Friday nights were game nights for my family, and Monopoly was always a top choice for the evening. Over the years the game took on personal dimensions, even the game pieces. The Scottie dog belonged to me, and the race car to my dad. The rest joined the board as my brother and sisters grabbed quickly, hoping for the iconic top hat, while my Mom always found herself stuck with the wheelbarrow or thimble. The game came to life as the six of us passed Go, took Chances, bought properties, and battled fiercely until there was an ultimate winner. Sometimes there were tears, often there was shouting, occasionally there was a thrown game piece or board, and always there were accusations of cheating and collusion. In the end, there were lessons.
The Hasbro release of Ms. Monopoly this week brought back a flood of memories, but also made me reflect. The toymaker announced the new board game with the tag line, “The first game where women make more than men.” I have the feeling that rule might have been challenged at my house, as would the winner if she happened to be female. In Ms. Monopoly, women start the game with more money than men $1,900 compared with $1,500, and as the game progresses the gap continues. Girls get $240 for passing “GO”, and boys receive just $200 for the same trip around the board. Ms. Monopoly also rewards men for attending a women’s rally, for authoring a piece about successful women, and even for watching a superhero movie with a female hero. In my experience, women don’t need a handout to compete - just an equal and fair game.
Hasbro may be well intentioned with Ms. Monopoly. It is being pitched as a game to show young women that they can be as successful as men while highlighting the wage gap. Ms. Monopoly is the niece of Mr. Monopoly – Rich Uncle Pennybags. She is a self-made investment expert, and in the game the players invest in inventions and businesses launched by women throughout history. This is a good idea, and maybe warrants a game of its own. According to the toymaker Ms. Monopoly is designed to spark conversations and to level the playing field by paying women more than men. A spokeswoman for Hasbro, Kristina Timmins shared, “We believe this game and its content embody a positive message about female empowerment that we hope is embraced by a wide variety of audiences.”
I have experienced the wage gap and faced discrimination, as have most of my female counterparts. In my opinion it doesn’t help to change reality by portraying women as needing special advantages. Women need to be treated and respected as equals. The game and its rules are trying to raise awareness of the disparities in the system, but this is not the best way to do this. The gender wage gap is real. Women in the U.S. earn 80% of what men earn, and the data is even more dramatic for minorities. The largest pay gap is for African-American female executives who earn only 63% of what white make executives earn. Additionally, women are shortchanged on bonuses, 401(K) matches, and Social Security benefits. Women ask for raises as often as men but are less likely to get them. Men are more frequently promoted, and there are only 24 women CEOs on the 2018 Fortune 500 list. In fact, Hasbro’s executive leadership team has seven men and only one woman.
The release of Ms. Monopoly feels like a marketing ploy pandering to women – a pinkwashing of the game to cash in on the rising women’s cultural movement. The game is not the proper vehicle for female empowerment. At a time when the Forbes 2019 list of America’s 100 Most Innovative Leaders includes only 1 woman, a game that exchanges the underlying issues for a reversed salary and reward paradigm clearly misses the mark on women’s empowerment. The problem is insidious, and to reduce it to a gender-based financial adjustment in a game is to make light of the systemic issues.
The most ironic fact is that while there is consensus among most historians that a woman – Lizzie Magie – was the inventor of the Monopoly game, Hasbro refuses to recognize her contribution. In 1904 she patented “The Landlord’s Game” which included all the rules for what became Monopoly, including opportunities to buy railroads and properties, collect and pay rent, “Go to Jail”, and take Chances. Magie sold her patent to Parker Bros. for $500 in 1935. Hasbro does not recognize Magie as the inventor, but instead credits Charles Darrow as the inventor of the game. With the launch of Ms. Monopoly it seems disingenuous for Hasbro to fail to mention the feminist foundations of the game.
On the positive side, Hasbro awarded $20,000 grants to three teenage girl entrepreneurs as an aspect of the Ms. Monopoly rollout. These young girls are inventors creating world-changing technologies that detect sinkholes before they collapse, determine lead in water, and identify harmful dyes in candy and soda. Despite the awards and support for these young women, Hasbro is receiving significant backlash on social media against Ms. Monopoly. It’s going to take more than a You Tube video and messaging about women’s empowerment to turn the situation around.
Monopoly was never a gender-based game. I became a real estate tycoon as often as my brother – unless he was the banker that week, in which case I am certain he cheated! Everyone in the family had a solid shot at winning irrespective of their gender. There was no subjectivity or bias in rolling the dice or picking the cards. Luck, strategy, and choices determined the outcome of the game. Give me my Scottie dog, $1,500 starting cash, and I promise a competitive fight on the path for real estate domination. Tycoon, or Tyqueen, I don’t care – give me Boardwalk!
Wake up! Women don’t need an imaginary game world where we make more than men. If you want to uplift female inventors, establish a Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund and let us compete based on our ideas and skills.
Finding Financial Wellbeing in the Workplace
Anita Ward, President Operation HOPE
Jessica created an amazing product – a journal to help students prepare for exams. The demand proved strong, and she quickly required more inventory. Offshore manufacturers offered better pricing, so she placed an order in China. When the shipment arrived, Jessica faced unexpected tariffs and needed money to release the shipment or it would have been destroyed. Although she was employed full-time, without a credit score and a credit history her options were limited. Desperate, Jessica turned to a payday lender to borrow $4,000. Twelve months after securing the loan, due to the exorbitant interest rate, she has repaid $3,600 and still owes nearly $3,000 on the original loan. She cannot find a light at the end of this tunnel of debt.
Unfortunately, Jessica’s story is not unique. Every year more than 12 million Americans sign up for payday loans that come with higher interest rates, harsh repayment terms, and hidden fees. These borrowers struggle financially, have bad credit, and have no other options. The loans are marketed to help people through emergencies, but in fact 69% of these borrowers use the loan to cover recurring expenses like credit card payments, rent, and even food. They are financially unstable and unhealthy, and payday lenders trap them in a debt spiral.
This phenomenon carries into the workplace. More than half of US workers are financially stressed on the job. Though they try to hide it, seven out of ten employees stress about money at work and say that it impacts their focus, performance, and relationships. These financially unhealthy employees spend 28 hours a month worrying about money. The facts are astounding - 54% of employees are stressed about their finances; 2/3 of American workers live paycheck to paycheck; and 63% of employees have inadequate emergency funds. 48% of US employees have financial worries, which costs employers 11-14% of annual payroll cost in lost productivity and increased employee turnover.
Financial wellbeing is a critical component of effective employee wellbeing yet it is often overlooked. New alternatives to payday lenders are emerging to provide financial coaching and lending options through employee benefit programs. Employers are engaging firms that offer financial coaching, supporting resources and salary-linked loans. This approach to financial wellbeing helps employees improve credit score, reduce debt and develop savings behaviors.
Traditional perspectives on workplace wellness focus on physical wellbeing, exercise, and nutrition, but more employers are including financial wellbeing. USAA is a great example of a financial well-being program designed to help employees with their finances. The program includes setting a personal budget, managing unexpected financial challenges, establishing a will and planning for retirement.
Financial literacy, empowerment, and independence are vital in the workplace where people make some of their most significant financial decisions. Two examples of socially responsible pioneers in the financial wellbeing space are Operation HOPE and Salary Finance.
HOPE Inside the Workplace offers comprehensive financial coaching in person, on the phone, online, in groups and individually one on one. HOPE Financial Wellbeing Coaches help employees raise credit scores, resolve errors on their credit reports, negotiate bad and stressful debt obligations, and counsel employees to financial wellbeing. Certified coaches provide workshops, lunch-and-learn sessions, webinars, and individualized coaching to help employees attain financial freedom. Through this program employees achieve financial resiliency that helps protect them from emergencies and disasters.
Salary Finance provides employers with a cost-free financial wellbeing platform that includes financial education, coaching, budgeting, credit score access, and salary-deducted personal loans. Recognizing that borrowing is not always the answer to a financial challenge, even at the affordable rates of 5.9% to 19.9% and terms of 12 to 36 months, Salary Finance has created safeguards and mechanisms to help employees achieve financial wellbeing. Employees are limited to one loan at a time; borrowers are referred to financial coaches, like those at Operation HOPE, when appropriate; and loans are designed to build credit. Loan repayment is facilitated through salary deductions that immediately credit payments against an employee’s loan. Credit scores improve as credit history is reported, and financial anxiety is eliminated.
The goals of programs like those of Salary Finance and Operation HOPE are designed to move people from surviving to thriving mentalities and to open the door to new conversations around savings, 401K plans, retirement, and wealth. While many organizations provide retirement planning, a majority of them do not offer credit score monitoring or financial literacy programs, and even fewer offer salary-deducted loans. An American Express Financial Advisors study found that 85% of employees want to receive financial information and programs like these in the workplace.
The results of employer sponsored financial wellbeing programs are compelling. Employees report improvements in confidence, feelings and attitudes toward personal finances. Behaviors change as a result of the programs. Employees establish goals, create bill paying plans, build emergency savings, improve credit scores, and reduce debt. Smart companies are recognizing that financial stability is an important employee benefit.
In a world of uncertainty, financial freedom equals security. When employees are struggling with their finances they can experience anxiety and stress, which have a direct impact on their professional life.
Financial wellbeing offers a competitive differentiator for an employer in the war on talent – one with a financial return, a social conscience, and a human purpose.
Miriam Frost defies conventional definition. She’s a New Yorker who delivers calm, a mother of two boys who exudes an inner peace, and a former manager of corporate customers who knows nothing but empathy. Miriam Frost is a peaceful soul in a world filled with rage – a light at the end of the day.
Born in New York City, Miriam developed much of her career in the financial services industry working for Fortune 500 companies where she managed customers, relationships and merchants. She raised her two boys (both football stars) in Charlotte, North Carolina before landing a position with First Data in Atlanta. With a passion for fitness, and the ability to multi-task, she managed fitness centers, gyms and studios at nights and on weekends while working a corporate job.
Miriam loved teaching and motivating people to achieve their fitness goals, but something was missing. Searching for answers, she landed in a hot yoga studio. There she witnessed 100 people in identical rows, balanced and posed, leaning into their sense of self and finding peace. This was a world of encouragement focused on goodness and patience. Here time was on hold. The madness gave way to meditation, and stress yielded to the deep stretch of longing muscles. She was hooked by the warmth, the spirit, and the meaning of the yoga experience
That night Miriam committed to opening her own yoga studio, and in May 2017 she retired from her corporate job and got the keys to her 1475 square foot Vinings studio. Stellar Power Yoga was born. The instruction combines mostly vinyasa style yoga and Bikram yoga into a class that adheres to the practice but accommodates the students. Miriam sees her studio as offering more than just yoga. Stellar Yoga is a community of open-minded, judgment-free, and supportive people.
Miriam encourages other entrepreneurs, “if you have the opportunity, don’t let it pass.”
There is a courageous spirit in her heart – a fearlessness that can only result from strong passion, self-confidence and love.
Not surprisingly, Miriam followed her own path to entrepreneurism, and her lessons are invaluable. One important strategy she leveraged was bartering. An entrepreneur needs to be creative in how she deals with suppliers, and even staff. Miriam worked to negotiate deals that favored her and the suppliers – a win-win strategy. She trades classes for website support, newsletter production, social media, and even instructors. She cautions entrepreneurs that when they are bartering to be sure to evaluate the supplier carefully and ensure the other party is legit. “Don’t let your guard down just because money is not being used.”
Miriam used bartering with staff to get started. She brought on three instructors as “partner associates”. Each contributed $1,000 to the company in exchange for a 3% return on their investment. Associates are more than investors and teachers. They are also management sounding boards delivering program and student feedback. With this strategy Miriam not only solved her instructor issues, she also generated investment capital.
In addition to bartering, Miriam leverages free services to gain traction – Facebook, Twitter, website promotions, and ultimately word of mouth advertising to get her messages out. She understands her community and keeps focused on the local opportunities. Importantly, she keeps her studio accessible and supportive of the community. Each month she offers a class to raise money for charity. The studio had a campaign for the homeless, a toy drive for the holidays, and raised money for Alzheimer’s when they learned that a student’s parent was suffering from the disease.
Another unique capital strategy Miriam employed was a pre-membership program. While building out the studio, Miriam went to market with membership opportunities. She priced them in increments that people could afford: 3 months for $300, 6 months for $600, and 12 months for $1,000. Before the studio doors even opened, Miriam received $15,000 in memberships. This was her start-up capital allowing her to open debt-free.
To refine her business plan, Miriam attended the Operation HOPE Entrepreneur Training Program. For 15 weeks she worked with mentors and other entrepreneurs to better define her markets, pricing and growth plans. She finished at the top of the class and was recognized as the “Outstanding Entrepreneur”. Miriam will be participating in the HOPE Global Forum on May 30, 2019 where she will share her story and her success. In 2018 she had a record year for revenue and growth.
Miriam shares her words of wisdom for entrepreneurs.
Find your purpose.
Be a humanitarian.
Be an earth angel and bless other people.
Don’t do it to look good. Do good when no one is looking.
Start slow and do the work yourself first.
When you prosper, be sure to help others prosper.
Miriam has created a judgment-free world – one of inner balance and a quality of life filled with positive energy. Welcome to her passion, her brainchild and her expanding new business – Stellar Yoga.
Visit Miriam, her staff and her community at Stellar Yoga River Village Shopping Center, 3300 Cobb Parkway, Atlanta, Georgia 30339. www.stellar-poweryoga.com
A new era for small business emerged a few years ago and most aspiring entrepreneurs missed it. Still reeling from a decade during which the U.S. experienced a dramatic 36% drop in new start-ups, many prognosticators and small business owners alike were caught unaware and unprepared.
The entrepreneurship game has changed. Google returns 710,000,000 results for “entrepreneurship” and 91,700,000 results for books on entrepreneurship – hardly an indicator of a slowdown, so what’s happening? It’s estimated that nearly 10,000,000 entrepreneurs exist in unexpected places like Ebay, Etsy, Poshmark, and Amazon, where they launch micro-businesses through which they earn all or part of their income. Another 1,000,000 are involved with Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and Turo. Approximately 10% of the U.S. workforce isn’t tracked as an employee or an entrepreneur. More than 25 million Americans are starting or running businesses, and 500,000 new businesses are launched each month.
The gig economy and the rapid rise of independent contractors, freelancers and on-demand workers is leading the US job growth and driving new business opportunities. This is the future. 50% of the Gen Z members say they will launch their own business, and the existence of the marketplaces and entrepreneur platforms reinforces that possibility. Entrepreneurship opportunities are more available than ever.
In this era of possibilities, and new models of business, sage advice from an old nursery rhyme seems most appropriate.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses
And all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Humpty Dumpty, stunned and shattered, serves as an icon for entrepreneurship and resilience, and his lessons withstand time.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall because there was one. Eliminate all walls and obstructions, emotional, physical and intellectual. The comfort of a wall provides a safe space for an entrepreneur who must embrace change, risk and courage.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Entrepreneurship epitomizes vulnerability. It is uncomfortable, often results in failure, and is judged constantly. Courage and fear meet at the crossroads of entrepreneurship. There are those nagging walls and emotional hurdles that require terrifying confidence and commitment. Entrepreneurs fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. Recovering from a fall can’t ever be delegated. Entrepreneurs get back in the game. No matter how shattered, an entrepreneur puts the pieces together again, and often in new and more resilient ways. Entrepreneurs survive the fall and learn from the experience.
Humpty Dumpty’s story of complacency, risk, failure, and recovery is a story of entrepreneurship. Traversing the walls, falling from complacency, leaning into vulnerability, viewing the world from the bottom while aspiring for the top, recovering gracefully, and facing an uncertain future is the world of entrepreneurship. Are you ready?
Close your eyes and imagine an aromatic kitchen where the flavors of the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Asia are fused. Nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves marry beautifully with basil, oregano, and rosemary. Fresh ginger root, lemongrass and lime leaves create a giant melting pot of savory flavor – bold, spicy and fresh – just like Chef Vawanda Richardson whose capable hands and caring heart bring these disparate cuisines into melodic gastronomic harmony.
Chef “V” grew up with a passion to cook. She watched Julia Childs with her aunt who was always in the family kitchen stirring up concoctions in stovetop pans, frying fish outside and baking sweet memories. Little Vawanda served as her sous chef soaking up every recipe and testing each sauce, dish and dessert before serving them to the rest of the family. Weddings, birthdays, and holidays found Vawanda beside her aunt, apron to apron, experimenting with new ways to turn their love for family into a dish from the heart. By the time she was 12, Vawanda longed for a crockpot and culinary tools – not the cell phones and tablets coveted by her generation.
Chef V’s journey to executive kitchens was unorthodox. Her high school love for science, biology and chemistry led to nursing school and a career as a patient care technician in nursing homes and oncology centers. She wanted to be a surgeon, but the cost of medical school and the need to support her young family (she’s now a mother of four) put that dream out of reach for V, only 22-years old at the time.
Resilient and determined, Chef V shares, “I decided to find my happiness”.
Not too proud to begin wherever necessary to cultivate her restaurant chops, Vawanda joined Sodexo where she quickly progressed to a line cook at Chow Hall. She also learned the front of house and retail management as an Assistant Manager at Taco Bell. After a few years, she pursued her dream of culinary success and often lamented, “I’m 24 and so behind.”
Where to next? For Vawanda, the next step in her career meant competing for a position with the best. Against all odds, she applied for an apprentice position at the famed Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. This intense hands-on training program is not for the untrained or the faint of heart. It challenges apprentices in classical, modern, and food production techniques. Completely self-trained, Vawanda competed against hundreds of applicants, most with formal culinary school training.
Unnerved by the situation, she successfully proved her skills and found herself the only African American woman in a kitchen led by Master Chef Richard Rosendale, the youngest chef ever appointed at the Greenbrier and one of only five chefs representing the United States in the 2004 World Culinary Olympics.
What intimidated Chef V the most? “They were working with tweezers! I was terrified!” Vawanda might have been terrified, but she was undaunted. She began in banquets, moved quickly to the grand dining room, and eventually opened the golf club and dining for the Greenbrier.
Returning to Atlanta and her family, Chef V again redefined her success. Growing up in the shadows of entrepreneurs in construction, painting and auto mechanics, she always knew that fulfilling her ambitions meant having a business and a restaurant of her own. While serving as Executive Sous Chef for Centurion Restaurant Group at Punch Bowl Social in the Battery, Vawanda launched a catering business, a nonprofit, a bottled pepper sauce, and wrote a book for busy working mothers.
Chef V’s dreams required more than her passion and ambition. She needed the entrepreneurial knowledge and foundation for running a business. As fate would have it, Vawanda also wanted a home for her growing family, and it was that desire that brought her to Operation HOPE where she enrolled in the HOPE Inside entrepreneur training program to access the knowledge and capital necessary to expand her businesses.
Chef V’s one-year plan is to leverage her catering business, Taste Atlanta, LLC, and sales of her delicious pepper sauce, to grow her nonprofit, Little Chefs, Inc. Children in underserved communities live in culinary deserts where fast foods prevail and nutritional knowledge is lacking. Chef’s goal is to expand her 12 week nutrition program for inner city kids introducing them to different cuisines, vegetables, foods, and even career paths in culinary.
Jack Ma introduced his measure of leadership – “LQ” – the love quotient as critical to servant leadership and success. Chef V defines what Ma intended. She gives and loves and leads from the heart. She deserves the attention and support of the Atlanta leadership, finance and culinary communities. This is the legacy of civic leadership – a sustainable community of passionate entrepreneurs who give back. Chef V sets the bar high, and her jerk chicken risotto is a feast for the senses that shows respect for culture and technique while delivering a taste that shares her love of life.
Mise en place is a French culinary phase for “everything in its place”. Technically, it is a method to assist with organizing and preparing ingredients to maximize taste and deliver an extraordinary and delightful experience. For Chef V, mise en place is much more. It is her way of life – everything in its place and everything in her heart.
As a recent transplant to Atlanta from Los Angeles I found myself glued to my television as the NFL set the stage for Super Bowl LIII in my new hometown. Downtown Atlanta already teems with a bevy of game day activity and advertising, and as of Sunday (Saints fans would say, thanks to a bad call) the Los Angeles Rams will meet the Patriots-Brady Dynasty just down the street from my office. What could be better? My old team in my new city – in different ways two underdogs trying to change the world. So why did I wake with an aching pain in my heart on Monday?
Like all social media junkies, I automatically turn to Twitter and Facebook for a quick fix before I sleep. Its pabulum provides my melatonin and Sunday night was no different. But while New England and Los Angeles fans celebrated their teams’ successes, the country prepared to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I found myself frustrated and conflicted.
I believe that the Super Bowl will be great for Atlanta. It’s estimated to deliver $400 million in economic impact to the city, and the stadium represents an amazing venue for Atlanta’s reputation and brand. But against a backdrop of MLK Day, furloughed federal workers, and extreme poverty, I struggle not with the game, but with human behavior. According to social media, some people paid $57,500 for a Saints Super Bowl ticket on Friday (now worthless), and another bettor plunked down $500,000 believing that in the Saints-Rams game that the teams would score more than 57 points – the game ended with 49 points on the scoreboard (another now worthless action). And now just in – a New England fan paid $180,685 on StubHub for 8 seats to the Super Bowl. While 71,000 people will pay on average $3,400 for a ticket to the game, 136,911 federal employees in Georgia will remain without a paycheck requiring them to turn to unorthodox sources for help. As of January 17, approximately 2,000 GoFundMe campaigns raised only $500,000 to support those impacted by the shutdown – ironically less than those two Super Bowl bets.
It’s always the right time to do the right thing. Many Georgians and dozens of universities, state agencies and localities that rely on DC for paychecks, grants and financial support are in a state of panic and economic disaster. There is something that we can do, but it will put our ideas of civic leadership to a test. "Democracy and politics can only function well with an engaged and aware civic community". Walter Lippman penned those words 90 years ago, and today they could not be more relevant. With engaged civic leaders we can rise above the noise and change the world one community at a time, but this entails a profoundly different type of inclusive, collaborative leadership team with an unwavering commitment to the common good. We must all step up as civic leaders.
Most familiar to Americans is Dr. King’s “I have a dream speech”, but less well known is what he did weeks before his assassination. In March 1968 Dr. King launched the Poor People’s Campaign. More than 50 multiracial organizations gathered in Atlanta to develop a platform to petition the government to pass an Economic Bill of Rights to uplift the economic conditions facing millions of people. Dr. King didn’t view poverty as another political issue, or poor people as a special interest group. Instead his campaign was a demand for economic and human rights for all poor Americans from diverse backgrounds.
Following in the footsteps of Dr. King’s legacy, Operation HOPE relocated its corporate office to Atlanta in 2017 to deliver its mission. Committed to bringing lasting economic inclusion to underserved communities around the US, HOPE is also dedicated to economic improvement in the greater Atlanta area where 27% of the population still lives in poverty. HOPE’s goals are rooted in dignity and inclusion through the implementation of programs that move from Civil Rights to Silver Rights, with Atlanta and Dr. King’s message as a moral compass.
Done properly, economic inclusion, financial literacy and access to capital can uplift any community and eliminate poverty at its core. However, sustainable community change requires the collaboration of many leaders and many organizations - each of us resolving bits and pieces of every issue through our competencies and experiences. The synergy of that collective directed properly and purposefully can drive transformative social change. All of us in Atlanta can provide the framework and resources for defining a future that places common good front and center.
Operation HOPE and many of its partners in the community are stepping up to help individuals and families impacted by economic crises. In partnership with SunTrust Bank, Synovus Bank, Wells Fargo, RBC, Delta, UPS, and Coca Cola, HOPE Inside locations in Atlanta offer free financial wellbeing assistance to people in need. HOPE Coaches help build budgets, negotiate with creditors, write letters, work with the banks, delay or reduce monthly payments, and introduce those in need to strategic alliance partners who can help as well. In addition to Atlanta, Operation HOPE offers 120 HOPE Inside locations in 26 states staffed by financial wellbeing coaches. If you, or anyone you know, suffers from and economic disaster, including this shutdown, HOPE can help.
Maybe I am wrong to feel conflicted. During this time of incivility, when people cannot find a pathway to communication, perhaps there is nothing better than football to bridge that gap. On February 3, we will don our blue and yellow, or red, blue, and silver, and for those 60 minutes of regulation time we will remain optimistic that our heroes will reach the goal line as a team – a lesson our political leaders could learn. Until then, there is HOPE. To find a financial wellbeing coach near you, head to www.operationhope.org/map or contact the HOPE call center at 888-388-HOPE(4673).
When I was 12 I drove my brother’s first motorcycle into a tree at the bottom of State Road hill. Unskilled, but undeterred, I drove that red Honda 50 to the top of the hill and tried again. A few hours later I was hooked on the sound, the feel, and the Steve McQueen-rebelliousness that only a motorcycle can deliver. I drove that 50, a few dirt bikes and my Dad’s Sportster in the Pennsylvania woods and the Las Vegas desert until boys, heels, college, and cars transformed my passion for motorcycles into memories of younger years.
I rediscovered my past and my passion in the form of a Harley-Davidson FXR2. Custom metallic red paint, faded purple letters, lots of chrome, and 1340 cc’s restored my attitude and my youth. The responses to my new bike were predictable. My friends worried about my mid-life crisis and my fantasies of Jesse James. My Italian mother cried about my responsibilities and my four-year old son. My Dad fired up his Buell and planned our rides.
To appease my Mother, to silence my critics, and to avoid any lurking trees, I enrolled in a two day Motorcycle Safety Foundation Course (MSF). As fate would have it that weekend proved to be more than a reduction on my insurance premium. It was a two-day Ivy League business practicum. A V-twin engine and a Safety instructor provided leadership lessons that I will never forget … respond tactically and execute strategically using five best practices represented by the acronym, S I P D E.
Who said leadership and management can’t be fun?
The first practice is to constantly Scan (S) the landscape and horizon. The safe rider learns to keep looking around, never focusing on an object for more than 2 seconds. Look ahead. Look to the side. Look in your mirror. Keep looking. Focus on the imminent, on threats that loom in the next 4 seconds. At the same time, always look beyond the immediate to avoid any approaching dangers. A biker is focused on the now, but is always scanning 12 to 14 seconds in front of his current position.
The practice of constant Scanning is an important business concept to master. Effective leaders concentrate on the equivalent “next 4 seconds” in business, but continually look ahead, around, beside and behind. In the immediate, they scan the competitive threats, avoid near-term adversities and deal with tactical issues. For the future, they scan well in front of their present position. Great leaders scrutinize the business landscape ahead of them, identify hidden threats and capture strategic opportunities as they appear.
Scanning, whether you are a biker or a leader, must be outwardly focused and broad enough to encompass the entire field of vision. There are many tragic examples of companies that have failed to scan. They fixated on the near-term, on boosting next quarter earnings, or on reducing expenses exclusively. A rider sacrifices his limbs and life; a business sacrifices its long-term viability.
After Scanning, a rider is taught to Identify (I), to pick out both threats and opportunities. Things happen fast and a rider must be prepared. Cars that weren’t visible a few seconds ago suddenly emerge from driveways, cross-streets and other lanes. Street conditions that appeared smooth unexpectedly present their own dangers: gravel, potholes, and slick spots. Even the changing weather can be a threat. Every good rider must identify an opportunity - an alternate route to circumvent any impending obstacle or danger.
In business there are many examples of companies that failed to identify threats. Retailers ignored the onslaught of Amazon. Traditional restaurateurs failed to identify that Ray Kroc and fast food chains would forever alter consumer eating habits. The education, music and publishing industries failed to identify the impact of the Internet. Without identification and a flexible response, companies lose the financial, intellectual and emotional resources necessary to combat an unanticipated threat.
Change always presents new threats and opportunities to all businesses: digitization, globalization, individualism, speed, and shifts in demographics. Identifying threats must be balanced with identifying opportunities; defender strategies need the counterbalance of attacker strategies. The effective leader, like the safe biker, must have an alternative roadmap for navigating around impending dangers.
The third best practice, Predict (P), may be the most difficult because it requires both data and intuition. In a matter of seconds, a motorcyclist must assess the impact of identified threats and opportunities. The biker has to predict correctly what will happen, or face the pavement (literally) if a danger is ignored. Riding day-to-day reinforced this lesson for me. By constantly scanning the landscape and identifying the threats, I am better able to predict a driver who decides to change lanes without looking, as easily as I can see the reckless Fast and Furious wanna-bes. Sometimes, I don’t even see the danger, but I intuitively know it is there. Relying on the intuition that comes with experience, especially when there is no data to support it, is the most important lesson I learned.
Predicting also means searching for factors that might lead to trouble. One of my favorite rides is in Maui where the twists and turns in the road make for wonderful biking and incredible panoramas. It’s also a ride where many variables combine to create a bit of risk: a rented Harley that needs getting used to, tourists on unfamiliar roads rushing to get to the rainforest, dramatic turns at 90 degrees where nothing can be seen coming around that corner, sharp cliffs without barriers, and my own love of Hawaii, its lush landscape and beautiful rainbows. Predicting these risks and managing them amidst all of the distractions is critical to a safe ride.
Incorrect business predictions have similar results. A leader can find himself on the pavement too if an identified risk is ignored, or predicted inaccurately. Time, money, credibility, and trust are lost when the leader fails to predict. Leaders need to sense changes and shifts on the horizon. They need to dismiss their assumptions, recognize emerging patterns and develop strategies to shape their companies to leverage those shifts in business realities.
Prediction is difficult. How many of our industries underestimated the impact of international markets … missed the reliance on relationships … didn’t see the shift to multiple supply chains and the distribution of innovation? Are we prepared for new relationships, cultures and societies? Have we identified the threats and opportunities? Have we predicted the outcomes? Measurement systems and a deliberate process for using them are fundamental to prediction. However, the prediction cannot be abdicated to a system, which in itself can be flawed. The leader must rely on his intuition and experience to complement the measurements and data. Scenarios must be evaluated and tested quickly to enable a company to move forward.
After scanning, identifying and predicting, a biker must then Decide (D) what course to choose to avoid the threat, or to seize the opportunity. My actions on the bike are similar to my actions as a leader. Sometimes I decide to slow down in order to avoid a threat. Other times, my choice is to accelerate, follow the crowd, or employ the “Maui strategy” … pull over, wait and enjoy the view.
Deciding means transcending old habits and choosing the appropriate course for the situation. For many years I always chose to speed up, no matter what the context. If a crazy pit bull emerged from the trees, I accelerated. If the rain cloud broke, I accelerated. If a patch of gravel appeared, I accelerated. When that 1969 Yenko Camaro tried to pass me, I accelerated. Doing it faster replaced doing it differently for me.
Many executives believe in this acceleration strategy too. Unfortunately, they are doing the same things, only faster. Even after cautiously scanning, identifying and predicting, deciding can be compromised. Daily temptations can distract from a long-term plan, and short-term excuses can supplant strategic decisions. Businesses decide to sacrifice a little quality to earn more cash, and compromise their strategy, values and brand in the process. While I remain addicted to speed, I now realize that decisiveness is best complemented by flexibility and responsiveness to changing conditions.
Peter Drucker once advised business leaders to use decision making as an opportunity to communicate. With every decision, a leader makes clear his direction, values, and mission. MSF advises safe bikers to do the same. They need to be visible, always making it apparent to other drivers where they are and what they are going to do. With each decision, a biker is saying, “here I am”. With each decision, an executive is saying, “here’s where we are going”.
Most leaders have little trouble figuring out what to do. The challenge is doing it. Execute (E) is the fifth MSF practice. After making the decision, a safe biker acts based on the threats and opportunities. The conditions on a motorcycle are often life and death; execution requires courage. On a curving road with no visibility, solid execution can save your life. There is no time to rethink and over-analyze your decision. A good motorcyclist reduces risk factors by thinking (S I) before acting, and by considering (P) the consequences of actions. Mental preparation helps. Risks on the road can’t be eliminated, but they can be managed.
Thousands of business books and careers have been dedicated to finding the Holy Grail of execution, when all this time the Motorcycle Safety Foundation had the answer. At the end of the second day, it was time to test our newly acquired skills. I had scanned, identified and predicted everything on my course test, and decided to make the turn. At that moment, something came toward me. I wobbled. I hesitated. I nearly laid my bike down. But, in fractions of a second my logic kicked-in, and I found the courage to remain committed to my decision. I executed as planned. It was just a distraction.
It was then that my epiphany occurred: everything I ever needed to know about being effective in business I learned riding motorcycles.
Execution in business was no different than what I had just experienced. Leaders are tested continuously. What is the mission? The strategy? Is there alignment? Are the plans developed? What are the risks? The contingencies? In the midst of these questions and challenges, a leader must execute. The most formidable obstacle to strategic execution is courage. Many leaders lack the courage to stay the course, remain committed and follow through on a strategy. Other agendas emerge as distractions, and lacking the courage of his convictions, the leader waivers. Decisions languish and brilliant strategies remain unexecuted plans.
After two days of intense instruction, I no longer drive into trees and I always look toward where I want to go. I’ve given up on Jesse James, but I still hold out hope for a certain man to ride with me in Maui. Friends continue to worry about my “crisis” and my inconceivable obsession with the FXR2. Empirically I know that taking the course made me a safer biker. Intuitively I know that taking the course made me a better leader. Most importantly, taking the course gave me another reason to talk about motorcycles and my passion for business.