Thursday, November 27, 2014

The 10 Things I Am Thankful For This Year

Each year, around Thanksgiving time, I think about what I am thankful for.  This year, I decided to once again take the time to make a list.  A list of 10 things I am thankful for.

What's on your list this year?  What's on your list this year that wasn't on last year's list?

Here is my list:
  • Family and friends
  • Employment, and a year of positive evolution for my workplace
  • Technology, Blogs, Twitter and all social media sharing tools that help me to be a constant learner
  • Health and all those who help me stay healthy and encourage me to reach my goals -- which included running 24 5K races (and my first-ever 10K) this year benefiting a variety of mostly Kansas City area nonprofits and charities
  • Setting business and personal goals and working hard to reach or exceed them
  • Good books (including ones the book club recommended)
  • Nonprofit organizations that provide vital services and ways for me to volunteer and donate
  • Music
  • The ability to travel for vacations
  • Readers, followers and guests of my Blog and of Twitter @ericjacobsonkc
Wow, I have a lot to be thankful for this year!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Best Leadership Books To Read In 2015

As you think about what business books you want to read next year, how about adding to the list at least one book from the list below. Perhaps a book that will help you improve your leadership skills.

A couple years ago, members of five groups on the professional social media web site LinkedIn voluntarily recommended their favorite books about leadership. They responded to a group discussion question, "Best Leadership Books -- What's Your Favorite?"

When contemplating their favorites, they likely thought about which books were in their minds the best, most favored, most inspiring, most instructional, most relevant, and which ones they might reference frequently.

The recommendations came from these member groups:
  • ExecuNet Executive Suite
  • Leadership Think Tank
  • Linked 2 Leadership
  • Keller Graduate School Of Management
  • The Talent Buzz
As the recommendations rolled in, it became clear that leaders learn from, and are inspired by, a wide variety of books -- biographies, autobiographies, books backed by research and academia, books made famous by the popular press, books by motivational speakers, and books by professionals eager to share their personal and professional leadership success stories, tips and suggestions.

Readers' favorites included those written by or about sports coaches, athletes, CEOs, scholars, religious leaders, governmental and military leaders.

Not surprisingly, many well-known leadership book authors made the list, such as authors:
  • Drucker
  • Kotter
  • Maxwell
  • Welch
Interestingly, the discussion thread, particularly within the Linked 2 Leadership group of LinkedIn, generated debate about the value and quality of some of the book recommendations. But, the general consensus was that if someone recommended a book that inspired them or taught them how to be a better leader, the book was worth their time.

Here is the list of all 235 books, in alphabetical order. It represents many of the vast approaches to leadership in practice today throughout the world. Take a look to see how many you've read. Perhaps you'll find one of your favorites.  Because the list is a couple years old, it doesn't include some of the latest best leadership books.  Even so, these classics listed below remain relevant today.

And, on December 1 coming up, I'll post my selection for the best new book about leadership in 2014.

Top Books About Leadership.
  • 1776
  • 177 Mental Toughness Secrets Of The World Class
  • 100 Greatest Ideas For Effective Leadership And Management
  • 100 Greatest Leadership Principles Of All Time
  • 20 Minutes To A Top Performer
  • A Book Of Five Rings
  • A Commitment To Valor
  • A Force For Change: How Leadership Differs From Management
  • A Leader In The Making
  • A Sense Of Urgency
  • A Whole New Mind
  • Against The Gods
  • Alexander The Great
  • Awaken The Giant Within
  • Awesomely Simple
  • Bad Leadership
  • Becoming A Person Of Influence
  • Becoming A Resonant Leader
  • Best Practices In Leadership Development & Organization Change
  • Beyond The Timberline
  • Bo's Lasting Lessons
  • Built To Last
  • Built To Serve
  • Changing The Human Battery
  • Chasing The Rabbit
  • Choices: Discover Your 100 Most Important Life Choices
  • Cracking The Code Of Leadership
  • Credibility
  • Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High
  • Deep Change
  • Defeat Into Victory
  • Developing The Leader Within You
  • Defining Moments
  • Developing The Leaders Around You
  • Discipline Of Market Leaders
  • Effective Supervisory Management
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Energy Leadership
  • Engaged Leadership
  • Evolutionary Leadership
  • Execution: The Discipline Of Getting Things Done
  • Executive Wisdom
  • Exodus
  • Exposing Leadership: Redefining The Top 20 Leadership Traits
  • Fired Up Or Burned Out
  • Firms Of Endearment
  • First Break All The Rules
  • For Your Improvement
  • Force For Change
  • From Worst To First
  • Gates Of Fire
  • Get Out Of Your Own Way
  • Good To Great
  • Gung Ho
  • Handbook Of Leadership
  • Heroic Leadership
  • High Five: The Magic Of Working Together
  • Holy Bible
  • Hostage At The Table
  • How Did That Happen?
  • How Lance Does It
  • How The Mighty Fall
  • How To Get Anyone To Do Anything
  • How To Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be
  • How To Grow Leaders
  • How To Lead
  • How To Think Like A CEO & Act Like A Leader
  • How To Win Friends And Influence People
  • In Search Of Excellence
  • Influencer: The Power To Change Anything
  • Inside The Tornado
  • Inspirational Leadership
  • Integrity: The Courage To Meet The Demands Of Reality
  • Integrity Is Everything
  • Irresistible Leadership
  • It's Our Ship
  • It's Your Ship
  • Jesus, CEO
  • Launching A Leadership Revolution
  • Lead To Succeed
  • Leaders: Strategies For Taking Charge
  • Leadership
  • Leadership: Tidbits & Treasures
  • Leadership: Enhancing The Lessons Of Experience
  • Leadership Agility
  • Leadership And Motivation
  • Leadership And The One Minute Manager
  • Leadership And The New Science
  • Leadership And Self-Deception
  • Leadership Brand
  • Leadership Engine
  • Leadership For The Disillusioned
  • Leadership God
  • Leadership Insights
  • Leadership Is An Art
  • Leadership Is Common Sense
  • Leadership Jazz
  • Leadership On The Line
  • Leadership Pipeline
  • Leadership Secrets Of Attila The Hun
  • Leadership Self-Deception: Getting Out Of The Box
  • Leadership Without Easy Answers
  • Leading At A Higher Level
  • Leading Change
  • Leading Leaders
  • Leading Out Loud
  • Leading With Confidence
  • Leading With Kindness
  • Learning From The Links
  • Led To Follow
  • Lessons On Leadership
  • Life Entrepreneurs
  • Lincoln On Leadership
  • Love Leadership
  • Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices
  • Masters And Commanders
  • Masterplanning
  • Maximum Achievement
  • Maxwell Leadership Bible
  • Moments Of Truth
  • Monday Morning Leadership
  • Peak
  • Pivot: How One Simple Change In Attitude Can Lead To Success
  • On Becoming A Leader
  • On Leadership
  • One Thing You Need To Know
  • Only The Paranoid Survive
  • Out Of The Crisis
  • Predictably Irrational
  • Preparing For Leadership
  • Primal Leadership
  • Profiles In Leadership From The Battlefields Of Virginia
  • Real Leaders Don't Do PowerPoint
  • Reclaiming Higher Ground
  • Reframing Organizations
  • Regan On Leadership
  • Resonant Leadership
  • Results-Based Leadership
  • Scuttle Your Ships Before Advancing
  • Scores On The Board
  • Senior Leadership Teams
  • Servant Leadership
  • Silver Parachutes
  • Situational Leadership
  • Son Of Morning Star
  • Start With Why
  • Stewardship
  • Straight From The Gut
  • Strengths-Based Leadership
  • Studying Leadership
  • Survival Is Not Enough
  • Team Of Rivals
  • The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness To Greatness
  • The 80/20 Principle
  • The 48 Laws Of Power
  • The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership
  • The 360 Degree Leader
  • The 33 Strategies Of War
  • The Adventure Of Leadership
  • The Anatomy Of Peace
  • The Arc Of Ambition
  • The Art And Discipline Of Strategic Leadership
  • The Art Of Possibility
  • The Art Of The Leader
  • The Art Of War
  • The Change Monster
  • The Courage To Teach
  • The Disney Way
  • The DNA Of Success
  • The Effective Executive
  • The Empowered Manager
  • The Essential HR Handbook
  • The Essential Wooden
  • The Extraordinary Leader
  • The Feiner Points Of Leadership
  • The Fifth Discipline
  • The First 90 Days
  • The Five Dysfunctions of A Team
  • The Four Obsessions Of An Extraordinary Executive
  • The Great Game Of Business
  • The Human Element
  • The Inspiring Leader
  • The Leader Of The Future
  • The Leader's Window
  • The Leadership Challenge
  • The Leadership Code: Five Rules To Live By
  • The Leadership Engine
  • The Leadership Matrix
  • The Leadership Moment
  • The Leadership Pill
  • The Leadership Secrets Of Colin Powell
  • The Leadership Test (my (Eric Jacobson's) favorite)
  • The Magic Of Thinking Big
  • The Maxwell Daily Reader
  • The Mission, The Men And Me
  • The New Leaders
  • The One Minute Manager
  • The Persian Expedition
  • The Practice Of Adaptive Leadership
  • The Practice Of Leadership
  • The Prince
  • The Psychology of Persuasion
  • The Pursuit Of Something Better
  • The Right To Lead
  • The Rules Of Management
  • The Score Takes Care Of Itself
  • The Secret Language Of Business
  • The Secret Language Of Leadership
  • The Servant
  • The Servant-Leader Within
  • The Seven Hidden Reasons Employees Leave
  • The Sustainable Way
  • The Tao Of Leadership
  • The Winner Within: A Life Plan For Team Players
  • The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle
  • The Wrong Bottom Line & How To Change It
  • Think & Grow Rich
  • Three Laws Of Performance
  • Total Leadership
  • Tough Choices
  • Toy Box Leadership
  • Tribes
  • Walk The Walk: The #1 Rule For Real Leaders
  • We Were Soldiers Once And Young
  • What A Great Idea
  • What Got You Here Won't Get You There
  • What Leaders Really Do
  • What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School
  • Why Not The Best
  • Who Says Elephants Can't Dance
  • Winning
  • Winning With People
  • Wooden
  • Words That Sell
  • You Don't Need A Title To Be A Leader

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Now...Build A Great Business

When you start reading Mark Thompson’s and Brian Tracy’s book called, Now…Build a Great Business!, you may feel like you are reading 200 pages of Blog posts, but the bite-sized approach to providing tools, practical steps and ideas, rather than theory, is precisely the authors’ intended approach.

The book thoroughly explains the seven keys for how to achieve business success:
1.  Become a great leader
2.  Develop a great business plan
3.  Surround yourself with great people
4.  Offer a great product or service
5.  Design a great marketing plan
6.  Perfect a great sales process
7.  Create a great customer experience

You’ll find a checklist at the end of each step (each chapter) where you can write down your action plan for applying what you’ve learned.

Particularly interesting is the chapter on strategic planning, where the authors recommend you should ask yourself these important questions before you act to create or reinvent the direction of your organization:

•  Where are you now? What is your current situation?
•  How did you get to where you are today?
•  Where do you want to go from here?
•  How do you get from where you are today to where you want to be in the future?
•  What obstacles will you have to overcome? What problems will you have to solve?
•  What additional knowledge, skills, or resources will you require to achieve your strategic objectives?

When it comes time to surround yourself with great people, Thompson and Tracy remind us that great people are:
•  Good team players.
•  More concerned with what’s right rather than who’s right.
•  Intensely results oriented.

And, great people accept high levels of responsibility for the outcomes required of them, and consider their company a great place to work.

Mark Thompson is an entrepreneur who sold his last company for $100 million and today coaches executives on how to lead growth companies. Brian Tracy speaks throughout the country about the development of human potential and personal effectiveness. I thank them for sending me a copy of their book. It’s a worthwhile read.

The Different Roles Of A Coach And A Mentor

Author Kristi Hedges, in her book, The Power of Presence, provides these explanations of the roles of a coach and of a mentor and how they differ from each other:

The Coach shows empathy through a mixture of tough love and strong support.  The coach is not afraid to push you because she sees the best in you.  This leader has a good sense of what's going on in the rest of your life and isn't afraid to mention it as it relates to your performance and potential.

The Mentor makes you feel that your success is always top of mind.  Mentors have your back to guide you along in your career.  They will act as a confidante as you hash through ideas and won't hold it against you as your iterate.  Because they have done well, they operate from a point of helping others do the same.

Monday, November 24, 2014

8 Tips For Writing An Effective Performance Appraisal

Today's guest post is by:

Peggy Pedwano
Solutions Specialist at Halogen Software

As performance appraisal time draws near, managers are all too likely to be dreading the exercise.  According to a  report by the Wharton School, although 91% of companies worldwide have a performance review process, only 35 to 40% do it well, often because managers lack the training to write effective performance appraisals. 

Here are some ideas to help you write effective performance appraisals that can form the basis for a discussion that will actually add value to employee performance reviews.  
  1. Begin with a clear understanding of what is important. If you and your employees have set performance goals or established other performance measurement criteria, this should be a relatively easy process. But even if you haven’t, taking the time to think through the year’s priorities and projects will help you focus your appraisal on what matters most. Consider projects where you have been able to observe or can collect objective performance data and identify the core competencies that are critical to success.
  2. Keep notes throughout the year.  This simple tool makes writing effective performance appraisals much easier. Whenever you observe employees or have a performance discussion throughout the year, make notes of specific and objective examples to which you can refer. If you haven’t kept notes, think back to observations and prior performance discussions you may have had to identify specific examples. Identify enough examples to be able to document what the employee is doing well as well as what needs to improve.
  3. Collect input from employees. Ask your employees to send you their own written thoughts about their performance. Be clear that you will be using their input as one of many sources in compiling an effective performance appraisal. If they do not already have them, supply employees with a list of the goals, competencies or other performance criteria that are the basis for their evaluation. But, by all means, resist the temptation to simply take employees’ self-evaluation, change a few words and adopt it as your own.
  4. Collect input from other sources. It is likely that there are others who have worked closely with your employee throughout the course of the year. Ask for their assessment on the goals, competencies and other criteria you have identified as the basis for your appraisal. Weigh all these sources of input carefully to determine as accurate and complete a picture as possible. 
  5. Watch out for subtle biases as you formulate your opinions of the employee’s performance. Factors such as personality compatibility can impact your attitude without your knowledge – guard against them. 
  6. Consider employee career aspirations and include development plans. If the employee’s performance is generally good, include some elements that will help them progress toward the next step in their career. 
  7. Be specific. Include descriptions of what went well and what could have been done better. Base your statements on the examples you have collected. 
  8. Gauge the potential impact on the employee. Do not sugarcoat bad news, but be sure that you can support your opinions and choose language that will avoid triggering a defensive response.
Writing an effective performance appraisal is an essential part of a manager’s responsibility and has a significant impact on an employee’s performance, attitude and future. You owe it to them, the organization and your future relationship with the employee to take your time and create an objective, constructive and effective performance appraisal. 

Halogen Software offers an organically built cloud-based talent management suite that reinforces and drives higher employee performance across all talent programs – whether that’s recruiting, performance management, learning and development, succession planning or compensation.

Thanks Peggy for these great tips!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Best New Leadership Book of 2014 To Be Announced December 1

On December 1 I'll announce my vote for the best new leadership book of 2014.  Stay tuned. It's a great one.

In the meantime, here's a look back at my my top (favorite) books for leaders that were published in 2013.

Each provides timely, practical and valuable tips, techniques and tools for how to become a more effective leader.

You'll find among the books useful information about:
  • communicating more effectively 
  • the power of story telling
  • creating an ethical workplace culture
  • increasing revenue
  • the basics you need to know as a first-time leader

And, my favorite from 2012 in case you haven't read this book:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

8 Specific Actions To Show You Value Your Employees

There are eight specific actions business leaders can take to show that they value their employees, according to Andrew Leigh, author of the bookEthical Leadership -- Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Business Culture.

Those eight behaviors are:
  1. Attention -- Pay attention to what people say to show your interest.
  2. Listen -- Make time to hear what colleagues, peers and employees have to say to show you care.
  3. Positive Language -- Find words and phrases to show employees they're needed.  Examples are, "We couldn't have accomplished this without you," "That was really useful."
  4. Document -- Put praise in writing to increase its impact.  Make clear where the credit belongs.
  5. Micro Sessions -- Create two-way communication sessions.
  6. Visits -- Schedule visits to teams and work areas.
  7. Stories -- Share stories that highlight unusual contributions and provide your personal response to them.
  8. Invite -- Ask people to contact you directly with their issues and concerns -- not to bypass the normal channels, but in addition to those channels. Then, set up systems to respond quickly and positively when people show the courage to contact you direct.
Leigh is a founder of Maynard Leigh Associates the United Kingdom development company.

He is author of over 20 books on management, many translated around the world. His book, Charisma, has been translated into over 17 languages and his long running Essentials of Management was short-listed for Book of Year award by the Chartered Institute of Management.

Originally trained as an economist, Leigh has an MA in the field of Human Resources, and is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Ten Golden Rules Of Leadership

This month saw the release of the new book, The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership:  Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders.

As you dig in, you'll step back in time to learn philosophies of the past and how to apply them today.

Authors M. A. Soupios and Panos Mourdoukoutas offer a fresh approach to becoming a great leader by learning from antiquity's great thinkers, such as Aristotle, Hesiod, Sophocles, Heraclitus, and others.

Each chapter in the book is devoted to one philosophy of leadership that equate to ten simple rules:
  1. Know Thyself
  2. Office Shows the Person
  3. Nurture Community at the Workplace
  4. Do Not Waste Energy on things You Cannot Change
  5. Always Embrace the Truth
  6. Live Life by a Higher Code
  7. Always Evaluate Information with a Critical Eye
  8. Never Underestimate the Power of Personal Integrity
  9. Character is Destiny
You'll learn how to take each idea and apply it to the challenges of the modern workplace.

According to the authors, the key distinguishing features of an authentic leader is traceable to a philosophically informed worldview and that the ancient classical tradition is a rich and valuable source of such insights.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How To Click At Work

Research from some universities around the country show that employees who "click" with each other at work have more career success.  And, those who "click" well get to the core of the office network within 18 months, while it can take years for those who don't "click" well.

As a leader, there are things you can do and things you can encourage your employees to do to promote better clicking.

Consider these findings from the research:
  • How much you reveal about yourself to a co-worker helps you click.
  • The more you open up and share your feelings, the more trust you build and the more likely you'll build a connection with a co-worker.
  • Having an office or cubicle in the central area of your workplace increases your ability for clicking opportunities.
  • Sitting near the middle of a conference table brings you more clicking opportunities, as well.
  • Keeping your office door open, communicating in person versus e-mail or via the phone, allows you to click more.
  • The more face-to-face interactions with a co-worker, even if you don't have a conversation, will generally increase your chances of liking that person.
  • The more you pick up on subtle social cues and then tailor your responses to situations, the more you'll click.
  • Interacting with a co-worker 10 times versus only five times means you'll likely think that person is more attractive, intelligent, warm and honest.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

4 Questions To Ask An Employee When He Quits

As a leader, it's critical that you understand the real reasons employees leave your company. To do that, you need to ask specific questions that may not be ones you currently include in your exit interviews.

Fortunately, Richard Finnegan, shares in his book, Rethinking Retention in Good Times and Badfour key questions you should include in your exit interviews:
  1. Why did you decide to leave us?
  2. Of all the things you've told me, what is the top thing that caused you to resign?
  3. It's great that you've found such a good opportunity, but why did you look?
  4. What one thing could we have done that would have caused you to stay?
Your goal is to learn the most important leave reason rather than learn which three or five things contributed to your employee's decision to leave. The four questions above will help you learn the most important reason.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

7 Must-Ask Questions When Interviewing A Potential New Hire

Awhile back, the Harvard Business Review published some great questions that Gilt Groupe CEO Kevin Ryan asks when he is checking references.

Ryan serves on the board of Yale Corporation, Human Rights Watch, and INSEAD, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  He holds a B.A. from Yale University and a M.B.A from INSEAD.

His main seven honest-feedback-extracting-questions (and follow-ups) are:
  1. Would you hire this person again?  If so, why and in what capacity?  If not, why not?
  2. How would you describe the candidate's ability to innovate, manage, lead, deal with ambiguity, get things done and influence others?
  3. What were some of the best things this person accomplished?  What could he or she have done better?
  4. In what type of culture, environment, and role can you see this person excelling?  In what type of role is he or she unlikely to be successful?
  5. Would you describe the candidate as a leader, a strategist, an executor, a collaborator, a thinker, or something else?  Can you give me some examples to support your description?
  6. Do people enjoy working with the candidate, and would former coworkers want to work with him or her again?
  7. In what areas does the candidate need to improve?

Monday, November 17, 2014

7 Questions To Ask A Team To Maximize The Team's Results

High-functioning teams can disagree and still produce excellent products and results. Team members can also disagree and still care about each other. And, they can challenge each other to think differently.

Best-selling leadership book authors Scott J. Allen and Mitchell Kusy recommend that leaders ask seven tough questions of their teams to help maximize their results. Here are those questions to ask each team member:
  1. What are some obstacles affecting this team?
  2. What are opportunities we could take advantage of that we have been largely ignoring?
  3. Where can you take greater ownership on this team?
  4. Where have you let this team down?
  5. Compared to other teams with which you are familiar, how are we doing?
  6. When was the last time you complimented the team or one of its members?
  7. How open are you to giving direct feedback to team members?

Friday, November 14, 2014

How To Project A Professional Image

From Jay Miletsky's book, 101 Ways to Successfully Market Yourself, here 10 tips for projecting an effective professional image:
  1. Discipline yourself to be positive and enthusiastic.
  2. In tense situations choose positive responses by maintaining perspective and getting along well with others.
  3. Acknowledge mistakes and shortcomings and learn how to correct them.
  4. Develop a reputation for being a resourceful problems solver.
  5. Leverage your strengths and expertise to have maximum impact on the decisions you make.
  6. Be organized, efficient, flexible, and self-motivated.
  7. Master your tasks and fully expand your area of expertise so that you can boost your output.
  8. Keep up with the latest developments in your company and in your field.
  9. Cultivate unique talents that give you a definite edge.
  10. Gain visibility by taking the kind of action that will propel you into the right sights of management personnel.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dr. Roger Dean Duncan On Change

Change is inevitable. Change is good.  Help your employees and team learn to embrace change.

Here are some solid insights from Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan's (Liberty, Missouri) book, Change-friendly Leadership -- How to Transform Good Intentions into  Great Performance:
  • The kind of behavior change that results in lasting (sustainable) change must accommodate people's feelings--feelings that involve trust, confidence, passion, and all those other intangible but very real things that make us human.
  • It's often the stress that people resist, not the change itself.
  • Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights (Pauline R. Kezer).
  • A transformational leader focuses primarily on initiating and "managing" change.  He/she influences people to improve, to stretch, and to redefine what's possible.
  • It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change (Charles Darwin).
  • Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Entrepreneur Jake Thompson Shares His Story, Advice, And What's In Store For CED In 2015

With a title like Chief Encouragement Officer at Compete Every Day (CED), it's no wonder that Jake Thompson is leading the way in motivating predominantly athletes and fitness enthusiasts around the world to compete for what they aspire to achieve.

"Compete Every Day is a lifestyle brand devoted to inspiring the competitive mindset that each one of us has a life worth competing for. Every second. Every day," explains Jake, who also founded CED.

"Our goal is to fuel your fire, but that's only the beginning. At CED we want to drive you; we want to help you see it through to the end. 365 days a year, seven days a week, 86,400 seconds per day. However long it takes," he adds.

CED fuels that fire by selling T-shirts, wristbands, shorts and other clothing featuring motivational and inspirational slogans.  CED also shares its motivation and customer stories via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

What started as a simple idea a few years ago with selling T-shirts from the trunk of Jake's car, has morphed into an international lifestyle brand embraced by professional athletes, celebrities, and individuals motivated to live above the status quo.  

This week, Jake shared with me insights and advice about being an entrepreneur and leading his team and growing his company.

QuestionWhat's the most rewarding thing about being an entrepreneur?

  • Jake:  I think most entrepreneurs would answer this question as being able to see someone else buy or wear their product. That’s definitely a reward, but the most rewarding for me has to be the fact that I have the ability to truly impact others’ lives in a positive way. I am truly humbled by the emails, Instagram/Facebook posts, and calls our team receives from people who were touched or inspired by a social media post or shirt we produced. To know you are changing the world and able to pour positivity into another person is the best reward I know.

Question:  What's the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?

  • Jake:  Learning to wear multiple hats while maintaining focus on the long-term. It’s been a battle to personally keep my focus on where I’m ultimately moving the company while trying to handle budgets, customer-service relationships, inventory management, and marketing. Thankfully now we have a growing team that can assist with many of the day-to-day operations, but at times, especially at the beginning, I found it challenging to be “among the chaos” while building the business.

Question:  CED recently expanded its product offering and target customer base.  How did you know it was time to do that?

  • Jake:  We always had that goal on the board as a focal point and will continue to grow the customer base and audiences over the next year and more.  My goal from day one was to blend Life Is Good with Nike in terms of having a positive message that is applicable to any demographic. We grew our main audience and focus within the active/fitness community because of the quick acceptance of the mindset of CED and quality products, but all the while focusing on the larger picture and looking for opportunities to pour our positive message into new members because we felt that it had the power to gain traction in others’ lives. We had planned to release our CED Lifestyle line much sooner, but were delayed in production opportunities and our offline event program. Fall 2014 became the prime target with a new collection thanks to the weather changing.

Question:  How has social media made it easier for you to be successful at CED?

  • Jake:  Social media has transformed the playing field for every small business owner. It allows us free channels to share great content, but more importantly, we have the ability to connect individually with members of the community every single day.

Question:  How do you use feedback from your customers to shape CED?

  • Jake:  I believe it is paramount to keep your ear to the ground for the latest feedback from the community. Many times the feedback we receive is more encouragement than suggestions for change, but we take into account everything received. We have our apparel releases planned for the next year, but always take into account ideas people have or suggestions for colors. We then compare those to what we currently have and see if there’s opportunity to include or add later.

Question:  You are an incredibly positive and motivating person.  What makes you that way?

  • Jake:  I truly believed I have been blessed with the ability to encourage and it’s my job to use that to pour into others. It’s been anything but easy some days on this entrepreneurial roller coaster. Some days it’s just a beating to keep going, but I always try to maintain focus on why I started CED. I’m fortunate that my family and close circle of friends are able to help me maintain that focus on the days I need it most.

Question:  What's the single best piece of advice you can give to someone contemplating becoming an entrepreneur?

  • Jake:  Persevere. I’ve used this analogy a lot, but the life of an entrepreneur is more like going to work daily with a pickaxe than with a rocket launcher. There are no overnight successes. Those who win and find a way to build a successful business are the ones who get to work every single day and stay with the task until their goal is reached. Small efforts, compounded daily, to create large successes.

Question:  What will 2015 bring for CED and its passionate fan base?

  • Jake:  I’m excited about the upcoming year. We are continuing our Shirt-of-the-Month program with a few new twists for fans, including the 72-hour-release. Fans will only be able to grab a limited-edition shirt a) through the Legendary Shirt Program, or b) through the 72-hour window around its release. This really creates exclusivity for people in the program. Our CED Lifestyle line will continue to grow and evolve for the brand. A big twist you’ll see next year is the Tuesday night Compete party. Every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. CST, we will be doing something. Some Tuesdays it may be a new apparel release (such as a limited-edition shirt), some could be a 72-hour sale, and others may be a special announcement. But each Tuesday, something happens at 7 p.m.

Jake adds that the best thing to debut in 2015 will be CED's custom shirt line. Jake explains, "We have been working for 16 months to develop our own shirts (fabric, cut, sew) to replace the current manufacturers we’ve been using. Even better, our shirts will be lighter, softer, and made entirely in the USA, with the majority being done here in Texas. We’ll finally be able to debut a new T-shirt and then before summer 2015, our technical training line with new shirts and tank tops made exclusively for workouts with moisture-wicking fabrics."

"Outside of those new and continued programs, my focus is on continuing to expand the business into new markets and audiences, and continue to pour positivity into as many people as we can touch with the brand," adds Jake.