“Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision — even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone — according to what’s best for your customers.

If you’re ever unsure what to prioritize, just ask your customers the open-ended question, “How can I best help you now?” Then focus on satisfying those requests…

It’s counterintuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.”

Source: Anything You Want, Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers is a serial entrepreneur with a unique world view.  Perhaps his interests and values don’t align with yours.  He presents an interesting approach to nearly everything and has made me question many of the assumptions that inform my daily work, relationships, and life choices.  The above quote about how to build a business is a great example.

A surface reading of the above paragraphs indicates the customer’s interest is paramount, which many MBAs agree on.  Thinking more deeply about Sivers’ thoughts it strikes me that he’s also saying, live your values.  Don’t pay lip service to ethics if that’s your foundation, walk the walk while you talk the talk.  Don’t talk about it, BE about it.

When building a business what does that mean?  It means treat your customers, employees, and competitors as you’d like to be treated.  Be fair.  Be humble.  Be kind.  Understand that you don’t have all the answers, or all the information and you’ve got to push on just the same with fairness, humbleness, and kindness in mind.  It means that your character is a determining factor in your fate.

Before I established two small businesses, I worked for others as large as Northrop Grumman, The Walt Disney Company and Eastman Kodak.  Each stop along this career journey taught me a new culture, set of values, and decision-making processes for that entity.  I got a first-hand look at what’s important to each of those firms.

One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is creating a company that reflects MY unique values and vision, fostering a culture steeped in those values, and hiring talent I consider “my people” for their beliefs, traits, and personalities as much as the skills needed to grow a successful company.

Happily, after less than six months in business as Laurel Rock Consulting, we won a contract that will keep us operating while we entrench that culture.  So, what about Derek Siver, how does he fit into this blog post?

If you’ve got good character, you’ll build good partnerships and likely make better decisions.  It’s easier to build a company with a culture that respects others and celebrates all when the “Character” at the top does that as well.  How many studies have been published recently supporting the idea that diversity of opinion encourages company growth and employee retention?  (I really don’t know the answer, but it seems to be everywhere and a major topic in current business readings.)

Think of the opposite – who wants to work for a jerk?  We all have.  How did it make you feel?  Be honest, did you do your best work?  Now imagine that same work scenario, but while working for a company where you had no doubt about the character of high-level personnel and no doubt about how important that was to the company.  In that environment, you’d feel sure they acted with integrity in what they said and did, and there would be tangible evidence of that.

All other things being equal, you’d feel more secure.  As Simon Sinek says, good leaders make their employees feel psychologically safe.  That safety means individuals bring their ideas to the proverbial table more freely and, in the process, create more value for their own personal brand while contributing to the company.