6 Lessons from 2020
Over the course of a decade, I’ve documented lessons that I hope to never revisit or re-learn.
As of now, I’ve documented over 100 lessons since 2010.
For entrepreneurs, “lessons” is another term for “hardships” In many ways, the goal for an entrepreneur is to make mistakes, learn quickly and improve with each iteration. We are always navigating obstacles and terminal points, which are sudden-death scenarios that could put an end to our endeavors. To that point, it’s constant navigation; attributes such as longevity, stamina and motivation are critical for long-term success as we (entrepreneurs) need to be able to sustain multiple “lessons” and continue onward.
To that point, I’ve racked up my fair share of lessons over the years. To be exact, I’ve now crested over 100 lessons over the period of a decade. I’m not particularly proud of all of my “lessons” and quite embarrassed, especially, about the earlier days when I was learning what leadership meant. The lessons from this past year were built on years of experience, a few grey hairs and coffee-stained shirts.
Six Lessons From 2020
First, it is important to say that I feel blessed. 2020 was difficult and I’m thankful for the health of my friends, family and colleagues. My lessons were less burdensome than many people I know.
- Trust is what it is all about. With great leadership and a strong culture, success is achievable even during the hard times. With a common theme of trust among colleagues, we can generate traction and find success. The cliche, all boats rise with the tide, is certainly the case when trust is a common thread within any community. The thing about trust is that it is earned. Too often, people want to be given trust, but that’s not how it works. With each step of execution trust is earned and, over time, after a sequence of executions, trust is earned.
- “Nothing is better for the farm than the farmers foot” which is a quote came from my great aunt, Emma Carpenter, who shared this with me at a young age. Basically, the point is that no matter how large the organization or how small, it is important to keep grounded and stay close to the business. For Palmetto, that means keeping close to the customer as much as possible and staying tuned into their needs and wants. While there is a customer experience team in place and I’m no longer involved in the day-to-day with customers, as a CEO, it’s ultimately my responsibility to deliver to the customer and that’s a responsibility that I cannot delegate in full.
- Without focus, we fall for anything and everything. There’s an old saying “if you don’t stand for something, then you fall for anything.” This is the same for business. As an entrepreneur, I tend to have big ideas and a natural inability to focus. This past year, we’ve really focused on how to improve focus and prioritization. I said “no” about 99% of the time and “yes” only 1% of the time. Any success we have has come from focus.
- Do it for purpose, the rest will follow. This wasn’t a lesson as much as it was something I needed to communicate more clearly internally with my team. It’s hard to build a purpose-driven team, but once the team is assembled, it’s easier to find alignment around goals and objectives. Monetary benefit and other ancillary benefits will emerge over time, so long as the correct team is in place.
- Perfection is an optical illusion. As a starting point, I love numbers. Analytical decisions come very easy to me. The problem has always been, how can I get better data? Through software “release early and iterate quickly,” we learn data points much faster and learn user behavior. Trying to perfect processes without data and analytics is an exercise of theory and is a fruitless exercise. My friend and Chief Technology Officer Jared Wray, taught me this valuable lesson.
- Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. A key lesson learned many times over as an entrepreneur is the need to be flexible and situationally adaptive. The truth is that we can all have the best plans possible, but always need to be prepared for what ‘life’ will throw at us. From my perspective, 2020 was 100% about remaining flexible, open-minded and adjusting the continuous evolution of the new circumstances. Maintaining an element of vulnerability and openness made all the difference. Unfortunately, this is the lesson I had to re-learn.
Collation of Lessons
A shameless plug: A decade of lessons are collated into a management book, “Leading, Developing and Serving Your Team,” which is scheduled for release in 2021.