9 April 2020
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Hey, what's wrong with you?

On Wednesday I did a speech in Melbourne (actually I wish it wasn’t seen as a speech) to a group of top-notch mortgage brokers. I’ve been on the business speaking circuit (as it’s called) for 28 years and I’ve come to learn that for some I’m an economic and business entertainer, who generally makes them feel comfortable that the economy, the stock market and the mob in Canberra won’t ruin their business.

Obviously, in 2008 with the GFC, my story was less positive for that year but I was predicting that 2009 would be the start of the recovery and happily I was on the money. And as I wrote that last line, I realised that I’ve been blessed being an optimist. However, it wasn’t because I was a simply a natural born optimist (which I probably am), it was also because I’m an economist, so maybe I’ve just interpreted/forecasted the Aussie economy accurately, which has grown for, wait for it, 28 years!

Over that time, if you’d invested $10,000 in the stock market in what we now call an exchange traded fund (an ETF), which buys all the companies in the ASX 200, it would be now worth $113,000 or so. The noteworthy lesson is optimism pays!

As I prepared for the speech, which I’d prefer to call ‘the lesson’, I thought about what I’d learnt from other insightful people over the years about success and I pondered about the standout characteristics of winning high-achievers from business builders to sports stars, to political leaders and so on.

And what really surprises me after all that time talking to, and trying to educate attendees to conferences on the business speaking circuit, I’m always amazed how people can sit in an audience and not take notes!

Sure, they might think I have nothing new to say — and they’d be wrong, of course — but I have seen it even when I have been an MC with the likes of GE’s legendary CEO, Jack Welch, Microsoft’s Steve Balmer and even Virgin’s entrepreneur extraordinaire, Richard Branson.

Still people don’t take notes!

All the people above have been great learners. They carry notebooks or use iPhones but they don’t let a competitive eureka moment or idea get lost in the busy lives they lead.

Before I spoke, the great AFL coach, Rodney Eade spoke about leadership. His insights were eye-opening, especially how he learnt to lead the likes of Tony “Plugger” Lockett, who is still the greatest goalkicker in AFL history and was probably the most unique hard man of the game.

Rodney was throwing pearls to us on leadership but we wanted to hear more tales about legends of the games, their quirkiness and their funny incidents. We were more interested in the entertaining episodes rather than the life-changing lessons. And there wasn’t enough note-taking! That said, I do have to say in this elite group of brokers, the amount of note-taking was greater than other groups I’ve talked to, which explains a lot.

Bad note-takers aside, I recently shared a story with audiences that led to a mass scramble for many — even non-note-takers — to jot down the moral of this story.

It involves an American gentleman called John Maxwell, who tells a story of how he asked his father to pay him for doing chores around the house. His father said no and told him that he was a member of the family and had to pitch in because he was a part of the family.

However, John’s father thought outside the square and said that he’d pay him for doing something — reading books! In an era when our kids are not reading the great books of all time, isn’t this a parental trick you wished you’d known when you were a young parent? Wouldn’t you have loved your parents to have paid you to read, to get ahead of your rivals at school, at university and in the workplace?

John said when he was flying to South America as a young man, he happened to be reading the latest issue of Forbes magazine, which had listed the 21 most influential books of all time. “I was astounded to realise that I had read every one of those books before I was 21!” he told me.

Books such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich and undoubtedly The Bible, as John eventually worked as pastor for a time.

Maxwell went on to become one of the world’s most sought-after speakers on leadership and his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership was a New York Times best-seller, with over a million copies sold!

Undoubtedly, I wished I’d known this great parental guidance idea when I was a young father but my grandchildren will have the benefit of my newfound wisdom and my wallet!

The key to winning or being successful has fascinated me for over three decades and I’ve written books, penned newspaper articles, magazine and website columns on the subject. I’ve studied those who have made it big in business and interviewed these people on my radio and TV programmes. They have frailties like all of us but they have something special that makes them stand out from the crowd.

First of all, they’re powered by a big dream to build a successful business. They’re focused on that dream and few distractions take them away from making it happen.

They are constantly committed to self-improvement — especially for their business but they also can be fanatical about other things, such as their health, their family, causes, etc. I actually asked the group on Wednesday if anyone had ever written down a self-improvement plan and not one person had, which didn’t surprise me but isn’t it a good idea?

Successful people are constantly forcing themselves to get outside their comfort zones because they know that’s where progress will come from. And they’re not afraid to spend money or invest in success because they know that others with expertise can show them stuff that will add to their competitive advantage.

In fact, those two words are the massive drivers of successful business builders — they’re committed to getting an edge over their rivals and they go the extra yard to make it happen.

They are great believers in the Sir Isaac Newton line that goes: “If I have seen further, it has been upon the shoulders of giants.” They actually decide to hang out with people who’ll influence them to be the best they can be.

And that’s why they have great accountants, great business coaches, great personal trainers, great financial advisers, great networks, great teams of workers, who are at one with the boss and his or her dream. They might call it a ‘circle of influence’ but it’s really just a great network.

These people fight against being second rate and they have an undying commitment to knowing what their customers want and they want to know it before their rivals do. Apple’s Steve Jobs taught us that!

If you’re in business and this doesn’t sound like you, well, you now know what you have to work towards. And by the way, this advice works just as well for an employee wanting to climb the promotional pole. I always advise anyone to try to objectively look at themselves as an entity and work out how other people see you. This will always give you ideas for self-improvement.

Okay, business owners work in their business while hotshots work on their business. They take the road less travelled and it makes all the difference, as the poet Robert Frost once penned.

I have always loved this advice, which I think came from a US business thinker called Jim Rohn, who once effectively said: Work out what you want. Figure out the price. Pay the price!

The great business builders have done exactly that and if you want to turn this weekend read into a life lesson with enduring power to change you and deliver greater success, go straight out and write down what’s wrong with you and what you are going to do to change that!

It’s called a self-improvement plan and if you don’t do it, you are probably saying: “I don’t want to be a winner and I don’t care about showing the people who follow me — family, employees, players, etc — a better way for self-improvement.”

That’s my lesson and I hope it helps.

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