Be strong! Be courageous! Do not be afraid of them! For the Lord your God will be with you.
- Deuteronomy 31:6 -
In today’s business environment, it can be difficult to know if you’re on the path that will bring you success in life. In fact, today’s career paths look very different than those of our predecessors. Gone are the days when an employee will stay with a company for 30 or 40 years. According to Forbes, the average worker stays at each of his or her jobs for only 4.4 years. Those changes add up to almost 20 different jobs over the course of a lifetime!
With so many changes and fluctuations, how are we supposed to know when our path is heading in the right direction? How do we know if we’ve made the right choice in our business ventures or personal careers?
I am no stranger to doubt, especially when it comes to my decisions. I have faced a lot of risks over the course of my career—many of which came with sleepless nights and empty bank accounts. But one thing that I learned over the years is to put faith in my own personal path to success and happiness. We cannot control what the future will look like. But what we can control is how we live our lives every day.
When I look back on my decisions, including the risky ones, there is usually a driving force behind them. For example, in some jobs, I simply wasn’t being challenged enough. In others, I knew the work I was doing wasn’t a great fit for my personality and my goals. There was something—maybe it was instinct, maybe it was something more powerful—urging me to look elsewhere for opportunities. Those intuitions are very important to trust. Often, our subconscious thoughts, desires and passions drive our decisions before we ever realize we’re making them.
What’s important in each of these decisions is the time you take to reflect on your life, your efforts and your goals. Have you put everything into your current position, but you’re still not happy? Are you working as hard as possible and exploring all options for growth that are in front of you? If you are leaving no stone unturned—meaning you’ve capitalized on a current position as much as you possible can—and you’re not happy or content, look elsewhere. Trust that your mind and your heart are leading you to a more fulfilling position.
I started NBA after a series of very important, very thoughtful decisions. I prayed over my career and the choices that I was making to shape that career. Every time I was faced with a fork in the road, I reflected on my efforts, my family, our goals and my personal abilities. And I trusted in my path. Looking back, nobody is perfect and I made some mistakes. But all of those mistakes led me through periods of great personal growth, and through those mistakes I grew as an individual and a business leader.
So trust in your path. Embrace your position and put all you’ve got into your work. If it’s not making you a better person, explore new options. Your risks will be rewarded.
…“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
– Isaiah 30:15 –
I don’t work on Fridays. It may sound crazy, but years ago, before NBA became the company that it is today, I made a decision to nurture and respect my personal life as much as my professional life. Part of that decision was to not work on Fridays. I don’t just stay home and work from a laptop—I actively separate myself from the hustle of the workweek and find time to reflect, exercise, and spend time with my family. It was made a world of difference for me as a leader, an individual and a partner and father.
I fully recognize the blessings of my life. Not all people have the luxury of being able to afford to miss one day of work each week. Not all people want to miss one day of work each week. But the number of days that I’m present in the office is not the point. The point is that each of us needs to take a look at our lives and see where we’re balanced—and more importantly, see where we’re not balanced.
If you could measure your stress, what would it read? Do you wake up every day exhausted and not excited about work? Do you enjoy your job? Are you growing, taking on new projects and setting goals for yourself? These are important questions to ask. Stress can be a huge influencer on our lives in many ways. Even the Mayo Clinic—the nation’s number one hospital—recognizes the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between work and life. Stress impacts our health, our relationships, our lifestyle and our success. And if we don’t properly manage our stress, the very drive that encourages you to show up early and work late can end up being the biggest obstacle to your success. In fact, stress is considered to be a workplace hazard: stress costs American industry more than $300 billion every year.
When I was younger, I worked all day every day. I wanted to be successful, and I wanted it right away. I didn’t sleep properly. I spent all of my time building a business. I pushed important people away. And I lost harmony in my life. I experienced changes in my personal life that impacted my ability to be a great employee. So I made a commitment to change my life. I stopped working five days a week, because that was what I needed to do in my life to restore balance. I found ways to work quiet prayer into my day, every day. I prioritized important people in my life, and I put maintaining my health and wellbeing at the top of my to-do list.
I am not going to suggest that reducing the workweek is the right solution for every employee. But I am going to suggest that we all find ways to reduce stress in our lives. NBA does this every day by helping families reduce their financial stress. I do this every day by finding a few minutes of quiet time. Where will you find quiet in a loud world?
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
- 2 Timothy 2:15 -
When I look around NBA, there is one thing that unites all employees—from marketing to administration to sales—and one thing I’m proud of about this business: belief. Each employee at NBA believes in what we are doing as a business and the service that we’re providing to our customers. This belief goes above individual personalities and skills and strengths, which are incredibly important to the success of an organization. But employees in this business don’t feel like they’re just selling any product. Our employees believe that the service we’re providing to our customers is helping them improve their lives. They’re empowered to influence our customers and help them gain control of their finances.
It’s an incredible thing to look around a company of hundreds of people and know that each and every person is here because they see the same vision that I see. When I started NBA years ago, I knew what I wanted this company to do: to provide a realistic payment scheduling service for individuals who need help getting their debt under control. That was the product. But attached to the product came the belief and understanding of the stress that financial debt can cause families. Waking up every day, knowing that your credit cards are maxed out, that you can’t take a day off work because you rely on every single dollar that comes into your bank account to pay bills and make ends meet—it’s a terrible feeling. I know it because I’ve been there. I had $30,000 of credit card debt staring at me every morning for years. I worked really, really hard to get rid of that debt, and the freedom that I felt when I achieved it is unlike any other accomplishment in my life. That belief—that controlling finances can help put families back in charge of their lives—is what unites everyone at NBA.
There are many people in the sales industry that think a good salesperson can sell anything—regardless of whether or not they believe in the actual product itself. But I simply don’t agree. This company has incredible people on our team, but I’m certain that if they each did not personally understand and see the big picture of what NBA is doing for millions of Americans, this company would not be successful. We are not in the business of convincing people to use our products. We are in the business of equipping our customers with the right tools they need to regain financial stability and control.
What does this mean for the way we approach business? It means we work on developing relationships with our customers. We listen to their situation, understand where the struggle is, and use our knowledge of our products to find ways to help our customers. The relationships we forge as an internal team and the relationships we form with our customers are vital to the success of the company, and that’s something I’m proud of. It’s hard enough to be a business owner, but to build a business in which employees are unified by their belief in the products and services we provide? That’s a humbling, amazing accomplishment.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
- Proverbs 18:2 -
If you’re like me, you’ve been warned about the problems that come with assumptions since you were a child. Drawing conclusions about an idea, a project or a task without getting the full story often leaves the assumer up a creek without a paddle. When assumptions are drawn, there is no proof to fall back on. Of course, in a business sense, we can see how this becomes a problem. If business decisions are made based on assumptions, it can be increasingly difficult to go back to the source of the problem and fix it.
But to me, the real problem with assumptions is the vacuum it creates. In a work environment, making assumptions eliminates the opportunity for creative discussion. When you assume something, the full responsibility and weight of your decision falls solely on you. But when you discuss an idea as a team, there’s communication, and we can help one another see any potential problems, areas of weakness, or areas of opportunity that would have been otherwise missed.
In my life, there are not many areas in which making a decision completely by myself and for myself is a good idea. The same is true for business. Making decisions completely by yourself—without the counsel of many—is, in essence, making an assumption. You’re drawing conclusions about how your team will react, how your customers will respond, and how the decision impacts the company largely without including any of those parties into the decision-making process. The importance of including all of these parties in our decisions is the very reason why even the people who have been judged the most capable decision-makers in our society—judges, the president, executives—are surrounded by people and groups who act as sounding boards—like juries, the Cabinet, and boards of directors.
Take pride in finding a solid sounding board. My sounding board includes some of my longest business partners, and they’ve become trusted advisers not only in business matters, but often personal ones, too. It can be a great source of comfort to know that you have a team of people to turn to for big decisions and conversations—but sounding boards are helpful for small, seemingly innocuous decisions, too. That’s why we have them! To confirm that we’re seeing our obstacles and opportunities for what they are, not what we assume them to be.
Who is on your board?
Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. - Proverbs 11:14 -
There is no easy way to grow a small business from the ground up. This is something that I can say with confidence: I have been there, and I have done that. NBA was not an organization that just manifested overnight. In fact, it took many years and a lot of hard work to reach the level where we are today.
And through those years and that work, there is something incredibly important that I learned: there is great value, and great wisdom, in the people you keep at your side.
When I was young, I did everything myself. I wore all the hats of a small business owner, and I didn’t bring a lot of people into my close space. I trusted few people. I was impatient. And I was blinded by my own ambition and drive to build a successful company…and it backfired. I made a lot of mistakes. I isolated myself.
I learned that in in business, there is safety in the counsel of many. When we grow as individuals and as professionals, it’s important to build a network of support around us. And within that network of support, we need to have people who are not afraid of voicing their opinions and providing us feedback. As I learned in my experiences, my own passion put blinders on my ability to see how narrowly I was thinking. But as I opened up myself to feedback, I started to see how some of my business decisions were impacting potential growth, and how some of my personal decisions were impacting my own happiness.
“Where no counsel is, the people fall.” How often do we see “lone rangers”—people who set out to accomplish a mission, but do so without relying on the feedback and input of others? I know tons of lone ranges. But I don’t know tons of successful lone rangers. Because at the end of the day, a lone ranger is only one mind. And no matter how many great ideas one mind has, it cannot compare to the power of many minds and many great ideas building off of one another. Where there is no feedback, no self-reflection, no parameters for understanding and growth, the people fall.
“But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” There is the saying of safety in numbers. And while this saying is often used to describe physical safety, I believe it applies to emotional and business and mental safety, too. When we have a support system of people who know us and know our goals and our ambition, it’s amazing to see how people want to help you succeed. It’s the vulnerability of opening oneself to feedback that is powerful. The ability to recognize the need for humility in all that we do: to check our egos and grow strong under the counsel of many.
When asked to name great leaders, who comes to mind? Most often we think of individuals who have found success in business ventures: Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk. Activists who broke through barriers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony. Individuals whose lives were about serving others: Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, members of military, and more.
But when we think about leaders in our own lives, who comes to mind? Is it our parents? Our teachers? Our friends? Or if we’re considering our own organizations and positions at work, do we think about our own bosses as good leaders? What about ourselves? Are you a good leader?
Part of the complexity of building a business and leading an organization is understanding how to identify leaders and grow them to their full potential. A leader is not always someone who walks through the doors of your business as a completely formed, well-adjusted leader who is ready to hit the ground running.
At NBA, some of our strongest leaders started as average employees. But these individuals had the qualities of great leaders that eventually pulled them to the top of the organization. Great leaders are not superheroes. Great leaders are individuals who are capable of—and willing to invest in—developing their own skills to serve the greater good.
To me, a great leader has some of the classic trademarks of success: an ability to listen to others, communicate effectively and deliver results. But, they also need to embody two incredibly important characteristics: the ability to delegate, and the ability to embrace competition.
When I am working with some of the best leaders in my company, I notice time and time again that the most effective teams are led by men and women who are able to let go of some control and delegate tasks and assignments to the most-capable team member. It is amazing what can be accomplished and achieved when teams empower individual members to identify their strengths, and then use those strengths to complete a task or project.
Similarly, great leaders are not afraid of those individuals who do have impressive strengths and skills. Too many times, I have witnessed a team fall apart because a manager did not embrace the skills of a team member out of fear of competition—a misguided concern that helping one person achieve success is somehow a direct threat to their own position or capabilities. In fact, the opposite is true. When my attention is drawn to a great leader, it is typically because a team, as a whole, is excelling. The impact of a team doing great things far exceeds the impact of one individual doing great things, and I know that this comes from great leadership.
As the story of Joshua in the Bible reminds us, we must bring the best people to the table. Moses brought Joshua to the table of leadership because he was the individual best suited to carry out the judicial powers and responsibilities. And so should we look to our teams, identify their strengths, and bring the best people to our tables.