Success goes well beyond what you learned in school.
6 min read
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Lately, I’ve been increasingly interested in the varied routes to entrepreneurship and the surprising ways so many of my friends and colleagues have shared about their paths to success.
Such was the topic as I sat down for lunch recently with Vicki Tu’ua of Vicki Tuua Insurance Agency, a business she’s been leading for 26 years — in addition to the many roles that she fulfills as a community leader.
“How did you become an entrepreneur, and when did you know it?” I asked. I was especially curious because she’s a fellow Boomer entrepreneur, which means that like me, she entered the role at a time when female leaders were rare.
“I was a teacher,” she said, recalling her time as a high school history teacher in Chicago’s South Side in an area where the windows were protected by bars and it wasn’t safe to be outside at night. She recalls a pivotal moment when the principal blared into her room and demanded, “What are you doing?”
“I’m teaching the U.S. Constitution so these students can graduate,” she said.
“No,” he countered, clearly irritated. “You’re here is to babysit. They’ll be graduating. We’re putting them through.”
I’m not sure when she tendered her resignation, but at that moment her passion for high school teaching was officially over. She became a financial planner and a provider of insurance products.
Here’s where my interest was piqued. For many years (and not entirely wrongly) I’ve thought of financial planner as a euphemism for “I don’t have a job” or “I didn’t really cut it in a corporation.” And how many insurance people do each of us know?
But by anyone’s measure, she’s a business success. With the team she employs, she provides leadership coaching and financial services. She serves on numerous boards and is a prominent voice in community service. She’s successfully dealt with the traditional bias towards getting financial and leadership advice from a man. She runs a thriving business helping individuals and companies prepare for eventual retirement amidst health and family pressures, rising costs and ups and downs in the economic climate.
She’s centered and free of negative energy around the obstacles that abound. And at mid-life she’s more excited than ever about the opportunities still ahead. So, of course, I insisted on knowing her secrets. Here they are:
1. Add value first — and always.
Regardless of the obstacles in consulting and business, this rule is akin to the laws of gravity and physics. Be as interested and devoted to your client’s successes as you are to your own. When this is the case, there’s no need to talk about your hero stories or the ego numbers you’ve reached. Every contact begins and ends with the thought, “What kind of massively important difference can I make for my clients today?” For Tu’ua this means that her business finds her. There’s no need to hard sell.
2. Think before you speak.
And then think again. This is interesting in that some entrepreneurs, leaders and even elected officials suffer from the chronic impulse to fill the air with words before their brains have fully engaged. Some are living by the motto that “if you’re brazen enough when you say it, it’s true.” Instead, Tu’ua notes the person at the table who’s saying the least is generally the person who’s holding the majority of the cards. Likewise, by observing instead of blaring, you get surprising insights about the dynamics and motivations of the people around you. Regardless, make it a practice to pause at least long enough to consider, “Is what I’m about to say the best way of achieving the thing that I’m after?” If it’s not, hold your peace, Tu’ua says.
3. Learn to make creative thinking inherent.
In business and life, beware of the parties who declare “this is how it has to be done.” There are myriad paths to success. What can you add, subtract or tweak to get a situation to work? What would turn it into magic? If option A and option B are both untenable, don’t settle. Continue to think and strategize on ideas about what will work instead of bemoaning what can’t — or what didn’t.
4. When you know what you need, go straight to the top to find success.
When the need arises for answers, Tu’ua has never hesitated to go through anyone necessary in order to get to the top. She’s called heads of state. She’s phoned the CEOs of massive organizations. She even called Donald Trump and talked with him years before he was President. In many of these cases, she didn’t get through and confesses she pretty well suspected she wouldn’t. But in every case, she’s gone far enough to get what she needs. “It’s amazing what is possible and what people are willing to do for you if you simply gather the courage to ask,” she maintains.
5. Be concise.
Brevity is a virtue in our harried business and personal worlds. We all know the person we unconsciously flee or avoid calling because we know the conversation will never be short. In selling, planning, and every aspect of a business, distill your message to its essence. When you can tell it in a single breath or while standing on one foot, you are probably there. Make the details of your proposal easy to find and verify, but don’t feel the need to overwhelm your listeners. Think about whetting their appetites enough that they come to you, asking for more. This is where you succeed.
6. Begin and end every discussion with gratitude.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed about everything that goes wrong in the world of business. Taxes rise, systems fail and rush hour traffic is worse by the day. Health concerns and stress put us all to the test. But imagine the power of stopping at least twice a day to consider at least three things you are intensely grateful for. Family relationships. Seasonal colors or scents or the clothes you love wearing, Your company’s strategy and the customers and clients you serve. Imagine the power you’d instill if you showed gratitude to your employees every day.