Lawn & Landscape
By Marty Grunder
Like many of you reading this column, I got my start in the landscaping business with a single lawnmower, the belief that I could outperform the competition and the audacity to go for it.
A lot has happened in the 34 years since, but when I really drill down on what has enabled me— and virtually every other successful business owner I’ve had the pleasure of knowing—to succeed, I am struck by how large a role self-confidence and the willingness to take risks has played.
And history backs me up: Scroll through a list of the most wildly accomplished entrepreneurs in the world from Andrew Carnegie and Walt Disney to Estée Lauder and Steve Jobs, and you’ll find they all had these two traits in spades. I bet you do, too.
It’s also true that our greatest strength has the potential to become our greatest weakness if we’re not careful. As confident, risk-taking owners, we tend to think we have to have all the answers all the time, when in truth sometimes the best thing we can do is admit we don’t and seek outside perspectives. As my mentor Clay Mathile, the former owner of Iams, likes to say, “The hardest thing for an entrepreneur to say is ‘I need help.’”
It took me a long time to really learn that lesson. Earlier in my career when a problem, or an opportunity that I was both excited and unsure about would come up, I’d think, “I own this company, I should know the answer.” Then I’d go it alone and often make a mess of things. But gradually I got smarter and realized just how critical it is to get outside perspective. Here’s where I’ve found the most valuable insights come from:
A Good Mentor
I have enjoyed the good fortune to count Mr. Mathile as a mentor, along with a number of our industry’s leaders, many of whom I’ve written about here before. Watching how these individuals approach their businesses and listening to their advice has broadened my vision for my landscaping company and for myself, while also keeping me tethered to what’s real and realistic. Good mentors come in all shapes. I also learned a great deal early on from a local nurseryman who taught me how plants “weep, creep and leap,” and who saved me from disaster by dissuading me from bidding on a $50,000 job at Olive Garden when I was 19 and wildly unprepared for it.
Who are your mentors? Identify people you can learn from who will take an interest in you, and then work to cultivate those relationships so that when you find yourself uncertain, you have trusted, knowledgeable people in your network you can turn to.
A Professionally Run Peer Group
Having facilitated peer groups for some 16 years now, I have seen for myself the power this model has to transform business owners, both professionally and personally. When run well, with a structure and a curriculum optimized for results, these groups enable CEOs to receive from—and give to—each other relevant, real-world feedback on how to control and grow their companies. At my consultancy, we’ve structured our ACE Peer Groups to serve as boards of advisors. Surrounded by other ambitious landscape pros who want to help each other succeed as much as they want to advance themselves, our ACEs find themselves pushed to make decisions, improvements and progress in a way and at a pace they didn’t know they could.
A Good but Honest Friend
I have many wonderful friends whom I can rely on to tell me what I want to hear when I want to hear it. We all need cheerleaders at different times. And then I have my friend Mike whom I can depend on to actually tell me like it is, no holds barred. When I turn to him with a challenge I’m facing at my business, I know what he’ll say may not be what I want to hear but it will be what I need to hear. And for me that kind of candor is invaluable.
The takeaway? Value the self-confidence and risk-taking nature that made you an entrepreneur, but be honest with yourself when you need help and don’t be afraid to go find it.
Happy June and I’ll see you next month!