Travels with Jim follows Jim Huston around the country as he visits with landscapers and helps them understand their numbers to make smarter decisions.


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Have you ever felt the “blahs?” You’re like the pilot who has run out of air speed, altitude and ideas all at the same time – just before he crashes. You may be going 1,000 mph but not sure where you’re headed. It reminds me of the lyrics in the Dwight Yoakam song, “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere.” “I’m a thousand miles from nowhere. Time don’t matter to me. ‘Cause I’m a thousand miles from nowhere and there’s no place I want to be.” You’re stuck: no energy, no motivation, no insight – a mid-life crisis of sorts.

Businesses get stuck too. You see it in the lack of growth in their annual sales. Don’t get me wrong – you don’t have to be continually growing just for growth’s sake. However, many entrepreneurs want to grow but can’t figure out why they don’t.

The late management guru Peter Drucker told us that managers make sure things get done right. Leaders (entrepreneurs) make sure the right things get done. Efficiency (operations and production) is the realm crew leaders and managers need to focus on. Effectiveness (business development) is the realm where owners need to constantly analyze threats and opportunities.

Rudy the perfectionist.

For years, Rudy was stuck at $300,000 to $400,000 in maintenance and enhancement sales. He wanted to grow but just couldn’t. He thought that if he just worked harder, he’d be able to get his sales to the next level. However, all he accomplished was working 14-hour days, never seeing his family and teetering on total exhaustion and burnout. He didn’t realize that the problem was in his thinking.

Clients loved Rudy because he was a perfectionist. His employees were frustrated by him because they could never meet his poorly defined expectations. We’re told that a perfectionist is defined as someone who takes great pains and gives them to people. That was Rudy. He focused on efficiency, not effectiveness.

Rudy needed to change his perspective and think outside the box. He needed to act and think like an entrepreneur and concentrate on the big picture – effectiveness. To do so, he needed to employ the DAD principle: delegate and disappear. To get to the next level, he needed to grow or find solid crew leaders who need minimal supervision and provide them with clear expectations.

Arthur the bonehead.

I occasionally meet young (and old) men who essentially say to me, “You can’t teach me nothin’!” And they’re right.

At $3 million in full-service landscape sales, Arthur had a great team of managers and crew leaders. He was full of energy and vision, and his net profit before taxes reflected the same as it hovered around 15 percent. Then something happened. He lost focus and became somewhat bitter. A divorce, personal health issues, the death of a very close friend and key employees departing the company all took their toll. Instead of building and maintaining a high-performance team and taking care of business, Arthur spent most of his time in the field as he grew the company to $7 million-plus. The bottom line deteriorated to the low single digits.

Arthur did what felt comfortable (working in the field), not what was necessary. He got so wrapped up in the minutia of the business that he didn’t pay attention to the big picture threats and opportunities that his company was facing. Worse yet, he refused to seek and/or heed valuable input from trusted friends and professionals who could help guide him out of the managerial fog that he was in. Just like Rudy, Arthur wasn’t concentrating on effectiveness.

Change your perspective.

A basketball coach friend of mine once told me, “You can’t teach height.” Sometimes your team is made up of people who are just too short for the job. You need to get new players. However, you need to own this situation because you’re the one who hired and trained (or didn’t train) your people in the first place. You need to think differently about the situation and approach it from a different angle.

The problem that Rudy and Arthur faced was one of perspective. They allowed themselves to get so wrapped up in minutia that they could neither see the problem, for what it was, nor the solutions that were available to them.

You may have heard of the man who died at age 25 but wasn’t buried until 75. Don’t allow yourself to be that guy or gal. Don’t die mentally before you die physically. A coffin is said to be a rut with the ends kicked out. Learn how to think and how to improve your thinking. Be creative! You might even read Michael Gelb’s book “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci.” You may not paint a Mona Lisa but then again, who knows; you may.

Jim Huston runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm.