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7 Things I Learned From 24 Years in Business and 50 Years of Life

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I just turned 50 in March, so this is a reflection of my 50 years of life and the 7 things I learned from the last 24 years in business. Where does the 7 come from? I’m the seventh child… and I got to learn a lot from my family before I even entered the business world. Thanks, sibs!

Here are 7 things that have had the most impact on me:

1. Listen. With your ears and your eyes.

Too many people jump right to fixing things, without truly listening to uncover what really matters. We can be so quick to tell people what to do that we miss what’s underneath it all. 

Start by listening. Then listen some more. Ask different questions, and let awkward silence hang for a moment. Truth will creep right into the room, and the magic will come with it. This is how you get to the real problem you need to solve together. 

I like talking to people because I learn so much more than I do in emails. When a client begins talking faster or an employee crosses their arms, pay attention. Keep your eyes wide open. Watch your people, their body language, and any other non-verbal cues in the room. Are they telling you everything? Their bodies are saying something that their words are not. Your job is to use that knowledge to help them uncover what they are really trying to say.

Example: When I facilitate discussions with groups, my best work results when I can see and feel the tension in the room. The people who are too quiet, or not looking at their teammates, or bouncing their legs a lot, are the ones I need to help get comfortable enough to share. Everyone in the room has a voice and insights to share. When you get the team working together by challenging each other, they are solving a bigger problem as a team. 

2. Play hard and get sweaty! Exercise is critical to longevity, happiness, and success. 

I discovered how great working out was for my body and more importantly, my mind, in my early 40’s. When I work out, whether it is kickboxing or lifting, the real win is the clarity that my mind experiences. And that win is not thinking. 

Some days, I can barely think of anything other than “when will this 3-minute endurance set be over?”! But in the end, I exhausted my muscles and gave my mind a rest. Working out makes me happy and allows me to tackle any challenge put in front of me. It sets my day up for success. I am more relaxed and more focused…and certainly more hungry all day! 

That 45 minutes a day, 5 days a week workout comes with a value add. I have some of the best friends that challenge me, motivate me and hold me accountable each week. So not only in my 40’s did I get healthy, but I met a new circle of friends that are cheering me on, both on and off the mat. 

3. Be clear on outcomes, vague about the process.

My job as Mercury’s leader is to help figure out the desired outcomes, make space for smart thinking and creativity, and point my team to the mountain peak. Then, I get out of their way!

Because I hire smart, creative people with diverse talents, I can give them direction, the tools they need, and empower them to soar. I trust them to solve the problems they encounter along the way to the top; when they ask, I help remove the barriers that get in their way. 

Example: There are a million ways to design a logo, or build a website. When my team finds their own path, they own the outcomes and the success along the way. And many times in the process, they find better ways and bring new ideas back to our team to use in the future. 

4. Refuse to solve the problem.

My dad ran a John Deere Dealership called Bieganek Implement in North Central Minnesota. I was the seventh child, and there was a seven year gap between me and my brother. As a result, for much of my life I have been exploring things on my own. In 10th grade, John Deere required every dealership nationwide to order all parts and equipment through a new computer system. Well, computers were not what they are today, and this was my first brush with a system like this. 

(I just turned 50 everyone! iPods were not a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye just yet.)

My dad was close to retirement, so the thought of him learning this system was something he refused to do. I saw this as a big opportunity and, while probably kinda naive, I jumped right into figuring it all out. A few weeks later I placed the first parts order. Remember dial-up everyone? Yup, 28.8k was fast back then! This continued through college. Every Wednesday, I was on the phone with Dad helping him place the parts order.

Example: Having the freedom as a kid to figure out problems on my own was an invaluable experience. Early on as a leader, and still sometimes now, I can forget this lesson and jump in with a solution – rather than let my team figure it out. I can also slow down a meeting, just by being present. So when I say get out of the way…I mean, get out of the way! Trust your team, because they will arrive at solutions you would never have imagined.

5. Remember what Mom said about thank yous?

My mom was very strict with us kids to send out a handwritten thank you after a birthday or holiday. As much as I despised it as a kid, it has been one of the most successful tools in business for me. You can’t beat writing a special note about something you appreciated about a client or friend. Or maybe you received an awesome gift. Acknowledging that special something and celebrating that person in return will only cement a deeper connection to that person. Who doesn’t like to receive a note about themselves? The value of gratitude goes 10 times further when delivered in a little package. 

Example: Over the years I have seen my thank you notes posted on bulletin boards and propped up on desks. I have even received notes thanking me for their thank you. It’s harder today when people aren’t in their office and you may not have their home address. But if you have their phone number, send a cute text. A fun video would be even better with that special message. Have fun with it. Get silly! Who knows, it may go viral 😉

6. One Plus One Can Add up to 11

I believe in nurturing community. When you care for your community, it cares for you in return. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Tap the power of your network. The answers you are searching for are closer than you think.

Example: Mercury Creative Group  is founded on bringing people together. We don’t simply create community; we care for and encourage the growth and development of our clients and ourselves. I get a lot of energy from bringing our networks together! Everyone wins. When we nurture community, we lead meaningful change.

7. Embrace impossible problems.

It took me a long time to learn to embrace challenges and see them as opportunities. It is easy to get cranky and negative about a current situation. We are wired like that, and our brain plays funny tricks on us. You need to convert all the negative thoughts and difficulties into gifts and opportunities for success. When you do this, that’s a win for you and your team. And that win brings so much happiness and joy. 

Example: When the pandemic hit us early, I was just as confused and scared as all of us. But my job was to lead my team and figure this impossible problem out. Together. As I stayed close with my team through many conversations together and individually, it struck me that we needed to do this with our clients. I asked each of my team members to reach out to a select group of clients/vendors and just check in with them. The only goal was to listen, see how they were doing, and see if there was anything we could do to help them. The responses were powerful, and created deeper connections both as a team and with our clients and community. 

Embrace impossible problems, because they’ll never stop. There’s always another problem lurking around the corner—so you might as well embrace it rather than fight it. 

Trust yourself, attract like-minded people to your team, and nurture your community. 

What have you learned over the years?

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