February 19th, 2016 marked my third year judging for Minnesota Collegiate DECA’s MN State Competition. As I was reflecting on what to write, I found the post [below] from two years ago. Back then, I was employed full time by a national college as an academic leader for their undergraduate School of Business program. Today, I’m an entrepreneur, less than one year in business, and putting into practice all that we teach students in B-school.

I invite you to read the post I wrote about taking risks to grow as businesses and professionals.

However, I have an update with my new perspective and I want to share it with you.

  1. Every morning begins with risk and uncertainty. When I was employed full-time the riskiest part of my day was what unforeseen complications could derail my task list. Now I wake up balancing the priorities of completing client work and working on my business so that I continue to secure that work. Each decision feels like a risk of different degrees.
  2. Sometimes the uncertainty becomes emotional. If we ignore the emotional toll that sustained risk and uncertainty take on our psyches, entrepreneurs can quickly get stuck in decision paralysis. Who do you turn to when the weight of running a small business begins to overwhelm you? Most often we use networking for business and referrals. Who in your network serves as your mentor or support during the inevitable emotional times?
  3. “Failures” span the public and private domains. If I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped one day, it’s a private “failure” right? What if a Google Ad Campaign doesn’t work? Have you had to push back client work due to personal emergencies? The current literature on the necessity of failure to entrepreneurial success focuses on the big, public, stumbles – whole businesses destructing. What of the little hiccups we face each day? Embracing our challenges, whether the outcomes are successful or not, is essential on a daily basis. We can and must learn from each one.
  4. Embracing success takes planning. What? You might be thinking, “Success is exactly what I work for.” However, I’ve worked with many business professionals who are surprised when their business strategies work as planned. Some businesses grow too quickly without the necessary infrastructure. Some solopreneurs struggle to find time to work on their business when working so hard in their business. A plan for what you’ll do, how you’ll act, when success follows your hard work is as important as the contingency plan for when things don’t work.

Read on to discover how DECA students embrace risk and grow. There are some actionable points to take away.


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Without Risk, There’s No Growth

At 12:25 p.m. on Wednesday, February 26, 2014, I just finished my first experience judging the #MNcollegiateDECA state competition in Mankato, MN. Between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. I judged six students on their ability to read a case study in the restaurant and food service management area and present their solutions to an ethical and operational dilemma facing a fictitious restaurant chain. The details of their case are not important. That these students chose, at such an early hour of the morning, to let their skills be judged — that’s the important point.

When I brought college students to the competition years ago my focus was on the top students. I wanted to make sure my students were among the top-ranked: confident, well-informed, professional, able to problem solve and think on their feet. My focus is different today. I want to talk about the students who lacked confidence, need more experience, and still pepper their speech with “like” and “stuff.”

The existence of these aforementioned students at the DECA competition led me to be hopeful for employment candidates in the future. WHAT? How can that be?

These students took a risk and opened themselves up to true feedback.

By title, I’m judging them, their performance, and their ability at this point in time. Asking for feedback is never easy. Asking for feedback from strangers and intending to improve from that feedback shows true commitment to growth.

As business leaders, we have something to learn. Based on the example of these inexperienced, but dedicated, potential candidates, I recommend the following actions for our personal and professional growth.

  1. Let your business and your contribution be “judged.” In DECA you are not approaching someone who will be judgmental. There is a difference. Reach out to customers with whom you have the best relationships. Open yourself up to review from business peers, coaches, and mentors whom you trust to give you an accurate assessment delivered with love.
  2. Review the feedback carefully, then put it away for a day or two. Our businesses are wrapped up in our identities. It’s understandable that we’d feel defensive or emotional over the feedback we receive. Don’t reject the feedback immediately or rush to make changes. Instead, let the emotions fade for a couple of days. Then review the comments again with a trusted mentor. Really discuss the merits, opportunities, and challenges of each point.
  3. Create an action plan. What will you change, by when, and why? Make sure any changes are intentional and add value to your most important stakeholders. By the way; you are one of those stakeholders.
  4. Set your action plan side by side with your business and personal mission statements. If there are areas that don’t align one of two things may be true: 1) your mission has evolved since you’ve looked at it last and needs updating, or 2) you need to revisit your action plan.

The steps outlined here go far beyond creating a to-do list. It’s your opportunity to transform yourself and your business. How often should you go through this process? I would recommend once a year, but if your business is in a state of rapid growth you might go through the steps more often.

The bottom line: Not everyone is at the top of their game at all times. The ones that will break through to success are the ones that will put their assumptions at risk.

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