in decision making but to blend the facts with your instincts which are likely be of great value. Your instincts are the sum total of your life experiences and sure should count in your decision making.
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Posted on 03/28/2013 9:30 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Thursday, 21 March 2013
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Your attitude defines you in the eyes of everyone who comes in contact with you. A positive attitude projects a healthy view of you. A bad attitude says “stay away from that guy.”  These words are just basic common sense.

So, how do you measure up? Do have bad days and send negative messages about yourself to your team, your peers or even worse to your boss? If you answered “yes” go look in the mirror and ask the next question “who is responsible for this bad attitude?”  The answer is you!

Only you can control your attitude. Your attitude tells others all about you. Good attitudes encourage collaboration, respect and hard work. Send the message you want sent by demonstrating a positive attitude around the clock. There should be no “time out” for an attitude shift.
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Posted on 03/21/2013 1:31 PM by Joe Scarlett
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Tuesday, 19 March 2013
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I remember a story my friend Joe Calloway told during a motivational speech to Tractor Supply store managers many years ago.  Joe was challenging the group to network, get engaged and generally get out of your shell. He made the point that there is so much to be learned from simply talking to other people. So here is his challenge:

Next time you are in an elevator move to the front, turn around, face the other people and find some way to start a conversation.  Comment on the weather, talk about lunch, compliment someone on their apparel, or just about anything that enters your mind.

Sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? It is really fun – I’ve been doing it for years and have fun every time. Not one person has ever gotten upset. People love it and you become sort of a mini-star in the elevator. Try it – you will likely have fun and may even meet a business prospect.

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Posted on 03/19/2013 1:29 PM by Joe Scarlett
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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
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The first time you lay eyes on a new face you form an immediate impression based on what you see. Overall appearance, cleanliness, dress, hair, facial expression, etc. sends data to your brain that is translated into a conclusion about this new face.  Certain observations may be an immediate turn off for you but one thing that will always send a positive message is a smile.

When I am giving a speech the one thing that sends me a message of comfort as I look at my audience is a smile.  When your kids smile you feel good. When your spouse smiles you feel good. When anyone smiles it sends a message of warmth and friendliness.

So in business if you want to get off to  good start, begin with a smile. It does not make any difference whether you are the boss, a peer or a worker bee – a smile goes a long way to build trust and understanding. My advice: start every conversation, meeting, gathering etc. with a smile. Smiling is a winning formula in every situation.

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Posted on 03/13/2013 9:03 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Tuesday, 05 March 2013
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Basic economic principles of business pertain equally in your personal life.  Sounds pretty good but we so often hear about professionals who can’t seem to figure out their own finances. Life is not that complicated – If you spend more than you make sooner or later it will catch up with you.

Everyone needs a budget. List your income in one column and right next to it, list your expenses. If column one is greater than column two you have some money left over for saving, celebrating or buying a goodie.  If column two is larger you need to cut back on some of your expenses. Warning: building credit card debt is expensive and stupid. A good financial rule of thumb: “if you can’t pay for it now don’t buy it” with the exception of a reasonable priced home and a good car.

If you spend more than you make you will likely have increased stress in your life.  When your employer finds that you are not personally financially responsible that may slow your career growth and you might not even realize it. Demonstrated financial responsibility in your personal and business practices speaks well of you as person and as a leader.
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Posted on 03/05/2013 3:40 PM by Joe Scarlett
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Wednesday, 27 February 2013
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Recently I saw a quote that says “What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”  The quote was attributed to Robert Schuller, but I have heard many people say the same thing in slightly different ways.  It made me think about the reasons some are reluctant to take a risk—the fear of failure.  We don’t want to have to admit failure, or fix the problem(s) the failure produces, or start over with another solution.  There are, however, other reasons people are risk-averse, and one of those is fear of success.  What if I am wildly successful, and my life, my organization, my department will never be the same?  I believe that this fear of success is really a fear of change, and as we all know, change is one of the things we fear most.  We tend to get comfortable and don’t want to put in the effort, time and mental energy that change requires, even if the result is going to make our life/work/situation better.

We talk about building up “change muscles” so that when the change comes we are ready to deal with it.  I believe that we should also be constantly building up our “courage muscles” by exercising them whenever the need arises.  That way, we are ready for whatever comes our way.

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Posted on 02/27/2013 1:48 PM by Mary Fink
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Monday, 25 February 2013
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There is one type of courage that is lacking at every level of many organizations, and that is the courage to speak up, especially if your position is different from everyone else’s.  Each of us has examples of times when our silence was harmful to the group we were working with, and the outcome would have been more successful if only we had spoken up.   It does no one any good if we have information, intuition or something else that should be considered in making a decision. 

The Abilene Paradox is a concept that suggests that managing agreement is much more difficult than managing conflict.  With conflict, everyone’s opinion is on the table and available for discussion.  When everyone agrees, or worse, is silent (which we assume means assent) we carry on without question, only to discover later that people did have opposing views that would have resulted in a much more complete discussion and a better decision.

It is in every group’s best interest that every member express his or her view, even if it lengthens the discussion.  In the long run it will lead to better relations and better decisions.

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Posted on 02/25/2013 3:47 PM by Mary Fink
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Thursday, 21 February 2013
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We hear a lot today about leaders needing to make tough decisions and have difficult conversations with others, and what it boils down to is the need for more courage in the senior suite.  While it is critical that we nurture relationships and treat people right, it is not treating others right to hedge on the truth or not say anything at all.  Leadership courage can cut through a multitude of problems and in most cases is the right thing to do.  When we speak of difficult conversations we suggest that leaders consider how they might have contributed to an issue that now requires a correction of some sort, and often the issue originates with something the leader failed to do, such as failing to give strong directions, rather than something the associate did completely on his or her own. 

The next time you are lamenting the fact that you must have a difficult conversation, think about the problems you will be creating or allowing to worsen if you do nothing, and JUST DO IT!

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Posted on 02/21/2013 10:08 AM by Mary Fink
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Tuesday, 19 February 2013
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I am sure you have heard you mother say these words to you when you were growing up. It is good advice in business and in your personal life. We all hope that we will not experience that terrible rainy day but the odds are that you very well might, so think ahead.

Many businesses try to anticipate what might interrupt the business and build plans to deal with those things.  At Tractor Supply a distribution center was shut down with serious tornado damage. Our prior detailed planning allowed us to quickly begin shipping to the affected stores from other distribution centers with little or no loss of sales.  The prior planning covered labor availability, trucks and trailers, computer support, supplier shipments, and a whole lot more. Preparation yielded success.

No matter where you are in the chain of command in your organization it is always a healthy exercise to say “what is the worst thing that can happen to us?” and “do we have a plan to deal with it?” Don’t let your operation fail if disaster strikes.

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Posted on 02/19/2013 9:43 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Monday, 11 February 2013
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When I was growing up one of my Dad’s key pieces of advice was “if it is too good to true it probably is not what it appears to be.” Yet it is easy to get persuaded to buy into something that is too good to be true. Turn on the television and listen to those commercials about wonder products selling at a tiny fraction of the logical price “and if you act right now we will double the purchase…” Back off.

When you are shopping for a used car beware of prices that are illogically low. The same is true for buying a house. Early in our married life we were very interested in buying a particular home and the price was better than we expected. Fortunately we did a little checking and found that the house floods whenever there is heavy rainfall. We figured it out in time.

The “if it is too good to be true” principle pertains equally in business. Whenever you are offered something that is better than you expect, dig deeply. Ask every question you can, do your research and talk it over with others. A heavy application of curiosity and skepticism will generally prevent getting into a bad deal.

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Posted on 02/11/2013 9:34 AM by Joe Scarlett
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Thursday, 07 February 2013
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I once read a book titled “If ain’t broke, break it and make it better.”  The premise was that almost everything can be improved and made better.  If that was easy everyone would do it. Part of the process is looking at issues differently and asking what sometimes sound like crazy questions.

The biggest obstacle to uncovering better anything is an open mind. Your biggest enemy is “we have always done it that way.” As a leader you certainly cannot afford that mindset yourself and should try to eliminate that in your team.

Leaders ask good questions. Leaders challenge the status quo. Leaders ask what if…   Leaders make outrageous propositions in an effort to encourage creative thinking.  Leaders set targets that may seem unrealistic. Leaders inspire you to look where others do not. Leaders who do these things often achieve astounding results.

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Posted on 02/07/2013 8:38 AM by Joe Scarlett
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