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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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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

Making mistakes is common for everyone. We all make them. Admitting to mistakes is not always an immediate reaction. Instead, many try to redirect the blame to others or maybe provide incomplete answers back. I tell our folks at Stewart Perry that they will always make mistakes along the trail and it is a sign of real maturity to admit what may have happened and to provide solutions.

When I visit with our clients, I tell them that we may make some mistakes along the way on their projects and if we do, we will work toward solutions. I have been in the construction business long enough to know that customers, designers and others involved in the property development process also make mistakes. We will try to help them work through these situations as well, just as we wish for them to help us in return.

We make decisions based on the information that we are given and this information may or may not always be accurate. To me, if you accept the error instead of avoiding it, it will start the correction process sooner. The way in which you handle the mistakes can say a lot about the way you do business. Granted we do live in a society where lawyers are involved at every turn and I would think it would be safe to say that has some impact on the methods in which things are handled.

Good leaders in business admit mistakes and move on.

A couple of ideas we try to live by:

• Let’s all admit when we make a mistake and seek solutions and let’s try to have the team support each other.

• Leaders show strength by showing vulnerability. Part of this vulnerability is admitting the mistake.

Nothing is ever perfect and mistakes are sure to be made. Admitting the mistake will be appreciated, strengthen the relationship and in the end, is a win-win situation.

Is this not what we are all striving to do?

 

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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

Are You Saying Thank You Enough?

As the year comes to a close, I wonder what it would be like if more of us said thank you to each other.  Not just at the end of the year, but throughout the year…

I can count on my two hands the amount of times that someone from downstream has thanked us for a material order or a subcontract we have given them over the past few years. Maybe it’s because people were too busy (before 2007)…or maybe they do not think what a wonderful opportunity this would be to build a relationship.

I’m not talking about the obligatory Christmas present or card. I’m talking about genuinely connecting throughout the year to say “thanks.” If you and your business did this, I suspect that your relationships will strengthen more because your competitors are probably not taking the time to say “thanks” either.

Two simple words, expressed in different ways.

From what I have read recently, people who show gratitude have more energy, more optimism, better social contacts and are healthier. We say thank you (a lot) and we try to do it in different ways because we are sincere. It’s who we are. It’s our culture and besides, we enjoy doing business with our customer relationships.

A teaspoon of honey goes a long way to strengthen the relationships for more opportunities which leads to more success.

 

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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


The world of social media is bringing a change to our language. I’m sure grammatical purists are scowling when they see “like” and “friend” used regularly as verbs. I think Tom Peters’ definition of “excellence” fits right into that camp.

You may remember Peters from the mega best selling book In Search of Excellence, which he coauthored back in 1982. I’ve been reading his newest work The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence. He argues excellence is “a way of life,” and “a way of being,” not a steady state to be “achieved.” For him, you do excellence. Sounds like a potential verb to me.

In the book, one of my favorite quotes shared is from Tom Watson, the legendary CEO of IBM. Watson was asked in an interview, “How long does it take to achieve excellence?” Watson snapped back, “A minute! You achieve excellence by promising yourself right now that you’ll never again knowingly do anything that’s not ‘excellent,’ regardless of any pressure to do otherwise by any boss or situation.”

Excellence is not a goal; it’s a way we can live and it’s who you can become. It’s a decision we each make to tenaciously pursue the highest standards in everything we do. Excellence has many rewards. It’s invigorating! It’s also very good for business.

In our company, here is what I have found about excellence over the years.

The desire to be excellent can be contagious. When we started out nearly 3 decades ago, we thought we “finished” a construction project, but we never quite got there. About 20 years ago, we encountered a customer relationship who taught us how to really complete a job. Now all of our projects finish the same way.

The road to excellence in any business starts with the small things. Learn to do them right first, then build from there.

Customers would rather deal with a “best in class” company. You can form a solid customer relationship based upon quality. While price remains important, it is balanced with the quality delivered.

The two hardest parts of any job are starting and finishing. Excellence is what should happen in between. I would like to think that getting all the details finished to customer satisfaction has become a brand for us. Set the standard high for your team, and it can be your brand too.

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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.

Lately, it seems like I’m surrounded by races. Earlier this week, I told you about my Indy Grand Prix of Alabama experience at Barber Motorsports Park. A NASCAR race happened just down the road last weekend at the Talladega Superspeedway. This Saturday, the Kentucky Derby will be run for the 136th time.

To me, business is a lot like racing sports. It takes teamwork and efficiency to win, but you can’t be hasty. Dedication and precision are just as important to finishing as raw speed. In fact, there’s probably room for a new business beatitude: “Blessed are those who put in an extra push before the finish line, for they are committed to excellence.”

I find myself grateful for those folks who really take their time before declaring a job done. Those who go back, double-check, then triple-check before considering something finished. Their tenacity for excellence makes all the difference.

The other day I was watching some landscape guys finish up a long day of clearing brush and mulching an area. It was definitely “quitting time” and they could have all left and declared themselves over the “finish line,” but one of them stopped, looked over the job with a critical eye and went back to the far side of the property. He saw it still looked ragged and a bit mangy.

Although he must have been tired, the fellow worked another 30 minutes to fix what he’d seen wasn’t just right. His decision to put in the extra time gave the value of each team member’s work and the job as a whole extra value. He made not only his colleagues and company look good, but also saved them from potential customer disappointment and criticism.

You may read this and think that it’s pretty standard stuff. That’s not always the case. That’s why it becomes important to honor the people in the habit of excellence. Do we identify this trait of going back until it is right and then reward it?

I’ve found that the “critical eye” combined with the willingness to resolve any shortcomings before crossing the finish line is an invaluable approach in business and life. Such passionate people with this disciplined approach help us avoid disappointment, assure real triumphs and gain good habits in the process.

Blessed are those who push for excellence before the finish line! I for one am so thankful for your efforts on our team. May your lingering vigilance always be contagious.

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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 a million dollar question that I ask myself daily. I think the answer lies in service, especially in these times. While I do believe that the economy is getting better, we have to remember that the downturn has made clients more mindful of the way we walk them through a build. Nearly 1 in 3 construction industry employees is out of work. If a customer’s experience isn’t top notch, someone else is eager to provide. Now more than ever, customers can and will go elsewhere.

The service experience, good or not so good, has an impact on the customer’s continued relationship with contractors. This, combined with downward pressure on pricing and margins, makes it tough for all of us. We are often dealing with subcontractors and vendors who are stretched—financially and resource-wise.

Last week, one of my customers said, “The initial bid is only the first step in a project.” How true. Quality and price are important, but it’s a long way to true customer satisfaction at the end of a project. That’s where the experience comes in. Customers need to feel they are in control. Brands can become commodities, and it’s important that we are constantly working toward superior experiences for our customers.

So what’s the value leveler? Or, in metaphoric terms, “How much do we wax the floors to make sure our customer is satisfied?” If you clean and wax them too much, you waste resources of time and money. If you don’t’ wax them enough, the customer may sense this and take their business elsewhere.

The service experience is the new differentiator, equal to price (almost) and quality.

Here are things that in my experience have proved solid for providing memorable service and a unique experience:

Do what you say you are going to. If an unavoidable situation causes something to get behind or fall through, communicate.

Show you care from day one. Be involved and empathetic, from the beginning to the end and beyond.

Listen with both ears. Tune yourself to see potential pitfalls before they become actual mistakes. Ensure project requirements are truly understood.

Admit mistakes. If you make a mistake, relay information quickly and honestly. Hopefully it is with a customer relationship who understands.

Seek your opportunity to go above and beyond. Provide that extra touch of care where you see the chance.

Follow-up. Check to ensure customers are satisfied, immediately after the project and again after the warranty period. If there’s a problem, correct it or be a part of the solution.

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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.