My personal mission: To inspire the citizens of Polk County to Awaken the Leader Within themselves and share their greatness with our community. Awaken the Leader Within

I am on a mission.  When I speak to friends, business owners, teachers and leaders in our community, I am always amazed at the quality of people I encounter. The conversations and ideas we share make it clear to me that we have everything we need right here in our community.  All we need is a way to tap into this unattended well and begin fortifying our local army by creating a reason for them to connect.  The silos in which we currently exist have slowly deteriorated our sense of community and wrecked our morale and willingness to work together to create a productive environment that serves a greater purpose.

“A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.”

By providing resources, tools, and conversations that focus on discovering collaborative solutions, we can create an environment in which “Sleeping” Leaders (those who have not yet identified in themselves the leader within) can grow, learn and share – encouraging them to look within and find and share their greatness with the world.  This will not be an easy endeavor.  We will be required to make sacrifices, compromise our desires for the greater good, and be willing to fail along the way.  And the biggest difficulty will be fear.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins by taking the first step.”

When I embarked on my own journey (Lakeland Business Leaders) several years ago, I began my “journey of a thousand miles,” as Lao Tzu says, by “taking the first step.”  I took positive, intentional actions for the greater good of the community.  I believed if others shared my vision, together, we would be able to make a difference in our community.  I took many steps, consistently moving toward a simple goal: Bring out the best in the people around me, so that they can do the same for those around them.  Every day, I celebrated the small, but wonderful things within my community – the people, the events and the businesses.

The things I did were not special or even unique:  I checked in at local restaurants using social media, and told my friends how much I loved the food there.  I shared events for people who were trying to get their messages out to more people, answering questions and sharing my knowledge with the community I was building.  There was nothing special about these things.  But each little action I took, followed by more, consistent actions, created something wonderful:  a chain reaction.  I discovered that people did believe what I believed.  I wasn’t doing these things to get anything in return. But the connections I have made, the relationships I have built have been the most incredible reward I have ever known.

When you discover people who believe what you believe, it’s an amazingly satisfying feeling!

It was a little over a year ago that my friend Abby, (who came into my life as a result of some of the actions I mentioned above) shared a song with me.  It wasn’t a new song, but I had never heard it.  If You’re Out There, by John Legend is a song that calls out to whoever is listening, suggesting that we can change the world.

"If you hear this message, wherever you stand.
I'm calling every woman, calling every man.
We're the generation, we can't afford to wait,
The future started yesterday and we're already late."

When I heard those first words, I was inspired.  I knew the words were directed at me.  But halfway through the song, I began to cry.  I remember exactly where I was – driving – when I started sobbing.  At the point in the song when the lyrics said:

"I searched for a leader, but the leader was me."

I realized this was exactly right.  As a result of the actions I had been taking, I had become a leader.  People were following me.  They believed what I believe.  But these words struck me at that moment because, in spite of the successes we’d had, the people we were helping, the energy that was catching on, I was terrified.  I am not talking about a little bit of doubt, I am talking about white-knuckles-stop-the-ride-I-gotta-get-off-NOW-terror.

Who? Me? A LEADER? What in the world did I know about being a leader? More to the point, who was I to believe I had any right to be a leader?  I wasn’t equipped with the background, resources, confidence, education or experience that would qualify ME to be a leader.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing!  I was working without a business plan, there was no guidebook, no adviser, no one to say, “Yes, that is the right thing to do.” Or, “No, let’s not try that, it won’t work.”  I was working on the only thing I did have, the one thing I was completely confident of, and about which I had no doubts: My Passion.

Follow your passion? Yes! It’s there for a reason.

Admittedly, that’s not always they best way to move forward, but it was literally all I had.  My passion and my partner and best friend, Craig. Craig believed in me, but he didn’t always understand what I was doing, or WHY.  There was one day about a year and a half ago, that we were discussing my efforts and I was feeling very frustrated. I was emotionally charged and he was questioning whether any of this still made any sense.  He didn’t like the toll it was taking on me personally, and he asked me if I was ready to quit. I thought about that question for a few minutes.  I considered what that would mean.  I imagined how nice it would be to have the pressure taken off my shoulders; to not have to worry so much about so many different things.  And yet, there was this voice in my head.  I told Craig, “I can’t explain it, and I have no idea where this is going to go, if it’s ever going to become something valuable to us or not, but I feel “compelled.”  There’s a force bigger than me, calling me, and I have to believe it’s calling me for a reason.  Please don’t ask me to explain it, but I feel like this is what I have to do.  I have to keep doing what I am doing.  I am here for a reason.”

Today, I believe I have discovered why I exist.

As humans, we all want to make a difference.  Yet, for whatever reason, we fail to see ourselves as someone who can make a difference.  Is it society?  Our upbringing? I don’t know, but I want others to find within themselves the sleeping leader.  It’s time to wake them up from their slumber and start challenging the status quo.  We need more leaders in this world.  Maybe the difference we make will not end war, or starvation.  Maybe the difference we make will not mean much on the global radar, but the difference we make can be the difference one or two people need to make it to tomorrow. The chain reaction starts by helping those around us, making a little difference, helping others make a little difference, and on and on.  It’s not a new idea.  Nothing brilliant about the concept of starting where we are to inspire the sleeping leaders in our community.  But I believe I exist to inspire everyone I meet to awaken the leader within themselves, to become the leaders we need in the world – leaders worth following.

Calling all Leaders and Sleeping Leaders

Join me on May 9th, 2014 as we bring Leadercast to Lakeland.  If you trust me, if you’ve received any inspiration from me in the past 3 years, if you are someone who believes what I believe, you’ll be there.  It’s an entire day of inspiring leadership experts sharing their messages, and experiences to inspire our current leaders and to help awaken all the “sleeping” leaders in our community.  If you’ve ever thought to yourself that you might be a leader, but you didn’t have the background to actually do anything about it, here’s your chance.  If you’ve never even considered the possibility that you might be a leader, I guarantee you’ll find some powerful messages that just might be loud enough to awaken the leader within you.  The details of the event are here:

howardwiggsbutton2I am voting for Howard Wiggs for Mayor of Lakeland and Here is Why.

(For me, it’s not about popularity… it’s about mindset)

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I am someone who tries NOT to take sides.  I am someone who looks for ways for everyone to win.  But we all know that’s not possible in an election. And it’s important to me that I share my story because I think it’s one that many people can relate to.  I believe, because of my experience as an unknown – trying to find my place in Lakeland, that’s it is important that other unknown, but talented, passionate people with great ideas and a willingness to contribute to the community in whatever way they can – find a more open, welcoming business environment than the one I experienced in 2009 when I started my local business.

As an outsider, it took a lot of work – no one should have to work as hard just to have a voice in the community.

When you have ideas, where do you go?  Who will listen?  The result of an open, welcoming leadership team is an open, welcoming community.  As it is, if you ask anyone who has opened a business in Lakeland on their own, without having the right connections, they will tell you about their uphill battle.  Invariably, there are always situations that might make things difficult for some business owners as they are trying to open their doors in a new location. However, when you hear the same frustrated story over and over again, it’s time to start connecting the dots, and acknowledge there is a problem.  Everyone, regardless of whether or not they have the right last name, or connections who will make the necessary introductions, deserves the same, fair treatment as everyone else.  If it’s who you know that makes it possible to get a business opened, eventually, we won’t have anyone willing to take on that burden.  This is something that starts in City Hall.  We need leaders who embrace open government, and support and encourage a culture of openness and transparency. Period.  Currently, that doesn’t exist.

I believe that Howard Wiggs represents the right mindset that we need to move us away from stagnation and accepting things because, “it’s just the way they are.”  I want a city government that listens. A culture that embraces new ideas and looks for ways to make them work, before simply saying that they won’t. An environment that welcomes collaboration by actually embracing the concept and offering opportunities that will encourage new ideas, even from outsiders.  I want to live in a city that other community leaders will look to as an example, and professionals, families, new businesses and young adults will want to call home.

I love Lakeland, because I have worked hard to find all the wonderful, hard-working passionate people who share similar ideas.  But not everyone is going to be willing to work as hard as I have.  We need to make it easier to discover all of the great things there are to love about Lakeland, and I believe Howard Wiggs is the person that will make that possible.

*DISCLAIMER: I have worked closely with Howard Wiggs throughout his campaign and was hired to offer professional services.  This post was not a paid endorsement and only reflects my personal thoughts about my experiences as I worked diligently to build my business in Lakeland, as an outsider, and was not approved or requested by Howard Wiggs or anyone else within the campaign. These experiences and my hope that the business environment will change for others are the reasons I decided to become involved in this campaign.

WendyMercerAuburndale Class of 1993 classmate, Wendy Mercer has lost one daughter, and another is in critical condition after an automobile accident Sunday evening.  Please read the details of the accident, here.

Our Prayers are with you, Wendy.

This button will allow you to make a donation in any amount.  Please keep Wendy and her entire family and the family of the other little girl in your prayers. If the button is not working, please click this link to make your donation.

We are the Connection Economy.

word-cloud-communityToday, our connections give us the ability to play a critical role in the impact “average” people with exceptional passion, working together, can make in our community.

If you care about something, find others who care about the same things. Collaborate – Find a way to fit your ideas with those who are already working. If it’s passion driving each of you, there will be no question whether you’ll be welcomed. If it’s greed, or ego, or something self-serving, move on. If they (or you) are working for the “bottom line,” or “ROI,” or to be the “first,” they (or you) won’t be around very long. It’s people with a Cause that will last. If no one already working is open to collaboration, don’t be afraid to start something new… but don’t start something new until you’ve explored what others are doing.

Look inside the people with whom you connect.  Passion is not something you can always find on the surface.  Look deeper. Exceptional people often hide their greatness because challenging the status quo has traditionally been a sure way to be passed over. Greatness intimidates the status quo. It’s time to celebrate greatness again. People with ideas, starters, rebels – they have the ability to inspire. And we need inspiration in our communities!

It is the passion that we share that will make it possible to create meaningful change.

It’s time to consider a different success grid. It’s time we realized no one has to be pre-selected to become great. None of the heroes we believe in were chosen at an early age to become our heroes. They chose to do the work, believe in their passion and refused to listen to the cynics who told them it was impossible. Don’t you know, heroes aren’t born? It’s not a birth-right to do something great.  It’s a decision. Fueled by passion, drive and courage.

We can be courageous.

We can take the risks.

We can choose ourselves.

We can make a difference.

We can create positive change.

What is your passion?  What kind connections do you need to start making a difference?  We are all connected.  It just takes a few, dedicated people who are willing to do something no one else is willing to do.  Something that will create a solution, something bigger than just you and me.  Are you willing to make a difference?  Share your ideas, make a new connection and begin believing you are enough.

Here. I made this.

August 13, 2013 — 1 Comment

Get-ConnectedMaking Connections Grows Your Business

Over the course of the last five years, my main focus has been to grow my business – offering local businesses the basic services they need to get their business online.  Anyone who has ever had the joy and pleasure of growing a business – any business – has also had the joy of growing relationships.  After all, there’s not business without customers.  People make commerce happen.  People are what make Main Street, Anywhere, USA thrive.  Connections build loyalty, and passion for the community.  Without the people feeling these connections, there’s little anyone can do to make a community vibrant.

The Internet has opened Main Street to the world.  Many people might say that the Internet has been the demise of Main Street.  I disagree.  The only thing that has changed is our focus.  Just like we used to focus on people, in the days before technology connected us 24/7, so must we continue to do that today.  The only sticky part is HOW we do that now has changed.  And we must adjust our techniques to meet with the changing behaviors and attitudes of our customers.  In one of my presentations, I compare this shift to a scene in the movie, Hoosiers.  In it, Gene Hackman is taking his boys from Hickory to the Indiana State Finals, at Hinkle Fieldhouse.  The team had never played in a gym so large, and yet, Hackman gets out the tape measure and shows the boys that all of the measurements are EXACTLY the same as the courts they were used to playing.  The game had not changed. The only thing that had changed was where they were playing.

It’s true today, too.  The game of growing your business hasn’t changed, the rules are the same, it’s just being played in a different arena!

Pursuing My Art

For the last 3 years, I have felt “called” – there’s really no other word for it, no better way to describe my passion for creating connections in Lakeland.  Seth Godin, a brilliant, passionate author on various subjects surrounding marketing – challenges me today to call this unnamed force that has driven me, “art.”  I think it has another name, but I think what Seth says here is important.  “Art,” he says, “is not a specific gene or talent.  It’s an attitude, available to anyone who has a vision that others don’t, and the guts to do something about it.  Steve Jobs was an artist. So were Henry Ford and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

The actions I have taken, and my vision for connecting our community, were really very simple.  Truly anyone could have done what I did with the Lakeland Business Leaders, if they thought it was important enough – someone else might have done things differently, maybe better, but I didn’t let myself think about that.  The fact is, I identified a need, and I acted on it.  In my mind, when I have a need, it’s possible that someone else has that same need.  I decided to try to fill that need and create a solution.  Instead of complaining, I focused on what would benefit me, and I offered that to others. Turned out, I wasn’t the only one who had that need:

My need, was to feel connected.

There were all these great people doing wonderful things, with the hopes of serving the community.  Yet, no one really seemed “connected.”  In our networking events, everyone was rattling off 30 second sales pitches, but we really didn’t know anything about each other.  I believe that conversations have more meaning when they add value and context to our “Real Lives.”  After all, our jobs do not define us.  They are only one of the things we do.  Our character, and our beliefs, our passions and our concerns – these things make us who we are.  What I wanted was to know who people really were when they peeled back the layers and shared their personalities with the world.  Facebook gave us the perfect place to gain that context.

The Results

What we now fondly refer to as “LBL” started out as a leap into the unknown – and I admit, it was frightening.  I was challenging convention, pushing people’s boundaries, and asking people to step outside their comfort zones.  I had no idea what was going to happen.  As a result, I found myself utterly (and wonderfully) exposed.  It was just me, raw and uncut.  Whether good or bad, it was real, and I think we need more of that in this world!  It was the most liberating and challenging experience of my life.  My positive, calculated risks were to just be transparent.  People were free to judge me and reject my efforts.  In spite of (A LOT of) fear, I didn’t obey convention and I consistently encouraged everyone to begin to build connections that had meaning.  Relationships that were based on more than just the widgets they were trying to sell.

How do you measure the ROI on a personal, professional relationship with another?

So, Seth Godin asks his readers in a book called The Icarus Deception to tell their audience, “Here, I made this.” But all I can think is, “Here, we made this.”  Those of you who have been on this journey with me, you have been my source of inspiration.  What this community is now, I can only attribute to one fact: Investing in people – actually caring about who they are and listening to what they have to say – is the GREATEST investment I have ever made.  My art, if you will, is my ability to find the best in people, and to encourage them to contribute whatever they can and want – to the community.  Playing to each person’s strengths and believing that people want to be more – whatever that may be to them, is how you grow a community, whether online or off.  In this community, whatever a person is willing to give, on their own terms, is enough.  It might be something worth considering.  There’s always room to grow!

I mentioned the unnamed force had a name.  Seth wants to call it art.  I just call it Love.

The Challenge

I challenge you to identify your art.  What do you do that brings out your creativity, your emotional labor, your grit?  What is your art?