14 Business Lessons I Passed On To My Children After 28 Years in the Business

Star’s own Dan DeKalb, Director of Drafting, puts all of his efforts into improving the professional lives of others, including Star Builders. Throughout his expansive and eclectic career, Dan has handled all the hurdles of the business world and beyond. His leaps and stumbles have led to a wealth of experience. In July 2015, Dan compiled that experience into a book: If Offered a Mint, Take It. Originally intended as a compilation of tips and knowledge for his children after their high school graduation, Dan’s pages of nearly 100 anecdotes of advice have already helped countless others navigate their way through the business world and, ultimately, life. What follows are some of Dan’s most important lessons to remember as you venture into the business environment or anywhere else life takes you.

Do not expect a diverse group to decide by consensus.

It is important to have diversity in every group if you want multiple opinions and perspectives. However, the more diversity you have in a group, the less chance there is that everyone will agree on anything. The problem with deciding by consensus is that every individual has veto power. Consequently, a diverse group will never get anything meaningful accomplished deciding by consensus because a compromise will be required. This is not necessarily a bad thing. You must simply weigh the importance of and prioritize decision making policies versus diversity when assembling a group of individuals.

The only advantage of putting the cart in front of the horse is that you no longer have to look at the horse’s ass.

When you embark on a project, you must establish priorities, requirements and prerequisites. Analyze them and then map out your strategy. Do not jump to conclusions. Never assume and always have a plan. Once you decide on the plan, stick to it until the wheels come flying off the cart. At that time leave the cart behind, get on the horse, and go find a new cart.

No one ever won by doing exactly what their competition did.

Very few businesses go to market without a competitor. Business is a competitive business. Success is achieved because you perform better than your competition. Companies often choose to enter an existing market and attempt to copy the market leader. Instead, they should change the rules and do something different than what the leader is already doing and doing quite successfully. The market leader is leading for all the obvious reasons. They have already optimized their product and processes. Even more so, they already have experience in the market that they are competing in. To beat the competition, you have to be better than them, not equal to them. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but you do not want to flatter your competition. You want to beat them.

Who’s the most successful organization in the market? They’re the one that everyone is criticizing.

In the rare case that your strengths are somehow identical in every way to your competition’s, you must determine your critical strength and then raise it to a new level. Rather than criticizing your competition, work to outperform them. There is always room for improvement. The key is to determine your strengths and improve those that can give you the best return and ultimately a competitive edge. Take note of which competitor everyone is talking about. Chances are that they are the leader and the one that represents the greatest threat to your success. There’s no benefit in criticizing the competitors that are lagging behind since they offer no threat and comparing yourself to them does no good. Find out who the leading competitor in your industry is and use them as the benchmark of where you need to be performing above.

There’s no need to prescribe an aspirin if the patient has a hatchet in the back of their head.

Issues will arise that require your attention and it will be vitally important to determine and differentiate the symptoms versus the cause of the issue. The symptom is often just an indication that there is a problem but inevitably it gets more than its fair share of attention. Use the symptoms to help determine the cause but don’t accept one for the other. Experts will tell you to “drill down to determine the root cause” or “peel back the layers of the onion”. Others believe that you must reply “Why?” to a minimum of five subsequent responses before you can determine the true cause of an issue. There’s no set rule that will apply to every case, you just have to analyze the situation, determine the difference between the symptoms and the causes and be careful that you are treating the cause, not the symptom.

If offered a mint…take it.

This is self-explanatory and no commentary is required.

Never be afraid to train your replacement. You are more likely to be promoted if you can be replaced.

Bring value to the organization and your position is more secure. Bring enough value to the organization for smart management to recognize it and they will provide you with more opportunities for responsibility and advancement. Once you advance, management (and very possibly you) will need to find someone to fill the void that your advancement created. The easier this is to do, the more likely management will provide you with the advancement. One of the first things you should do in any position is to develop a succession plan for all of your employees as well as yourself. With regards to your employees, you should be prepared if one or more of them are no longer available to fulfill their responsibilities. You should expect that your manager has already done the same. There are those who will argue that once you train your replacement you will be replaced, implying that you will be left out. I disagree. An employee that is invaluable to the success of the organization never has to be concerned that they will be left out. Smart management knows the company’s success depends on an invaluable employee and so should you.

Your success depends upon not only those you work for but also those who work for you.

Unless you are the owner or an entry level employee, you will be in a position that has responsible charge of some of your coworkers while at the same being accountable to others. Consider the organization to be a team that is only as strong as its weakest member. When your employees succeed, you succeed. So give them every opportunity to do so. When your supervisor succeeds, you succeed so do everything you can to work for their success.

If the phone rings…answer it.

Whether in business or not, always answer the phone. It may be an emergency. It may be an offer for the opportunity of a lifetime. It may be a telemarketer and you can unload the stress of your day on them (unless they’re selling something really cool).

Once a thought leaves your brain, it is public domain.

There is no privacy left in the world. Once your thoughts are spoken, written, or acted upon they are available for the world to know. It doesn’t matter whether you share them during or after work hours. There is no virtual time clock that prevents them from showing up at work tomorrow with or without you.

Change is good unless it is for the sake of change.

Humans are creatures of habit and they do things the way they do because they are comfortable in doing them that way. Whether they receive tangible rewards, satisfaction of some type, a sense of accomplishment or any number of other things, it all boils down to their desire to be comfortable. Most have developed their own specific comfort zone and they do not care to step out of it. For this reason, change does not come easy or natural for some, and is resisted at all costs by others. The business world is not static and organizations require ongoing change to remain competitive. History is littered with people, organizations, and industries that failed to change and then failed completely. Your opportunity as an employee is to understand the benefits of change and then embrace it while your opportunity as a manager is to ensure that your employee does the same.

A pat on the back will push an employee further than a kick in the pants. It’s simple physics.

No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. The key is to learn from mistakes and not repeat them. If an employee is unaware they have made a mistake, it is management’s responsibility to inform them, take the appropriate actions and help prevent them from repeating the mistake. A good employee will not be satisfied with making mistakes and strive to prevent it from happening again. A good manager will recognize what they are doing, support their efforts and move forward rather than belaboring the point. Once the employee has the opportunity to prove they have learned from the earlier mistake, management should celebrate the success in some fashion and know that the employee is now an even greater asset to the organization. You should always look for ways to celebrate the employee’s success with the employee since it is theirs after all.

Never feel guilty for what you have earned. Feel grateful for having had the opportunity to earn it.

Success should only be enjoyed if it comes through honesty and hard work. If success comes, be grateful for the opportunities and those who gave them to you. Be worthy of your successes and “give back” by providing opportunities to others. Remember that success is often a short term situation and once you achieve it, you must immediately work toward your next success. Success can create momentum and ultimately cause more success but you can lose that momentum very quickly if you don’t appreciate how you achieved it in the first place.

The Devil does not need an advocate.

There are pros and cons to nearly everything. You should always approach issues considering that there are multiple perspectives. When offered a point, provide a counter-point. Speak up at meetings if you have something to say. You can criticize a topic without attacking the messenger. You can point out flaws and offer alternative solutions. But never offer to be the “Devil’s Advocate”. A wise woman once told me that the Devil doesn’t need one or deserve one.

This blog is excerpted from Dan DeKalb’s book, If Offered A Mint, Take It.

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Star Building Systems

Founded in 1927, Star Building Systems has seen and done it all, from supplying tool sheds for oil derrick drilling sites in the early oil boom days to hangar buildings during World War II. We set the industry standard for innovation and technology. Most importantly, we have the best builders in the business.

2 Comments

  • Reply August 17, 2015

    Mike Adams

    Dan has done what every father should do: Pass on invaluable info to his children as the navigate through life and business. I believe that “mom” is the important force in establishing values and virtues for children ages 0 to 17. Then when kids become adults 18+ its now Dad’s turn to lay down the primary and critical lessons of life. I have been compiling my own version of Dan’s book for my children. I hope it is as well received as your book Dan. Kudos for taking the time to write it down.

    • Star Building Systems
      Reply August 21, 2015

      Star Building Systems

      Dan sure did a great job passing the info along! Good luck in your compilation!

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