When you think about why you became an entrepreneur, who inspired you most? What did they say or do that keeps you moving forward, even when the odds are against you? What did your mom teach you about being an entrepreneur?
For many of the best leaders I’ve met, they were inspired by their mothers in so many ways. For Mother’s Day, I thought I share what I learned from my mom, the serving entrepreneur.
My mom inspired me with her life. She was an amazing woman. She reminded me we can become anything if we only believe in ourselves and others enough. It’s hard not to believe when you saw all she overcame in her life to have a family and a child. Her challenges included being multi-racial child here in the Midwest Farmbelt in the 1930s, polio and three years in an iron lung, ongoing bouts of depression and mental illness, and finally, early stages dementia and Alzheimer’s. She outlasted them all to provide me a living example about building a life of serving others.
The first lesson for entrepreneurship my mom taught me is manners matter. There isn’t a day when I don’t open a door, pull out a chair, pick something up that was dropped, or walk with others at their pace even when they are slowing down. My mother always said you can judge the quality of a man or woman by the way they move around others. If they are helpful, loving, patient, and always respectful of others, they will leave a lasting impression on everyone they meet.
When I was selling Kirby Vacuums door to door, she would say it’s not the clothes that make the man, but the man that makes a positive impression on all the people they meet. Thank goodness because I had some hideous brown suits that would leave you wondering how I would pay for my next meal. Don’t worry the story worked out well for me; Warren Buffett bought the business from our mutual friend.
The second lesson of entrepreneurship my mom taught me was the platinum rule, treat others the way they would like to be treated, not the way you would. Her social circle included many different people from street people to mayors to US Senators. She taught me how to make everyone feel special. She always had a kind word.
Not so funny at the time, but it brings tears of joy now when I remember it was hearing her swear like a truck driver at a truck driver when we were eating dinner together. She never wanted to make other people feel uncomfortable. When he swore, she followed suit.
The third lesson of entrepreneurship my mom taught me was to understand how people saw themselves. Watching her interact with others was something right out of science fiction story. She was incredibly gifted at reading people quickly, then sharing just the right thing to get them engaged and empowered. She believed that every person might be equal, but that doesn’t mean treating them all the same.
She worked well with people up and down the social ladder. When I met my first millionaire, she was quick to point out how I could keep the connection with this influential man. I was only 14, but she taught me the importance of remembering little things about the people I met. This guy loved to go fishing in his own lake and tool around his farm property in his Rolls Royce.
Because she taught me how to connect on a deeper level I seldom have problems reconnecting with others and many of my strongest business relationships are over 25 years young. Great entrepreneurs are great at building lasting relationships. These connections can provide incredible insights when dealing with many different people around the world.
The fourth lesson of entrepreneurship my mom taught me was to use humor instead of anger when dealing with others. You may not believe this, but much of my early career I struggled with managing my emotions. I was good at getting things done with others, but not always on my accelerated schedule. She taught me to think before I speak when trying to get something accomplished. She also taught me humor would allow me to say things without clenched teeth.
I remember early on in my work with Dr. Deming, I went to see a Fortune 100 CEO here in Cleveland. This CEO, upon meeting me, quickly judged me wanting in senior leadership abilities. In a typically brusque manner, he told me that he had shoes in his closet as old as I was. I was seething, luckily I thought of my mom’s advice. I responded I hope they were magic shoes because without me he would not be getting a meeting with Dr. Deming.
I smiled sheepishly. The CEO then laughed and apologized for his comment saying he was sorry, but he was expecting someone older. I laughed and said so was I. We went on to have a very great long term relationship. Humor can diffuse difficult situations and help you connect on a deeper level.
Finally, my mom believed entrepreneurship was a higher calling. Mom taught me to make your life matter. My mother had seen and experienced much in her life. She was incredibly untouched by the events that would have flattened a lesser person. Mom always told me if she was lucky enough to have a child she would raise him to be someone who could serve others through his life and business. She expected me to fulfill her promises.
She would remind me often if you’re going to take life’s punches you should do it for a greater cause than just yourself. She would say learn to become bigger than your greatest challenges. Be willing to stand up for what you believe. Learn to love everyone in a way that makes them feel special.
Have a great Mother’s Day!
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