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Recently, I came across this post about failures of leadership. To me, Leadership is much more than following a set of rules or what someone has written in a book. Ideally it is instinctual and second-nature for one in the leadership role to not only guide, but also to learn.

Failure is certainly a very good learning experience for all involved. Have been broke financially a couple of times and once near bankruptcy I certainly learned more from these experiences than any successes, small or large. To me, it is all about what one does afterwards, as this is how one is judged in the long run.

My post,”Admitting Mistakes are Keys to Success” discussed this very notion. Abraham Lincoln and Bill Gates both failed at their first business ventures several times and yet they were able to move on and become the leaders that they are now known as.

There is a quote by David Feherty that rings true for these thoughts: “It’s how you deal with failure that determines how you achieve success.”

A few simple things I’ve learned from my challenges and “not so successes”…

  • Stand out: Do what you do best and let the world know. We utilize social media a great deal and simple marketing to differentiate ourselves from the competition.
  • Innovate: Set yourself apart. Have you done something new in your industry? Are you known for certain areas of expertise?
  • Move Faster: To me, erring on the side of being proactive is better than letting your competitor beat you to it. Act so you don’t have to react.
  • Dominate the Field: Focus on what you do and do it better than anyone else.
  • Employees: Show respect and treat your team as you would want to be treated. They are your best assets to your company.
  • Desire Excellence: It can be contagious.

The road to excellence starts with the smallest details. Overlook them to your detriment. Customers would rather deal with a quality company, that’s a fact. Balanced correctly, the two will make you a better company. But as I stated previously, if you don’t do it, someone else will.

What are your thoughts on learning from failures or mistakes? Do any stand out as learning experiences?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email
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Imagine attending a conference and being introduced to a prospective client. This person asks about your company and professional background. Instead of replying to the prospect you say, “Let my friend Dave here tell you all about us.” And then you walk away without speaking a word.

It is extremely unlikely that this potential client would end up hiring you. But in a way, that is what many companies try to do when they use canned programs to implement their customer relationship management.

I don’t believe it is possible for anybody else to tell your story the way you can. Others might be able to provide the basic details, but in order to truly explain your company’s character and culture it needs to come directly from you.

There is ample evidence that executives in the commercial construction and design industry are hesitant to enter into unknown business relationships.

According to a nationwide survey I read recently in Construction Executive magazine, 83 percent of respondents said their primary source of business is a combination of repeat clients, referrals and networking. Yet amazingly, 33 percent said they do nothing to nurture existing business relationships.

What’s going to happen if your competition makes the effort to cultivate business relationships with a personal touch, and you simply rely on canned programs? Sure it takes a lot more time and work to do it on your own.

Success is never easy, but if you don’t take the initiative, someone else will.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Few people endure slumps and a downturn in performance as often as professional athletes. Even the greatest sports stars suffer through stretches where seemingly nothing goes right. During his heyday, Michael Jordan had a commercial in which he stated, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.” Then, after a short pause, he said, “And that is why I succeed.”

The point being that we all will go through tough times. To me, The key is how we handle the difficulties, and what we do to maintain a positive attitude and emerge stronger and better.

We have been in an economic slump for the past three years. This downturn has been longer than anything I have ever experienced, and it is not over. But things are improving. Most people expect that 2011 will be better than 2010, and 2012 will be even better than that.

Still, the psychological effects of a bad economy are similar to an athletic slump. Eventually it is difficult to keep your spirits up and you become convinced that the good times will never return. That is precisely when it is vital to visualize success.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stated that golfing legend Jack Nicklaus used to step back and “consciously regain a positive frame of mind” whenever things were going wrong. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz broke out of a lengthy slump by watching a two-minute video of a series of perfect pitches he had made.

Here are a few things I do to try to encourage those around our office to keep their spirits up:

  • We have company lunches from time-to-time. Some of the ladies in our office take advantage of our kitchen and cook some wonderful and tasty full-course meal for everyone.
  • We go on company outings occasionally. Recently, many members of our staff attended a local football game and we invited not only staff, but their family as well.
  • We ensure that all employees have knowledge of our projects and company functions. While not mandatory, their level of involvement is determined by their own interests and time. This increases their own interests and helps create a sense of not only teamwork, but also ownership of the projects.

I am interested to hear how you keep employee moral up in your office or other suggestions you may have on this topic ?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email


Thanks to several social media tools, I have been able to stay connected with increased frequency than before web 2.0.  A couple of years ago we started using several  of these  and the effectiveness of helping with relationships has been very encouraging.  I can count on a brief exchange with someone due to my blog posts, as you see here, on Facebook or on Twitter.  On the other hand, I will say that social media can be a detriment to your time management efforts.

The internet is a large and highly populated space and it is easy to get lost or chasing rabbit trails. I compare it to someone looking into a refrigerator when one is hungry, but not really sure what they want, yet they open the door to see if anything has changed. Some would compare it to insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

But through the use of Social Media, companies can now focus their attention on specific audiences much easier and start topics of conversation with just a sentence.  In addition, you can make people feel more important by personalizing the messages sent.  I enjoy reaching out to old friends to check on their well-being as well as business acquaintances, as I believe that this is a lost aspect of business today.

I believe that the economy is getting better and to me, it more important than ever before to be sure that you’re strengthening and maintaining relationships with your clients and associates in the most efficient ways across multiple platforms.

Listed below are some other blog posts to help you on your way:

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

It’s easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day activities and then add in family and just life in general. We lose contact with those that are an import part of our lives, whether professional or personal. We are then reminded of them by something that we see or hear.

Through the years, I have made many friends and associates. I am as guilty as anyone whenever I forget to return a phone call or an email due to my own duties throughout the day. It is not intentional. But it takes just a few moments to use what I believe to be the simplest contact tools already sitting on my desk.

These tools are a phone and a pen.

It is a very quick process to pick up a pen and write out a quick note on a company post card. But it can be the make or break for your business nowadays. We live in a highly competitive world and a gesture such as remembering someone’s love of the outdoors and sending them an article out of a magazine that you believe they may find interesting touches their mind and heart.

Returning a phone call is something that I find people are not always willing to do. I make every attempt to either answer the phone as I receive calls or to call back as soon as I am able. It may sound old-fashioned and to some it may be, especially in this hectic, fast-paced world today.

Yet, I strongly believe that a very simple phone call or a quick note can do wonders with business relationships as it breaks the monotony of the interactive barrage. This is not to say that I do not use email or one of the other communication tools such as Twitter or Facebook, as well, but the phone call and the pen offer something many of us may have left somewhere along the trail.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Call an old friend or business associate and catch up.
  • Write a 1-3 sentence email to a business associate and recommend a book.
  • Send a brief note a new business contact and include an article from the newspaper or a magazine related to their business.

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Last week we finished our United Way campaign in the city but it was not without a real push by its leadership and the United Way. Someone said that while the economy is cyclical, community needs are constant.

I have been thinking of some ways that small businesses can give back to the community that provide value to the recipient organization and at the same time provide some value to the company. A few suggestions came to mind:

  • Give time and services instead of money. Most of us can afford to part with a few hours of our time, and the personal experience usually is much more rewarding than simply writing a check. Like many, we have participated in community service for a number of years, which is fun for our folks and helps worthy organizations. The Pig Iron BBQ competition is one that fits this category we usually do annually.
  • Develop a charitable project for the entire company. Finding something the company can do together is a way to build a stronger bond among your team and help build morale.
  • Donate to non-profits instead of charging them a reduced rate for your services. If you charge the full rate and then donate some of it back to the non-profit, the donation is tax-deductible.
  • Join forces with other companies. If you cannot afford to give as much this year, reduce the amount of your donation but try to find some other companies to match it. A way to turn less into more.
  • We allow non-profits the use of our facilities. A much-needed conference facility can be of much use to a lot of non-profits nowadays.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on how you and your company help others. What’s the ROI on helping others?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

In my travels I get to experience some cool things and this recent experience reminded me of things that many us take for granted. This recently happened to me during my last visit to the Dakota’s this fall.  After arriving, we gathered in a small bar and were approached by a young man who had overheard us when the discussions turned to football…particularly the Auburn and Alabama rivalries.

Serving as a weapons officer, Capt. Pat Helton is with the 37th Bomber Squadron that is based at Ellsworth Air Force Base. This historic squadron has served in many missions including Doolittle’s Raid during WWII. The 37th Tigers have also flown in Operation Desert Fox, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Capt. Helton had dinner with us that evening and afterwards asked if we would like to come over and see the plane that he flies based in Ellsworth. But this wasn’t any plane, this was the B1 Bomber. The supersonic bomber that was first developed in the mid-70s, but wasn’t actually put into duty until circa mid ‘80’s. Most recently, it has served during our mission in Afghanistan.

We met Capt. Helton on Sunday morning and after going through security clearance. We were shown the flight lines and how the B1 approaches its missions.  We learned that at any given time, there are at least two B1s flying over Afghanistan providing support to ground troops.

We also learned that they spend an average of 15 hours in the air with a 24 hour service cycle;  flying in cramped quarters like an angel out over the countryside protecting their fellow soldiers. When called into action, Capt. Helton has direct communications with the ground troops deciding which type of ordinance to use.

After we wrapped up the tour of the 37th Squadron and saw the B1 bomber on the flight lines. It made me thankful that I was able to visit with Capt. Helton, learn about his duty and in addition, very thankful for the role our military is playing keeping peace in the world.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

I say both, but that’s the short answer. Here’s how I got there.

photo from Elise Michelle's Flickr photostream

For me, Saturdays in the fall often involve at least a little bit of college football. While I was watching last weekend, I thought about how important communication is on the field. A quarterback might be blessed with tremendous athletic ability and have intricate knowledge of every play in the book, but neither does him much good if he doesn’t call the play correctly in the huddle.

It’s the same nearly all of what do as business leaders. Technical skills are undoubtedly essential for long-term success. But I’m not sure that as far as essentials go, an aptitude for communication shouldn’t rank right up there with technical know-how. If you have a head full of knowledge but can’t relay it clearly, then what exactly have you accomplished?

It’s my opinion that a focus on communication should filter into Human Resources. Many companies make hires based solely on a person’s technical merit. This can be a problem if it turns out that the new hire has trouble interacting with clients and co-workers. If a person is unable to manage client expectations or motivate team members, suddenly all of that technical knowledge doesn’t seem so important.

Over the years, we’ve hired English majors who have gone on to become terrific construction managers. That’s because they are attentive to detail, they’re leaders and, most importantly, they know how to communicate. We want folks who can throw the ball deep downfield, and also make sure there is somebody there to catch it.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

Every once in a while, our team takes a bit of time away from the busy schedules we all maintain for a get together. It’s not a big time commitment, but it gives us an opportunity to catch up with folks who may be in and out of the office a good bit. Today, we all had lunch.

It’s always encouraging to me when, after we’ve had some laughs about little league and vacation, the conversation moves toward team building. This is a particularly sharing group—if they’ve had a success, they want everyone else to know how so the success can spread. As I’ve said before, the sum of our work is far greater than the parts.

Here’s what came out of lunch today:

  • Today, retaining customers is more vital than ever.
  • We are in the service business, but we are also in the “experience business.” Conscious or not, our customers will rate their experience as good, bad or indifferent with every sale.
  • Make no mistake about it, cost is important more than ever. But if cost is the same, the experience factor is the new competitive differentiator.
  • Our customers are loyal to us when they receive value beyond the ordinary buy and sell.
  • The more extraordinary the value, the greater the loyalty.
  • It’s important to determine what the “value lever” for each of our individual customers. We’ve got customers who like a routine. Some want fast answers while others are looking for a personal touch. Most appreciate problem solving beyond the transaction. Whatever the individual value leveler, identify it and work to fulfill it.
  • Stay in touch. Communicate. Communicate in different ways: a short note, an e-mail, a phone call or a value suggestion is often appreciated. Smaller, more frequent connects will lead to longer relationships and loyalty.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

I was listening to NPR recently and they were discussing how the Recession isn’t the only culprit behind recent job loss. Throughout modern society, the ability to work in certain fields has ebbed and flowed based upon changes in culture and advances in technology.

The example they gave was from the 1920s. Before motion pictures had sound, every movie house had an organist who performed the soundtrack for each film as it was being played. When “talkies” became a reality, there was no longer a need for the in-house music. Suddenly thousands of organists were out of work through no fault of their own—the technology simply changed. But there’s a flip side. Now there are sound engineers working on every set and in the editing process. The motion picture industry evolved.

It seems to me that inevitable technology changes are accelerating in our era. As managers, that should motivate us to rethink processes. It’s occurring organically in the today’s economic downturn. Many of the cut positions were, in their current state, no longer essential. They would have eliminated themselves eventually, the Recession just made it happen quicker.

Fortunately, the changes that result in the demise of one type of job often lead to the creation of new opportunities. In our organization, I’m seeing positions evolve, and I think it’s a great thing. Jobs are adapting to employee interests and specialties. I’m convinced it makes us a stronger team. Here are 3 questions we keep top of mind so that as we change, we grow professionally:

Can we reorganize daily tasks among the team to make us all more efficient? Since I don’t love automated systems, I’ve requested that our receptionist still answer the phone. However, we moved her desk into our central office area so she can easily help with administrative communications.

How can we embrace the latest in tech knowledge without overdosing? I feel we need to limit the time spent evaluating. We want to be leaders, but the research could also become a full time job. That’s not practical for us just yet. We seek balance in this area.

What can we learn from others? Since it’s hard to keep up with every single technology option, we are members of several local user groups, some with our competitors. This provides a way to share ideas so we are all more efficient and successful.

In our business we only have influence over so many things. We couldn’t change the credit markets, supply and demand or employment. But we can start in our backyards. As a manager, communicate with your employees. You might be able to help a team member grow into a more valuable new position. The evolution benefits us all.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.