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Integrity... the Glue to Prosperity!

My first real entrepreneurial lesson occurred when I was still an impressionable boy at the tender age of eight. One afternoon, I sat down and, with child-like faith, wrote a fervent letter to then-Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese. The year was 1972, the same year the Dolphins posted the first - and last - undefeated season in professional football history. And Griese, who would later go on to the National Football League Hall of Fame, was among sport’s biggest stars, and my childhood hero.

"Dear Mr. Griese," I wrote, "would you please send me an autograph and a pair of sweatbands?" To entice the superstar quarterback, I enclosed a stick of Double-Mint Gum. My mom mailed the letter, and the waiting game began. A month passed, then two. I wrote him again. Same letter. New stick of gum. Still nothing. The Dolphins went on to win the Super Bowl. Each day, I diligently trudged to the mailbox, hoping my prayers would somehow be answered. But my hopes, with the changing seasons, turned cold, and soon thereafter melted away for good with the last winter storm.

For some reason, that spring, I tried one more time. Same letter. New stick of gum. Imagine my surprise, when just several weeks after my third letter, my mom tossed an envelope into my bedroom one afternoon. It was a package from the Miami Dolphins. I’ll never forget the sheer adrenaline rush of ripping that big envelope open. I’ll also never forget the incredible, exhilarating, all-over warmth I felt when a picture of the 1972 Dolphins tumbled out, complete with Griese’s signature (which I still possess). When a pair of sweatbands fell out, I nearly dropped dead of a heart attack, on the spot.

A boy’s dream had come true. But better yet, an indelible lesson in life had been branded in my mind: With the innocence of a child, I had swung for the fence. And I had connected.

Set A Goal. Take Action. Stay True

Griese probably doesn’t remember doing that for a young boy. But very early in life, he laid the foundation for my entrepreneurial career. He had taught me an invaluable lesson: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you don’t try, it won’t happen.

I grew up without a father, and though my mother worked hard to support my sister and I, we were quite poor. But that spring was a moment of truth for me: While my peers at school had the finest clothes and nice new bikes, I had something all their money couldn’t buy: Bob Griese had sent me a letter. And sweatbands. I had tasted the euphoria of accomplishment. The feeling I had that afternoon, trying on those sweatbands, is the exact same feeling I get every time I achieve another milestone in my career.

Why? Because I learned that setting worthwhile goals, taking personal action on that dream, and then staying true to your course of action predicates success.

My mother encouraged me to keep writing letters. "Don’t think about the people who don’t write you back," she said. "Just keep thinking about the ones who will."

Those words would become prophecy later in my career.

Finding A Way To Win

If you really care to reach for your potential, if you really plan to make a significant difference in the lives of those around you, you will absolutely steel yourself against defeat and find a way to win.

Every winner I’ve ever met shares a craving to be the best. But by itself, winning isn’t enough. You must have the tools to lead yourself, and your team, to victory. That’s why each month in this column we’ll explore the building blocks necessary To Find A Way To Win. In the coming months, I intend to offer up what I can in the areas of leadership, motivation and teamwork, in the hopes that, together, through life experience and the lessons of others, we can better learn to navigate our entrepreneurial journey.

The road ahead of any entrepreneur is steep enough, much less without the support of those who have trodden the path before you. I’ve been fortunate to have some serious mentors in my life. But mentors or not, at the heart of any serious entrepreneur is a person who recognizes that they are taking the path of most resistance. When I meet a young "entrepreneur", I first gauge their intensity and commitment. Because if they don’t bite when they’re puppies, they usually don’t bite.

The course we’ve chosen isn’t a desk job. Entrepreneurs cannot be summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. They constantly must draw anew on their individual strength, ingenuity and vision. Their gaze must not be set on the past, but firmly on the future. Like Christopher Columbus and Sir Francis Drake of centuries past, we now represent the explorers of the modern era; men and women with vision; with the courage to take risks, and faith enough to brave the unknown.

Staying On Course

But today, free enterprise has propelled us into a new technological era. Small businesses today have more computer capability than large companies did a decade ago. I honestly have more computing firepower today in my home office than the entire building did when I was a cub reporter for Sport magazine in Manhattan, New York, 15 years ago.

The economic vitality pushing the world into the 21st Century is broad-based and irreversible. It’s not coming from the top, it’s coming from the bottom. The creative talents of our citizenry, always one of the greatest assets of Canada and the United States, is now being magnified by state-of-the-art technology and put to work for our benefit as never before.

It’s evident that the entrepreneur now has reason to be more optimistic than the established, monolithic corporation. But it’s no longer enough to just have a great idea. The world is full of bright idealists with great inspiration, yet without the guts, discipline or follow-through to make it happen.

So you have the idea. Perhaps you’ve acted on it. So how do you stay true to your course of action?

Ironically, the theme of this issue of is integrity. Integrity can be defined many ways, but ultimately, integrity is the entrepreneur’s shield of protection. Integrity is the compass that keeps you on course. Integrity is that fire in your belly that gives you the courage to chase your dream. Integrity is that extra hour of market research each night that prevents fatal shortcuts. Integrity demands that you respect your craft. Integrity eliminates shoddy work and won’t allow you to cheat others on your path to victory.

In short, integrity ensures that you will succeed. And, let me point out, integrity allows you to make mistakes. Because if you have integrity, you can deviate from your course, yet still see the error of your ways, self-correct, and find your way back. I liken integrity to "true north". True north never changes. People do.

Integrity consists of bedrock principles. If you have it, you will create works with your hands and mind that will offer up practical solutions to suffering people in the world. You will find a means of achieving prosperity and personal stability that most people take for granted as their birthright.

Without integrity, you merely become one of those proverbial suffering people.

The Architecture of Leadership

The architecture of leadership, all of the theories and guidelines, falls apart without honesty and integrity. It’s the keystone that holds an organization together. Author Donald Phillips writes that "the best, most aggressive and successful organizations are the ones that stress integrity and trust. Because divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to mere management, politics and technique."

Any successful organization or business must possess strong-shared values. How, you may ask, do people throughout an organization "co-own" value; how can they be committed to the same set of beliefs? This is where leadership comes in. It is the sole responsibility of the leader to instill these values by constant preaching and persuasion. It is the leader’s role to lift followers out of their everyday lives and up to a higher level of awareness, motivation and commitment.

Trust, honesty and integrity are exceedingly important because they so strongly affect your followers. Most individuals need to trust others, especially their boss. Subordinates must perceive the leader as a consistently fair person if they’re to engage in the kind of innovative risk-taking that delivers to entrepreneurs the rewards they seek.

Abraham Lincoln, for instance, fired Simon Cameron, his first secretary of war, for awarding defense contracts to friends and other questionable dealings. At the 1860 Republican Convention, he declared, "No bargains". And in a powerful show of integrity, he once declared, "Never add the weight of your character to a charge against a person without knowing it to be true."

Integrity must be your common denominator for all interactions with all people, regardless of goals, actions or personalities.

Listening for Integrity

Carmaker Henry Ford once hired an efficiency expert to go through his plant. He said, "Find the non-productive people. Tell me who they are, and I will fire them!"

The expert made the rounds with his clipboard in hand and finally returned to Ford’s office with his report. "I’ve found a problem with one of your administrators," he said. "Every time I walked by, he was sitting with his feet propped up on the desk. The man never does a thing. I definitely think you should get rid of him."

When Ford heard the man’s name, he vehemently shook his head. "I can’t fire that guy. I pay that man to do nothing but think - he’s doing exactly what he’s getting paid for."

In the heat of your battles, don’t neglect the quiet time required each day that allows you to think. Don’t forget that the most important aspect of leadership is that you must listen to that inner voice. You, of all people, cannot lose your way.

Integrity is The Glue That Holds You Together

One afternoon, my wife Carrie was looking forward to a few minutes of relaxation after a long and demanding day with my youngest daughter, five-year-old Savannah Bey (whom we’ve nicknamed "Tiny").

However, Savannah, ever the reckless and courageous clown, had other plans for Carrie’s time. "Read me a story!" Savannah demanded. Carrie, desperate for a respite from the ever-demanding role of motherhood, sighed in reply. "Tiny," she said, "give mommy a minute to relax."

"No, mommy, please, read me a story."

In a stroke of genius, Carrie tore off the back page of the magazine she was reading. It contained a full-page picture of the world. Carrie tore it into several pieces, and then asked Savannah to put the picture back together. "When you finish, then I’ll read you a story," she said, thinking this had bought her a few relaxing moments.

In what seemed like seconds, Savannah suddenly bounded out of her room and announced she was finished. To Carrie’s astonishment, she walked in and found the world picture completely assembled. When she asked Savannah how she had done it so quickly, Tiny explained that on the reverse side of the page was a picture of a little girl.

"See, mommy, when I got the little girl together, the whole world came together."

Touche’. You know, each of us has the responsibility - and ability - to put our world together. But all of our visions of grandeur begin with putting ourselves together first. We can become better parents, friends, spouses, and employers. But nobody said it was going to be easy. It’s been said that a man or woman would accomplish nothing if they waited until they could do it so well that no one could find fault with what they’ve done.

Set those goals. Allow others to embrace your vision. Take action.

And when you seek direction, remember Savannah’s "little girl".

For integrity is the glue that holds our world together.

About the author:
J. David Miller is the founder and Managing General Partner of Salpare’ Marketing Strategies, and resides with his family in Irvine, California. - (Article borrowed from the Junk Site of Resources)

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