The Smartest Person in the Room

Here is one thing that anyone can do to become a more effective leader:

Engage your team about their thoughts and ideas, and then truly listen.  

Remember this: By acknowledging that you are not the smartest person in the room, you actually become the smartest person in the room.  

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I heard about a pastor who gave someone a stick and asked them to break it.  Then two sticks together, then three.  By the time it got to four, it became a bundle and was nearly impossible to break.  

Paul told the Romans:

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause division and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them."  Romans 16:17

Satan wants to lead us astray so he can easily break us by ourselves.   But if we unite with other believes, like the bundle, we become unbreakable.   

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The Future of Pine Straw

Today we are in Chicago at the Ace Hardware show debuting our newest pine straw product.  From the second I was introduced to the pine straw industry, our immediate mission was to change it forever by creating something that was strikingly different and better.  Our new "Quick Straw" is the first bagged and palletized pine straw product.   Here are the specific problems that it solves:

1) NO MESS.   The biggest challenge with traditional pine straw is that it makes a mess loading and unloading in your car or truck.  With Quick Straw, you can strap a bag in your passenger seat with no worry about making a mess.   

2) It is conveniently packaged on a pallet, meaning you can now order a simple pallet versus the previous minimum of an entire trailer.  Without the trailer in the parking lot, pine straw can now be carried in thousands of retail outlets that have never carried it before, and placed anywhere in the store. 

3) We have developed fully automated bagging lines that are housed in a controlled environment.  Now that we can produce product out of the woods and weather, a truly consistent supply chain is now possible.  

This is a vision that took years of blood sweat and tears to realize and I am so proud of our team that deserves all of the credit.  In just a few short months, we are already in over 300 retailer stores and climbing every day.  The future of pine straw is here!

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Inc 5000 Again!

We just received notice that Swift Straw made the Inc. 5000 list again this year, which acknowledges the 5000 fastest growing companies in the country.  Receiving this award three years in a row is quite an accomplishment and a testament to what can be created with the right mindset.  I would like to take this opportunity to specifically acknowledge our team for a few things that made this possible.

This message goes to our extended family of customers, vendors, employees, investors and mentors.  I would like to say thank you for your support and your continued commitment to Growth, both personally and professionally.  All of the professional accomplishments in the world would be for nothing if you are not growing as an individual, in your faith, and as the leaders of your family.  Thank you for being men and women of integrity, always doing what you say you are going to do.  For always addressing our customers’ needs with a sense of urgency and a burning desire to create a win/win.  For putting the team first, embracing all of the many challenges that we willingly accept every day as our chosen path.  Last but not least, thank you for believing in positive innovation and disruption as the future for our industry.  This is by far not the easiest path, but it is the one that we have chosen.

One of Robert Woodruff’s most famous quotes was, “The world belongs to the discontent.”  My challenge to you for the next year is to remain discontent with what the world perceives as normal and let’s maintain a growth mindset as we continue to fulfill our mission to “Change the industry forever.”  Inc. 5000, we’ll see you again next year!

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Sunday Blog: Immeasurable

How great is the Love of God?  This vast ocean of love cannot be measured or explained, but it can be experienced.  Paul told the Ephesians:

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know his love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."  Ephesians 3:16-19

Help me Lord to truly experience your immeasurable love which surpasses knowledge and our own understanding.  Amen.  

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Your Last Dollar

What if having little to no resources could be your greatest competitive advantage?  Daymond John, cohost of Shark Tank, says:

"It helps to be so hungry that you have no other choice but to succeed."  

After making multiple investments through the Tank, Daymond has found that more capital doesn't necessarily make a business successful.  In fact it can be a disadvantage. Here are a few thought on why having little to no resources can be your greatest advantage:

1) Necessity drives innovation.  Human beings are wired to survive.  We are at our best when our backs are against the wall.  We should always try to create a sense of urgency with the things that are important, as if our back was against the wall.  

2) Just like we are wired to survive, we are also wired to quickly become complacent when the pressure subsides.  This is why winning can be dangerous and most people don't stay on top.   We should always strive to maintain a mindset that fights to stay on top.  

3) It is easier to spend money when our wallet is full but that doesn't always mean that we should.  Think about how much more thoughtful you are about each investment or purchase when money is tight.    Even if your bank account is full, we should approach any purchase or investment asking, "Would I do this if it was my last dollar?"

One of the secrets to building wealth is to live like you have limited resources.  Even if you have the resources available, we should always be aware of what we would do if our back was against the wall, if we had to fight to stay on top, or if this was our last dollar.  If you stay hungry, there is no option but to succeed. 

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Love People

Brett Butler spoke at last night's "Purpose on Tap" event.  Brett spent 17 years in Major League Baseball with five different organizations.  Very impressive for a guy that weighed less than 100 lbs and didn't start on the high school baseball team.  When asked what guided his life and career he said, "It's all about relationships." He pointed out that his Major League Baseball career was great but no one will remember him in a few years.  The relationships that he made and nurtured is what will last. 

Luke 10:27 says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself."   

He simply put it as "Love God, and love people."

People will come into your life and you are going to set an example, either positive or negative.  Brett built his life around being the best example he could be for all of those that he associated with -- He invested heavily into the lives of those around him.  If you want to get the most out of relationships, set the kind of example that makes those around you better for having known you.  Simply put, "Love God, and love people."

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Sunday Blog: Truly Almighty

It is hard to comprehend how vast the universe is.  Our sun and earth are just specs among nearly infinite stars and planets. 

In Psalm 19, David declares, "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours forth speech, and night tonight declares knowledge."

The universe and the perfection of the earth are constantly telling us of the Glory of our God.  Every day that the sun comes up and the tides come in or a child is born proclaims His Glory.  It is amazing to think that the same Creator of all this loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with each of us. I am thankful to serve a living, powerful and almighty God.  

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The Greatest Respect

David Cummings recently released a  great blog post on servant leadership.  Contrary to traditional leadership and power, the servant leader turns the power pyramid upside down. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.  He suggested that Entrepreneurs that believe in servant leadership should use these seven words frequently:

"Let me know how I can help." 

Here are a few additional phrases that you might use as a servant leader:

"Is it totally clear what's expected of you?"

"Is there anything keeping you from accomplishing what's expected of you?"

"What ideas do you have that would allow us to improve or do things better?"

"What do you think we should do here?"

"I want you to know that I appreciate your contribution"

In the workplace, I have found that there is no greater respect than truly valuing someone's opinion and trusting them to make their own decision.  On the contrary, there is nothing more disrespectful as a leader than blindly ordering people around.  People can either do something because you told them to, or they can do something because they believe it is the right thing to do.  You can decide which one is more powerful.   

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Real Wealth

This past week I was made aware that both Daymond John and Reggie Bradford have been diagnosed with cancer.  They are both amazing leaders, fathers, entrepreneurs and heroes of mine.  They are in great spirits and fighting with all their might.  Seeing these Titans battling cancer is a reality check and has made me reflect on the importance of our health. 

Certain illness is out of our control, but that doesn't mean that we should not do everything that we can with the things that we can control.  Most of us know what we should be doing to be healthy, but we are not willing to face it.  My hope is that we can use this wake up call as an opportunity to replace old habits with new and healthy ones.  

We should acknowledge that much of the food industry is pushing processed foods and beverages on us that are not healthy.   Then we have a pharmaceutical industry that is ready to give us over the counter drugs to treat all of the symptoms of this health crisis, rather than looking at the root cause.  If you look at the increase in obesity and chronic illness over the last 50 years, it is clear to see the impacts.  Healthy isn't hard, it's just different than what we have become accustomed to.  Here a few simple things we can add to our daily routine to begin creating healthier habits:

1) Come up with a simple plan, understanding that it won't happen all at once.  Think about a bunch of small wins stacked on top of each other.  

2) Start an early morning success routine that covers physical, mental and spiritual exercises.   

3) Start tracking your daily steps and walk more.  

4) Drink your body weight in ounces of water each day.

5) Cut out processed breads. 

6) Remove refined sugars from your diet, especially sugary drinks. 

7) Eat more natural organic fruits and vegetables. 

8) Cook at home more.  It's cheaper and healthier than eating out.  

9) Simply think about your food before you eat it.  Ask yourself whether a bag of potato chips or a side of sautéed vegetables is a more nourishing side.   

10) Create a simple score board to track the items that you have prioritized.  This will show you and your subconscious brain the progress you are making each day and create momentum.   

Both Daymond and Reggie said they want to beat this thing for their children.  All of us have some family and friends that wants us to be happy and healthy.  Let them be your motivation to be healthier.  Healthy is not a destination, it's a journey that moves one day at a time.  Your health is your real wealth, and I hope that this will encourage you to take the first step. 

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Sunday Blog: The Art of Thankfulness

Jesus Calling is a great daily devotional book that I read as part of my EMSR (Early Morning Success Routine).  It is written as if Jesus is speaking directly to you, referring to specific scripture.  Here is a summary of a recent one that I thought was worth sharing:

“Thankfulness opens the door to My presence.  Though I am always with you, I have gone to great measures to preserve your freedom of choice.  I have placed a door between you and Me, and I have empowered you to open or close that door.  There are many ways to open it, but a grateful attitude is one of the most effective.  I want you to learn the art of thankfulness in all circumstance.  See how many times you can thank Me daily; this will awaken your awareness to a multitude of blessings and will cushion the impact of trails when they come against you.”

"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."  1 Thessalonians 5:18

My prayer is that I will be thankful in all circumstances so that I may fully realize the multitude of blessings that God has in store.

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Psychological Safety

Google spent an inordinate amount of time and money determined to figure out what characteristics make the best and most productive team. After studying over 200 internal teams for over a year, here are the five characteristics that were prevalent in the top performers: 

  1. Dependability: Team members get things done on time and meet expectations.
  2. Structure and Clarity: High performing teams have clear goals, and have well defined roles within the group.
  3. Meaning: The work has personal significance to each member.
  4. Impact: The group believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good.
  5. Psychological Safety: We’ve all been in meetings -- and due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. The best teams created an environment where it was safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgement free questions. Of the five, this was the most impactful characteristic of successful teams.

Whether you are an employee at Google or a 3-year-old at home, everyone has a deep need to feel respected. Creating a psychologically safe environment where everyone’s opinion can be heard is the ultimate form of respect. Ultimately a leader must make a decision, but making sure that everyone has been heard and respected is a great way to maintain a productive and committed team. 

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The Main Problem

Most of my heroes come from completely different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common. They have all been shaped by a continuous series of seemingly “insurmountable” trials and tribulations that have made them who they are today. And they attribute much of their success to their experience in overcoming these struggles. The lesson learned is: 

No matter what you are and no matter what you do,

You will never be able to get away from problems.

The problems aren’t the problem.

It’s the fact that you think having problems is a problem, and that life should be devoid of problems…..

Which is the main problem.

Problems either happen TO you or FOR you. The choice is yours.

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Sunday Blog: Clothed in Righteousness


At the age of 95, the great Billy Graham is still alive and well.   He has a message for America which is in need of a great spiritual awakening.  His message is as follows:

"There is only one thing that can change people, that can save people, and that's the Cross.  Jesus endured the most awful death the Romans could create on the cross and made atonement for our sins.  We are all sinners and don't deserve the Father.  But through the blood of Jesus, we are clothed in his righteousness.  We become a new creature, and God doesn't see our hearts any more, he sees Jesus.   God's word doesn't tell us to explain it, it commands that we believe."

Then he asked that everyone say this prayer:

"Heavenly Father,

I know that I am a sinner,

Thank you for your forgiveness.

I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead,

I invite you to come into my heart and life,

I want to trust and follow you as my lord and savior,

In Jesus name, amen."

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The Simple Truth

Gary Taubes has become an expert on the obesity epidemic.  During his initial research he discovered that there were poor malnourished populations all over the world that were experiencing increased levels of obesity.  Another interesting part of the equation is that many of these populations that were consuming less food/calories were also working jobs with intense manual labor.  This was completely contrary to the old "exercise more and eat less," "calorie in versus calorie out" diet theories.  

This peaked his interest and led to a career dedicated to understanding and battling this widely misunderstood epidemic.  Here are the highlights from his discoveries:

1) When insulin is secreted or chronically elevated, fat accumulates in the fat tissue.  When insulin levels drop, fat escapes from the fat tissue and the fat deposit shrinks.  

2) We secrete insulin primarily in response to the types of carbohydrates in our diet.  The wrong carbohydrates are driving insulin, which is driving fat.   

3) Avoid bread and everything else made with flower, cereals, pudding, and all other white root vegetable.  Also avoid sugar and sweets.  These are the carbohydrates that drive insulin which drives fat. 

4) Eat plenty of: Meat, fish, birds, all green vegetables, eggs, cheese, fruit (limit bananas and grapes).   

The bottom line is this: Obesity is a disorder of fat accumulation, not energy balance (not overeating or sedentary behavior).  Fat accumulation is regulated fundamentally by insulin and dietary carbohydrates.  The only non-pharmaceutical remedy is to restrict or remove the causative agent, i.e., the wrong carbohydrates.  

The simple truth appears to be, that if we remove the foods from our diet that drive insulin, that drive fat, we might be able to skip the under-utilized gym membership next January.  

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The Hardest Man on Earth

Despite growing up being bullied and having an abusive father, David Goggins is the only member of the US armed forces to complete Navy Seal training, US Army Ranger School, and Air Force tactical air controller training.  In a recent interview he talks about becoming the “Hardest Man on Earth.”  Here are a few highlights:

  • Instead of focusing on all of his hardships, one day he said, “If I can become the hardest man God ever created, that will mean something.  I will become relevant in my own mind.”  That was the point that he changed the way he thought.
  • “Being hard” is what gets him off the couch each day.  He says, “The best conversations you are going to have in your entire life is the one you have with yourself.  You can lie to other people all day long, but you can’t lie to yourself.”
  • When asked about developing mental toughness he said, “For me, it’s to face yourself, to face fear.  Everybody asks me, 'How do you develop mental toughness?'  How you develop mental toughness is becoming hard, and you become hard by doing stuff that you don’t want to do.  Most people live in this nice, comfortable place that makes them feel really good.  You sure don’t become hard by living that way.  You have to take yourself out of your comfort zone.  Bury yourself in something that makes you feel so horrible that you see how your mind is thinking, and overcome it.  That’s what makes a human being hard.”
  • When asked how did you get started, he said, “For me, I started realizing that you need nothing but the air in your lungs to become great.  Once I started pushing myself to different limits, I realized it just takes changing how you think about situations to become great.  After I realized that we’re just breath and a healthy heart and a mind that’s willing to change your circumstance, I realized, 'Okay I feel good about myself, now let’s go conquer the world.'”
  • When asked how do you fundamentally change your belief system he said, “People don’t know how because they don’t truly want to do it.  You have to be driven.  Motivation is crap.  Change your mind to believe that you need to be driven.  But what drives you, only you can answer that.”
  • When asked how he ran for 205 straight miles or made it through Navy Seal Hell Week, he said, “When you’re in the middle of it you can’t think about how much you have left, you have to think about how glorious it will be once you’re finished.”
  • When asked about his achievements, he said, “I truly believe you have a path and a journey that you have to start.  It’s not about accomplishments, it’s about starting a journey, and not getting off that path when it gets scary.  Getting scared and suffering allowed me to be proud and have peace in my life, to know that I’ve endured.  I didn’t run, I endured.”
  • When asked about mastery, he said, “I believe that God put us all down here and we are all artists.  You have to paint your masterpiece to the best of your ability, and you have to go through a lot of brushes and a lot of canvas.  That journey is hard, but you are your own master.

David is yet another example of the growth mindset in action.  The only limit that we have is that which we place on ourselves.  Everyone needs to have a conversation with the person in the mirror about what drives you, and only you can answer that.

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Sunday Blog: SERVE

Matthew 9:35-38 says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.   When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, 'the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'”

As Jesus served the people he had compassion for them.  I recently heard a sermon that gives a modern day guide on how to serve people with compassion -- How to see people as Jesus sees them:

The Acronym is SERVE:

  • S – see hearts, not the outside layers
  • E – engage the heart and not the lifestyle.  Many people are simply searching for love in the wrong places.
  • R – respond to needs and hurts, not beliefs.
  • V – be vulnerable rather than criticize and shame.  Being vulnerable builds bridges.
  • E – empower people by praying for them, not always through preachiness.

My prayer is that I will serve and lead with real compassion.

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Grant Cordone is a world renowned speaker and author of the "10X rule."  He challenges people to think bigger, regardless of your situation or circumstance.  Here is his definition of greatness:

"Continue reaching for your full potential.  And you're the only one that knows what that is.  Great people never arrive, they are always reaching for more."

A lifelong commitment to realize his potential is what inspires him each day.  Regardless of your situation or circumstance, my hope is that Grant's message will challenge you to reconsider what is possible for your life.  

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Divine Inspiration

Life is more about energy than it is about age.  Chris Lee, world renowned success coach, came up with 7 steps to managing your energy in order to live a bullet proof life:

  1. Know your purpose, which is living for something bigger than yourself.  When thinking about purpose, Love is one of the best and most common, living for others. 
  2. Choose your attitude and take responsibility for how you interpret your circumstance.  Your attitude is one of the only things you have total control over.
  3. Trust the process and have faith..  Fear is the expectation that the worst will happen.  Faith, on the other hand, is the expectation that everything will work out.
  4. Tell yourself the truth and confront whatever is holding you back.  We all create stories to justify certain things.  Confront those stories and create new ones.
  5. Dream, declare and deliver with integrity.  Honor your word, no matter what. 
  6. Expand your comfort zone.  Nothing makes you feel more alive.
  7. Live life with passion and enthusiasm.  The root of enthusiasm is “divine inspiration” or to “be inspired by God.”  Don’t wait to feel enthusiastic, choose enthusiasm and the feeling will follow.

My biggest takeaway from this message is the root of enthusiasm being “divine inspiration.” Don’t sit around and wait for enthusiasm or inspiration, create it and carry it with you.  Enthusiasm creates a contagious energy that inspires you and other around you.

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Sunday Post: Let Your Light Shine

I was recently in a situation mediating several different parties through a dispute.  I found myself in the difficult situation of trying to appease all sides while at that the same time moving things forward for the betterment of the entire group.  One night I was having a particularly difficult time figuring out what to do.  While I was sleeping that night, my eyes suddenly shot open and Matthew 5:16 entered my head.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

After repeating the verse several times, I suddenly felt peace.  The answer from that point forward was crystal clear.  I was reminded that as a Servant Leader, you officially forego your right to look out for your own self-interest.  I was reminded that we are called to “Let your light shine before others, so they can see your good deeds, and praise our heavenly Father.”

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