Several times during the Broadway show that won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1991, an actor seated with the audience stands up and blurts out in a cheerful voice, “Let’s go flyin’ Will. ” On stage, Keith Carradine, portraying the lead character in “The Will Rogers Follies” replies, “Not yet, Wiley, ” delaying the ending everyone knows is coming, in which the legendary humorist perished in a plane crash with aviation pioneer Wiley Post in Alaska.
Will Rogers was born on November 4, 1879, in Indian Territory of what would become Oklahoma. From his early years as a trick roper in wild west shows, to Vaudeville theater and The Ziegfield Follies, to being the highest paid actor in Hollywood, Rogers became one of the most-recognized figures in the nation. At the time of his death, his weekly syndicated newspaper column reached 40 million Americans – one-third of the entire population. Today, 70 years later, Rogers’ folksy humor is still relevant:
On politics: “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. ”
On the media: “All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance. ”
On celebrities: “I’m not a real movie star. I still got the same wife I started out with 28 years ago. ”
On government spending: “So that leaves us without any economic problems whatsoever, except perhaps some day to have to pay for them. ”
On integrity: “Live that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip. ”
Success Handler Action: As an early investor in West Coast real estate – the 300-acre Rogers’ family ranch is a California State Park in what is now Pacific Palisades, Will understood business, too: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. ” He possessed the wonderful characteristic of being able to simplify things, so everyone could relate to them. Use these questions to measure how much you are simplifying things in your small business:
~ Who among your team knows the compelling reason customers buy from you?
~ What is your core product/service, and does everyone on your team understand it?
~ Where are the gaps in your small business, and what are you doing to fill them?
~ When was the last time you shared your vision and how to get there with your team?
~ How many of your procedures are written down…with step-by-step “how to” instructions?
Perhaps Will Rogers’ greatest gift was using observation as a way of understanding what was happening in the world around him. He took his own first-hand experiences and communicated them to mass audiences long before Headline News, 24/7 talk radio and blogging made seemingly everyone an expert on something. By taking time to think about what he was seeing and hearing, Rogers found clarity, then shared it.
Success Handler Action: How often do you observe what’s happening in your small business? Do you find yourself caught up in the daily grind of putting out fires, or do you make it a point to step back and think about how to improve your operations one step at a time? Here are five ways to take a fresh look at what’s going on around you:
1. Spend one morning each month away from the office, focusing on the big picture.
2. Mentor your team members, helping them identify areas where they need to grow.
3. Hire a professional business coach to gain candid feedback and guidance.
4. Write down all the ways you would “attack” your business, if you were your competition.
5. Fly above your small business, looking at it from the 10,000-foot level to gain new perspectives.
Of course, Will and Wiley did go flyin’ eventually, and America lost a beloved entertainer. Will’s most famous quote, and epitaph, is: “I never met a man I didn’t like. ” That philosophy served him well throughout life, helping create a legacy that endures today. Adopt the same approach to your small business – for your customers, employees and vendors – and you’ll achieve your own legendary results.
Copyright © 2005 by Success Handler, LLC. All rights reserved.
The Coach, David Handler, is the founder of Success Handler, (http://www.successhandler.com ), and specializes in helping small business leaders find clarity and take action. He understands the challenges of running a business, because he’s been there – as a small business owner, franchisee, franchisor, corporate leader and trainer. Much like sports coaches, his coaching will show you how to compete on a level playing field in your industry.