5 LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM ENTREPRENEUR LARRY LEVY

1. Culture matters

As Larry says, “Culture is the single most important thing in a company, and it starts with leadership.” Culture isn’t just some “nicety” you reference during new employee orientation and then forget about. It should guide everything you do as an organization. Larry stresses the importance of understanding and communicating organizational culture, and then only hire staff who embrace and embody that culture. He is a believer in hiring people who are attracted to an entrepreneurial atmosphere. As Larry puts it, “Growth and entrepreneurship are aphrodisiacs. People love working for the winning team.”

2. Be open to new opportunities

Larry didn’t set out to create the largest sports and events catering company in the country. However, he was (and still is) an entrepreneur at heart. Forty years ago, when he and his brother saw the opportunity to revitalize a Jewish delicatessen on the seventh floor of Water Tower Place in Chicago, they did it for the challenge, not because they wanted to run a deli for the rest of their lives. That opportunity would be the genesis of what would become Levy Restaurants, which today is an international organization with more than $2.5 billion in annual revenue and over 35,000 employees.

There have been many other examples throughout Larry’s life when he seized on unexpected opportunities. Larry reminds us to be open to them. Look around corners. Be excited for what could be, even if it doesn’t necessarily align with what is.

3. Be prepared to evolve as your business grows and scales

Going hand-in-hand with embracing new opportunities is the need to evolve as your business grows. Larry didn’t know what that delicatessen in Water Tower Place he first walked into 40 years ago would one day become, but he did know it couldn’t stay what it was. As he searched out new opportunities, new markets, new business ventures, he ensured that the structure and operations of the business evolved, too. Levy Restaurants would not be what it is today if Larry hadn’t been willing to challenge the status quo and let go of tried-and-true ways of doing business. Yes, change can be unsettling, but it is the lifeblood of any business that wants to grow and thrive.

4. Know what you’re good at … and what you’re not so good at

No person can do it all, certainly no one in a business that is growing and expanding. Larry understands that reality well. As Larry explains it, he is the “ultimate delegator.” He has learned what he’s good at … and what he’s not good at.

For example, Larry knows he’s good at selling, but not so strong as an operator. He long ago learned to delegate and trust his colleagues to own those responsibilities (such as operations) that are not his strong suit. His business thrived because of it.

But for delegation to work, trust must be earned … just as there has to be a willingness to place trust in others. That foundation of trust goes back to company culture, and a sense of shared ownership in a company’s mission and vision. Everyone on the team must be heading in the same direction, with a sense that they are in a position to help move the company in that direction. When employees feel that, they are all in.

It all comes down to doing what you love. As Larry says, “When people ask me what I should do, I always say, ‘What are your passions?’” That has been Larry’s guiding light throughout his career.

5. Be vulnerable

Just as no one leader can do it all, nor can they know it all. Admit when you’ve made a mistake. Own (and share) your failures. Ask for help and ideas. In short, be human. Teams like strong leaders, but they love leaders who are honest and real.

For Larry, that vulnerability took the form of knowing he wasn’t emotionally ready to sell his business when first approached by the eventual buyer (Compass Group). He had poured himself into Levy Restaurants for decades. He knew it would take time to emotionally prepare to let go. It took him nearly two years to get ready, but when that day came, both he and the business were prepared for the transition. That honesty resulted in everyone involved being better off in the end.

During our discussion, Larry also showed another vulnerability. When I asked about his mom, he choked up. He shared the impact she had on his business and how much he missed her. In short, he shared that he is human.

5 SIGNS YOUR CHARACTER IS SLOWLY IMPLODING

THERE’S A GROWING GAP BETWEEN WHAT YOU SAY PUBLICLY AND HOW YOU LIVE PRIVATELY

Character rarely implodes suddenly. Instead, there’s almost always a slow erosion until eventually your character implodes.

Consequently, wise leaders keep an eye on any gaps between what they say publicly and how they live privately.

Quite obviously, this extends to hidden vices like drinking too much, porn use and the like.

But it goes deeper than that. There are Christian leaders self-medicate that should grab our attention  It also extends into any gap you see between your words and your deeds. When you preach grace but snap at your wife, kids and staff, that’s a problem.

When you teach financial responsibility but your personal finances are a mess, that’s a problem. When you say you care about people but you make zero time for anyone in need in your personal life, that’s an issue. What’s the solution? Never say publicly what you’re unwilling to live privately. This is why people have had problems with preachers for years. Most people suspect preachers don’t live up to their talk. Often they’re wrong (I’m amazed by the integrity of many Christian leaders I meet), but sometimes they’re right, not because there are hidden vices, but because the talk is out of proportion to the walk.

So speak honestly from the front. Make sure your talk matches your walk. Be honest about any flaws you have, and speak from your weakness as much as your strength. And if you have a growing gap that needs to be addressed, address it. Get help. Tell a friend. Go see a counsellor. Get on your knees.

And in leadership, try to make sure that what you say publicly is how you live privately.

Any growing gap shows your character is slowly imploding.

2. YOUR EMOTIONS ARE INAPPROPRIATE TO THE SITUATION

A sure sign of something being wrong with your character is emotional responses that are disporportionate to a given situation. You fly off the handle over small things.

You feel nothing when people tell you something sad or upsetting. You can’t celebrate someone else’s success. Those or, they could flag something deeper—a character issue. Your character is at its best when Christ takes over the deepest parts of who you are–your heart, mind, soul and strength. And when he has control of these things, your reactions become much healthier. You rejoice when people rejoice. You mourn when they mourn. You can celebrate someone’s success and not be jealous.

You feel compassion for someone when they’re down and don’t gloat or think they deserve it. The only way my character stays at this level is if I submit my heart and life fully to Christ on a daily basis. But when your emotions are disproportionate to the situation, it’s a sign of danger ahead.

3. YOU HAVE LESS AND LESS GRACE TO GIVE

When my character has been at its weakest, a sure sign is that grace is in short supply.

There’s nothing wrong with having high standards as a leader. There’s a tremendous amount wrong when those high standards cause you treat people like dirt.

Frankly, on a spiritual level, grace runs out in your life when God runs out in your life. If you need more grace, you need more God. If you have less and less grace to give, it’s a deep sign your character needs some serious work.

4. YOUR LEADERSHIP HAS BECOME ABOUT YOU

Great leaders serve people. They don’t believe people exist to serve them.

When your character begins to implode, you will forget that. Usually at the heart of a character implosion is unresolved pain. And pain, by its nature, is selfish.

Think about it. If you hit your elbow in the next ten seconds, you will completely forget about this blog post and anything else going on in your life and focus only on the pain.

Why? Because pain is selfish. If you’re a selfish leader, it’s because there’s unresolved pain in your life. So get on your knees, see a counselor, get help. When you resolve the pain, you’ll lead well again. After all, when your leadership becomes all about you, you’ve stopped leading.

5. YOU KEEP JUSTIFYING YOUR BAD ACTIONS AND DECISIONS

There’s a certain point in the journey where you realize there’s a problem but refuse to deal with it. How do you know you’ve hit that point? When you start justifying your bad behaviour and decisions. You start saying and believing things like: If you had this much pressure in your life, you’d do it too. Nobody understand how lonely I am.

It’s impossible for me not to be this way given everything I’m carrying.

Well, believe that if you want to…but also believe that your complete implosion or erosion of authority is much closer than you think. Leaders who justify their bad behaviour lose their authority to lead. Conversely, leaders who recognize it and seek help almost always get better.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR WAY ISN’S WORKING

Think about how hard it must have been for Simon Peter to admit failure to Jesus. 

Luke 5:4-5 (NIV) said , “When [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”

Peter was a professional fisherman, and he was good at it. It was how he made his living. But sometimes even the pros fish all night and catch nothing.

So what do you do when you keep trying hard in your work but just don’t have much to show for it?

First, you need to get Jesus in your boat. In other words, let him be the center of your job. Then, once you’ve asked Jesus to come into your boat, you need to admit your way isn’t working so you can let him take over. The Bible has a name for “admitting your way isn’t working.” It’s called confession, and it can be tough.

Why is it so hard for you to admit your way isn’t working? Here are a few reasons:

Pride. You don’t want anybody to think you can’t handle it. Instead, you want to look like you’re in charge and like you’ve got it all together. You think you can handle everything by yourself, even if it means working 12 hours a day.

 Stubbornness. You’re unwilling to change the way you do things. Did you know the greatest enemy of tomorrow’s success is yesterday’s success?

Fear. You can’t admit you’ve fished all night and caught nothing. You’re afraid people will think less of you. You’re afraid to let Jesus into your boat because he might steer it in a direction you don’t want to go.

It’s time to confess that your way isn’t working. Let go of your pride, stubbornness, and fear. Then see how Jesus can take your boat and fill your nets to overflowing.

5 Morning Habits Of Highly Successful People

Morning habit #1: Ditch the alarm clock

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos swears by eight hours of sleep each night. His morning habits also include waking up naturally, without an alarm. Oprah also wakes up on her own. In her wellness diary, she explained how she sets her internal clock: “I have never set an alarm, I don’t believe in them. They are…alarming! I put the number in my mind, and I wake up before that, usually between 6:02 and 6:20, because the dogs are trained to go out around that time. My first thought in the morning is, ‘Oh, I’m alive. Thank you!’” “Arianna Huffington follows a similar routine. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Huffington’s early bedtime allows her to get eight hours of sleep—the recommended amount of sleep for most adults. It also ensures that she wakes up naturally without an alarm clock. “Just think about the definition of the word alarm,” explains Huffington, “a sudden fear or distressing suspense caused by an awareness of danger.” Beginning the day in such a startling manner creates a flood of stress hormones and adrenaline as our body prepares for danger. Not the best way to start the day!

Morning habit #2: Don’t go straight for the coffee

Grabbing a cup of coffee first thing in the morning may seem like the logical choice, but health experts say water is better. After going several hours without H2O, a serving of water first thing can hydrate the body while aiding digestion and metabolism. Water is an essential nutrient, and the organs and tissues in your body depend on it to function. Since your body loses water regularly, you need to compensate for these losses to avoid dehydration. Actress and author Cameron Diazswears by this practice: “It’s very important to start your day off with a lot of energy,” she says. “For me, that starts with getting up, brushing my teeth, and drinking some water—I drink a liter of water straight down.” A refreshing glass of water can revitalize you and help you feel more positive about and prepared for the day ahead.

Morning habit #3: Get your body moving

Morning exercise is a daily habit of many successful leaders. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, the owner of lifestyle company Goop, says that she works out every morning after checking emails. Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates likes to multitask during his morning treadmill workouts by watching DVDs while exercising, according to The New York TimesAs Niki Leondakis, the CEO of the luxury lifestyle brand Equinox, who regularly does morning yoga, puts it, “I’ve always known that you have to be physically healthy and strong to be mentally healthy and strong. It’s all connected.”

Morning habit #4: Eliminate decision-making tasks

Sometimes the best way to have a productive morning is to get a head start the night before. Many successful people spend their evenings getting ready for the following day because it frees up their mornings to get a jump on meaningful work. Former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenaultends his evenings by writing down three things he wants to accomplish the next day. Shark Tank host Barbara Corcoran follows suit, making her to-do list before leaving the office at night. The following day, she rates the items in order of importance: A, B or C. Corcoran adds, “The A’s are where the gold is—the things that will move my business ahead and make me money.” Creating a to-do list at night is more time efficient, reduces morning stress and marks a definitive end to the day resulting in greater work-life balance.

Morning habit #5: Ask yourself this question

Self-reflection in the morning can set you up for success the entire day. No one knew this better than the late Steve Jobs. Too often, we go through our lives on autopilot, only to realize later that we’ve lost sight of our values, goals and passions along the way. Steve Jobs avoided this scenario by asking himself one fundamental question in the mirror every morning: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? If the answer is no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” This self-awareness technique is genius. Imagine waking up every morning not wanting to do your job and feel that way for months or years on end. If you’re answering no to this question day after day, it’s likely time to make a career change.

Consistent morning habits set the tone for a productive day. Follow these tips, and you’ll find yourself achieving higher levels of success than ever before.