By Rowena “Ro” Crosbie, an EO Iowa member and president of Tero International, Inc.
It was a stereotypical small business startup. The year was 1993. The business idea was to provide presentation-skills training to professionals who believed that competitive advantage was due, at least in part, to the ability to communicate persuasively and confidently.
The bank required US$200 to open a business account. That was the startup capital. My first office was a spare bedroom in our Iowa, USA, farmhouse. My two house cats, who I named vice presidents of the company, were my constant companions (at least as constant as you can be when you sleep 16 hours a day).
It has been a long time since Tero was about two cats, US$200 and an idea. The Tero International that was flattered with an invitation to join the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is a recognized leader in corporate training and boasts a state-of-the-art learning center. The cats are retired, and I am privileged to lead a team of professionals who have delivered training programs in 13 countries. We are proud to include professionals from more than 40 countries among our graduates. Like all leaders, there have been valuable lessons learned on the journey to business success. Here are three:
- Do things for others when there is “NIIFY.” When we are keenly focused on our goals, we can easily fall victim to self-centered tendencies. We allow the question, “How can this person help me now?,” guide how we spend our time. This narrow perspective can close us to opportunities that might be cleverly hidden in front of us. We never know where our next client, next key employee or next business partner may hail. Many members of the Tero Team, who have shaped the business in ways I could not have imagined, came into my life in ways I could not have imagined. Whether serving on an EO committee, volunteering for a service project or facilitating an introduction, each time we are helpful to someone, the law of reciprocity tugs on the other party to be helpful in return when the opportunity arises. Do things for others when there is “Nothing In It For You.”
- Trust is Earned. Leaders are encouraged to build a culture of trust. Evidence of this was revealed through a casual Google search on the words “trust” and “leadership” that yielded more than 198 million hits. Books, articles, classes and speeches on the subject extol the virtues of trust, remind leaders that employee surveys reveal a deficit of trust, and encourage leaders to trust more and assume the best. After all, trust is an essential business practice. Or is it?“Trust until you have a reason not to.” I treasured this belief until it was challenged by clients who did not fulfil their commitments, employees who misused company resources and people who edited stories to exclude the parts where they did not look good. Too many situations proved financially and emotionally expensive, and led me to shift my philosophy to “trust is earned.” Handshake deals that were common in the early days are now rare, replaced by contracts that detail consequences when agreements are breached. Checks and balances are now an integral part of process improvement efforts at Tero. Most importantly, individuals entrusted with key responsibilities have earned that trust. The business is stronger because of it.
- These Things Happen. One of the greatest gifts from my father was an attitude I found frustrating in my youth. Whenever I ranted about something being unfair, I was met with my dad’s reasoned “these things happen.”It was much later that I not only understood this lesson, but I came to embrace it as an outlook on life. Like every business owner, there have been times when I wondered if the company would survive. In spite of my efforts to do everything just right, bad things happened. Similarly, Tero has been the beneficiary of many good things. Dad’s timeless lesson is a reminder in humility and a caution not to credit myself too heavily for the good outcomes. Good and bad. These things happen.This lesson has also been important in my personal life. When my dad was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, I was reminded of his wisdom. When he died, his phrase “these things happen” helped me find comfort in the celebration and warm memories of his life, instead of getting lost in the sadness, the anger and the unfairness of his too-early departure.
Today, the economy is improving in many parts of the world. Leaders are increasingly viewing employee development as an important investment for the future. The members of the Tero Team are excited about being a part of a business that is poised for tremendous growth in the decade ahead. The future looks bright.
These things happen. Thanks dad.