Don’t become paralyzed by fear. Decide, act – and if that doesn’t work out, decide and act again.
Anyone who knew my late father, Frederick Stanley Zweig, who died a little more than five years ago at the age of 96, could tell you that he was an unusual guy. He grew up poor and his mother was married five times. His first job was in a junk yard during the Depression where he took apart cars 10 hours a day, six days a week. Then he got a job in a manufacturing plant that built gas ranges where he became the union shop steward until he joined the Army in World War II .
There, he rose through the ranks as an enlisted man to the rank of first lieutenant in the 6th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army, got his Silver Star Medal for bravery in battle, and decided that if he made it out of the war alive he would never work in any factory job again. When the war was over he won several thousand dollars shooting craps on the boat on the way home, bought my mom a huge diamond ring, and started his career in advertising.
By 1950, he was already successful, an owner of a decent-size ad agency with another guy, and my parents built a new architect-designed ranch house. By the mid-‘60s, he became disillusioned with advertising and made a decision to go into management consulting. And by the late ‘70s he decided to retire and spent the next 37 years of his life doing whatever he wanted, which meant mostly studying quantum physics, philosophy, religion, and history.
If you had any kind of issue you were grappling with, my dad used to like to say, “Decide, act! And if that doesn’t work out, decide and act again!” It was one thing he really understood – that being that so many people are so often paralyzed by fear – so they do nothing.
I think this simple idea of making a decision and acting on it really applies to owners and managers of AEC firms as well. So many are paralyzed by fear and just don’t act in a timely manner. Yet, those who do become wildly successful (and you can meet many of those at the upcoming ElevateAEC Conference & Awards Gala being held this year in Denver on November 3-5), have the ability to make decisions with incomplete information. These leaders know that if they make a decision that turns out to be not so great, they can always make a new decision and act to correct it. And they run their businesses accordingly and encourage the people who work for them to do the same. This then becomes the culture of the business, i.e., to act decisively when faced with a choice, and to correct bad decisions with new ones when necessary.
On the most fundamental level, my experience with these outstanding entrepreneurial leaders and what differentiates them from so many others who are less successful is that they make the choice to grow. They want to grow their business because they believe the alternative is sliding backward. And they want to grow themselves because they know if they are going to grow their business they will have to be getting better and smarter every day. In short, if you will forgive the cliche, they have a “growth mindset.”
This growth mindset leads these outstanding AEC firm leaders to do certain things and act in particular ways. Here are some examples of what they do:
- They pursue continuous learning opportunities. That means they read a lot and constantly seek self-improvement. They get involved in organizations with their peers. They attend seminars and conferences. They do a lot of research. They get into learning about things they don’t know – not because they need to, but rather because they just want to learn something new. They decide to self-improve and then act on it.
- They push themselves out of their comfort (knowledge) zone daily because they know that this, too, is critical to their self-improvement. They make the choice to take on new things – new types of clients, new roles with those clients, new contracting forms they have never tried before, and going to new places their firms have never worked before. They decide to expand their traditional boundaries and then make decisions that support that thinking. An example who was one of the greatest entrepreneurial architects in modern history is the late John Portman, Jr. He pushed the bounds of what he could do as an architect when he couldn’t find any clients who would act on his ideas. So he risked everything to learn all he could about development and became his own client. And his projects got bigger and bigger, and he changed the entire course of the city of Atlanta, the city of New York, the U.S. relationship with China, and did many other things. He could decide and then act on it, when most all of his peers were choosing to scratch out a modest living at the time.
- They make a deliberate effort to expand the circle of people they associate with. They seek out and find other successful people that they think they can learn from, and employ these relationships to elevate themselves and their companies. They say that our attitudes and mindsets are greatly affected by who we choose to be around the most, so these growth-oriented leaders make a decision to reach out to other people who they think will expand their minds. It’s not by accident. It is a decision that they make and act on.
- They make the decision to grow their companies. This takes many forms. They hire good people when they evidence themselves even if they don’t have an empty seat they are trying to fill. They put people in jobs that expand their responsibilities even if they aren’t certain they are qualified based on prior experience. They expand their ranks of principals and include some younger people. They explore buying other businesses to expand their capabilities, client base, service offerings, and geographic footprint. They decide to make growth decisions, and then act on them.
I’m sure I could go on here and give many more examples of how the best leaders in our business can make a decision and then act on it, but hopefully I have already made my point. So there is now nothing left to do but for YOU to DECIDE and ACT yourself!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at email@example.com.