20 on 20: Twenty Reflections on Twenty Years in Business

Twenty Years of Noetic Logo

Welcome to “20 on 20,” a blog series in celebration and reflection of 20 years in business. Follow along as founder Nancie McDonnell Ruder dives deeper into one of her 20 reflections.

As I reflect on my company’s 20-year anniversary, I mostly think – how did I get here? I feel a rush of gratitude (So many great clients! So many great team members!) as well as what I can only describe as awe (seriously, where did the time go? Why does it feel so…fast?). Especially because I am the kind of person who sometimes needs to be reminded to pick her head up and take stock, I am doing just that. I am using this year as a time to look back, look forward and BE in the present moment with experiences and learning. As I do this, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things – ok, 20 things – that I have learned in these wonderful, and sometime difficult, years of running a marketing and leadership consulting business. I hope you will gain wisdom from this and appreciate your spending the time on this look back, to look forward.

  1. Determine your purpose – professionally and personally. This is no small task, and will take time to get it articulated. Once you have this, it will be your anchor for all you do and as importantly, all you choose not to do.
  2. Set goals personally and professionally each year, then work on them every day to achieve them. Choose them carefully, make them S.M.A.R.T., print them and put them somewhere you will bump into daily. Chip away each day and week, and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
  3. Listen first. In any new setting, listen more than you speak, particularly as you are coming to know the context and the people. Too much of the time when we are not mindful of this, we miss out on important information and lead people to see us as “waiting to talk” versus being authentically interested.
  4. Ask great questions. This is closely related to #3. The better your questions, the better the insight you will gain. One of my all-time favorite questions and to quote Rob Volpe, is, “Tell me more about that.”
  5. Separate quality work from client satisfaction. If you are in a client service business, of course you will aim to set the bar high in the work you deliver. Yet there will come a moment when a client may not set the bar where you set it. They may have higher expectations; they may even have lower expectations. Take time to understand where they are, yet to stay true to what you know is quality product for you and your organization. This is who you are as a brand and not every client may be a fit for your brand.
  6. Understand that business is primarily people and math; know both well. Thanks to Ed Robinson, I have this amazing nugget of wisdom. Know your financials, and what the key drivers are of your business (this is true for all of us, not just business owners!) and know your people. As Kim Scott says, care personally. Understand what motivates them, help them know that you genuinely care about their development.
  7. Lead by example. We know this as parents: “do what I say, not what I do” does not work very well. It is the same when you lead a team. If you expect the team to be punctual, be punctual. If you want people to demonstrate a positive attitude, demonstrate a positive attitude. Every day, even when – especially when – you may not feel like it.
  8. Train in leadership. I was so relieved the day I heard Tim Ferriss say it so plainly: none of us are natural born leaders. These are learned skills. And anyone can learn them. Spend the time, and practice.
  9. Give and get feedback, frequently. This (like strong leadership) is a hard one for me; I am practicing this a lot. People want and need to know where they stand. Help them know, and ask them to help you know. If you practice this often, it becomes far less awkward and the dialogue becomes more authentic and helpful.
  10. Nurture your network, frequently. As Mark Twain said, “If you’re looking for friends when you need them, it’s too late.” Help others and let them help you. When you are thinking of someone, reach out and tell them.
  11. Follow through. On what, you ask? On anything you say you are going to do. This is the most powerful way to help those around you know that they can trust you. If you experience a time that you are unable to do so, own it specifically and sort out how to get it done differently or how to make the situation whole.
  12. Treat every new hire like your first. Any business owner knows that the first hire is the most anxiety provoking. I saw this in myself and have heard it from many: “this person’s livelihood is in my hands.” Indeed it is…and every person thereafter. Don’t get complacent and don’t stop caring this deeply.
  13. Find at least one passion outside of work that fuels you, and find a way to spend time on it. All work and no play makes us all pretty dull. And you will likely get some of your best ideas NOT working, about work. When I recently asked Michelle Russo what she liked best about yoga, she said, “I solve problems in there.”
  14. Reach out to people, over time, who are having a tough time because of a job loss or a divorce or a sickness. My Purposeful Connections friends will nod to this “Over time” is important because the majority of people rush to connect at the beginning of a crisis, but go back to their lives pretty quickly – while the person struggling is only at the beginning of the beginning of their journey where they need support.
  15. When you reach out to someone who is struggling, offer specific ways to help. This is wisdom I borrowed from Sheryl Sandberg in her book Option B, after her husband died suddenly. “Specific” is important because a struggling person usually cannot see straight enough to tell you what they need – but if you offer specific help (I am going to pick up a cup of coffee, can I bring you one and do you like caf or decaf?) they may not want what you offer, but they will appreciate that you did offer.
  16. When you make business introductions, check with each person first before you connect them. If you want to read more on the art of connecting, see this previous blog post. This works in your personal life too.
  17. Don’t make a decision before you have to. I borrow this one from my dad, and his 10 guidelines for life. It took me awhile to understand it and appreciate its power – and powerful it is. Particularly if you are struggling with a decision, you may need more information, to seek some counsel, to be quiet with it and listen to your gut. If you do not have to make the decision right now and it is an important one, take the time to do it right.
  18. Create 3 solutions to problems. This is one of our Noetic values, and it is extremely powerful. Most of us think of what we could do, then one alternative. When you have a dilemma of some kind and you push to a third option – it almost always opens up a whole other avenue of options…like a hidden door to a new village.
  19. Trust your gut. It can be so noisy in our heads and difficult to access what we really think, feel, believe. To help you access it, find time to sit quietly every day. This is best done first thing in the morning, as prescribed in Miracle Mornings, but has to be done once you are out of bed. Journaling can also help, sitting in nature, taking deep breaths.
  20. Laugh, especially at yourself. Life can be hard. Work can be…work. Find ways and reasons to laugh every day, and to help others laugh.