Great mentors offer some of the most valuable words on the planet. A single breakthrough, idea, or phrase can be worth millions of dollars.
1. Be ready to sacrifice.
I never wanted a mentor. Even when I had one in my father, I pushed against it. I was so independent when it came to business. But I have two pieces of advice I’ve picked up over the years:
• Be practical. How much money do you have to stay alive and for how long? Do you have enough money to cover your rent, expenses (anticipated and unexpected), and overhead for a year? You should.
• Be prepared to sacrifice. The minute you decide to launch a new business, you decide to do nothing else. Build your business for the next year or two. Every minute of every eighteen-hour day should be dedicated to this endeavor. Your business success will come at the expense of family time, friend time, vacations, and any other hobbies or activities you once enjoyed. This business has to be your entire life, or it will die.
I think a lot of people who go into business underestimate how hard it really is to make your dreams come true. It takes constant hustle, hard work, and a lot of sacrifice. To be successful, you need to set yourself up practically to be able to do all of those things.
2. The world is malleable.
I recently finished working on the BVI Art Reef project, which was featured in The New York Times and Richard Branson’s blog. I was part of the team that built an enormous Kraken sculpture on a derelict World War II Navy ship—one of five remaining boats that survived the Pearl Harbor attack. The ship will be sunk to create a wonder-of-the-world dive site and cutting-edge marine research environment.
Working on a project that merges art, science, business, and government to create meaningful impact became a tribute to my mentor, Al Smith; he taught me how to weld and form metal, and endowed me with three lessons that have been critical to my success:
• The world around us is malleable. If you can imagine it and break it down, you can create and mold it.
• Ultimate beauty combines form and function. Things should be finely crafted to elegantly accomplish something meaningful.
• Ego does not achieve anything alone. Often, we need to find our place within a team to accomplish great goals.
Working long, hot days in the Caribbean sun, we bent and welded the metal skeleton of the Kraken. We cut and formed the mesh skin that coral will soon grow upon. We prepared the ship for its final sinking. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was essential and worth it.
3. Go all-in on company culture.
At a conference, I heard over and over again that culture trumps strategy. Soon after, I asked the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, about the biggest thing he wished he’d done sooner. “Created a strong culture first,” he responded. So, my company decided to go all-in on culture. We worked with Janet and Chris Attwood—who wrote “The Passion Test”—to create values and a company vision that we could all live out every day.
From there, we created markers to prove that we were living our values. We started hiring and firing based on values. Slowly, we attracted the right type of people while quickly filtering out those who weren’t a fit. Today, our turnover is under five percent, which is very low for a call center. Our Dreamtrust program—inspired by Jon Butcher’s “Lifebook program” and Matthew Kelly’s book, “Dream Manager“—trains our people to live their best lives possible. This devotion to culture has taken our annual revenue from under $10 million to over $20 million, and will take us — and our people—much, much further.
4. Act with integrity.
I’ve always tried to take bits and pieces from all my mentors, take it all in, and use what I can. But if I had to pick one that has served me well in business and life, it has to be: always be honest and act with integrity.
No matter what happens on the battlefield of business, if you’re honest and authentic, you can never lose, no matter what. You might lose the sale or not make as much as intended, but you acted with integrity and can always hold your head up. Never take favors either. If a vendor or supplier offers so-called “free” goods or services to help gain your business, never accept; you don’t owe them anything in return.
I remember when I needed work done at my own house renovating a bathroom. I called one of my subcontractors to give me a price, and he offered to do it for free. It was a $10,000 job. It was tempting, but then there would be an unwritten rule that I would be obligated to him. I don’t want to owe anyone favors. I paid for his labor and materials. It keeps everything clean.
5. Take care of your health.
The best piece of advice a mentor ever gave me was: my business is a reflection of my life. Meaning that if my personal life was stressful, unorganized, failing, and unfulfilling, it would be nearly impossible for my business to be doing well. For a lot of my life, I spent my energy and time thinking: “Once I make this much money or move to this cool location or get this many clients, then I have earned the right to be happy.”
That type of endless cycle has never proven successful. Money and freedom are not goals to aspire to but instead, byproducts of becoming the best version of yourself and sharing that value with the world. It will never work the other way: this has proven true time and time again in my life and the lives of nearly all of my mentors.
Anytime any of my businesses have seen a drop in sales, higher refunds, more complaints, and any negative output, it has always been correlated with me not taking care of myself. Taking care of your spiritual, mental, and physical health is just as important as taking care of your business. In fact, they must precede it. Once I started taking care of my spiritual, mental, and physical health, everything in my business turns around.
6. Know your outcome.
The best advice a mentor ever gave me was to understand the “true meaning” of leadership. Ninety percent of effective leadership is knowing your outcome—this enables simpler efficient decision making, irrespective of circumstances and emotion.
Knowing your outcome seems to reduce the severity of arising problems. You can better detach when evaluating how a significant decision will impact you and others. Problems still happen; you just get better at dealing with them by knowing the outcome.
Clarity about the outcome has impacted my business and life in multiple ways. I operate at levels aligned with my personal values; this gives a priceless feeling of living in freedom while striving for optimum results.