Five Reasons Why You (or Anyone Else) Can't Claim that You're "Self-Made"

In Brian Miller and Mike Lapham's new book, the authors argue how the myth of the self-made and successful American is not just damaging but in accurate. No one is self-made because at different crucial junctures, both government and society have contributed heavily to any individual's success.

Here are just five examples of outside factors that are often overlooked but still crucial to the success of any person or venture:

Factor 1: Education. Business owners and everyone around them got a public education. Find me a successful business person who didn’t benefit from public preschool, grade school, high school, college, college loans, fellowships, graduate programs, or the GI Bill. Found one? Okay, let’s take a look at where the employees of that business got their education, or where that entrepreneur’s private school teachers got theirs. Who pays for all that public education? We all do. And we should make sure it’s the best it can be.

Factor 2: Stable Business Infrastructure. Any successful business in the US benefits from a stable legal and regulatory structure built over centuries. Just knowing, for example, that the products or services you buy are up to snuff, or that the contracts you sign will be enforced by the state and federal court system is priceless. Those are things that can’t be taken for granted in many other countries.

Factor 3: You are protected. Whether it's your business or yourself, you have certain protections. For yourself, there's protection against danger, violence, and mistreatment. For your business, there's national defense and local police protection of your company’s property, your workers, your vehicles, your products, etc. All those concerns have been outsourced – to the government.

Factor 4: Clean water and safe food. You can trust what you eat and drink. Government agencies certify foods to make sure they are suitable for consumption, set up stringent standards for maintaining quality and freshness, and enforce heavy penalties for those who don't follow them. The government checks to make sure that there aren’t dangerous levels of pollutants in the food, water, or soil so that you don't have to worry about them — this is something we take for granted, but pollutants in food and water cause a huge number of deaths in other countries.

Factor 5: Pre-existing privileges. Financial head starts in life, race and gender all contribute to success. Being born white, male, and to a wealthy/well-connected family have been reliable indicators of future success for centuries, at the expense of others who were not so lucky as to fit this demographic profile. An honest accounting by any successful entrepreneur will include references to these factors, plus things like timing and just plain luck, all of which are beyond the individual’s control (and thus not the product of the entrepreneur’s hard work).


Five People Who Learned Leadership Later

As Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller illustrate in their latest book, leadership is an ongoing process that has no end point. There is no juncture at which one can (or should) say, "Okay, I am now a leader, I need not learn any more."

To illustrate this point, here are five famous people who did not step into their greatest leadership roles until they were much older in life:

1. Ethel Percy Andrus: The retired school principal is the founder of the largest organization for older people in the nation and among the largest in the world. Ethel was 74 when she founded AARP. Read more about her here.

2. David Cohen: Liberal Democrat and stalwart fighter for civil rights and a champion of the poor who served on the Philadelphia City Council for 38 years until he passed away at age 90. He was still fighting City Council when he passed away just a few weeks shy of his 91st birthday. Read more about him here.

3. Sarah Louise Delaney: A committed civil rights pioneer who rose to fame and became a leadership model to many after publishing her New York Times bestselling work "Having Our Say." She was 103 years old when she published the book. She published another book at the age of 107. Learn more about her here.

4. Mary Harris "Mother" Jones:
A prominent American labor and community organizer who co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1902, at the age of 66, she was called "the most dangerous woman in America" for her success in organizing mine workers. She continued to work and speak about union affairs well into her 80s. Learn more about her here.

5. James Fisher:
A celebrated blacksmith who returned from retirement to become the first person over the age of 100 to achieve the ACA qualification.


Big Goals Start with Small Changes

As Ken Blanchard indicates in his foreword to Ken Jennings and Heather Hyde's book, change does not always have to stem from huge and life-altering events. Everyday changes in small measures can add up to a big difference.

Here are Ken and Heather's list of five small changes that anyone can make in their daily lives that can contribute to the greater goal:

1. Pick Just One Positive Behavior: Pick one behavior and commit to practice it every day. For instance, if you want to become known as an encourager, find three occasions every day when you see someone doing good work and recognize them for it. Put three coins in your left pocket each day and each time you encourage someone, move the coin from your left pocket to your right pocket.

2. Connect with Just One Colleague:
Most jobs, functions and projects in organizations are highly interdependent, but people try to operate as if they weren’t. Select someone who is working on a project with you or working on a project that directly or indirectly impacts you. What power does that person have over your ability to achieve your goals? What power do you have over their outcomes? Talk over how you can help each other reduce effort. Challenge each other to come up with a specific request or offer of help that will make a positive difference in your shared goals.

3. Just Listen to One Person at a Time.
All coaching starts with great listening – being really present to the one who is trying to do their very best thinking. Next time a friend asks you to listen about an important decision they’re making, ask them “What do you care most about achieving by making this decision?” Then just listen without interrupting, probe for details, maintain a relaxed and attentive presence, and resist the urge to react or think about your response. The other person will eventually reveal their deeper, greater goals.

4. Have People Share and Trust One at a Time: Sometimes lack of trust occurs simply because people haven’t had the opportunity to share hopes or concerns in a “safe space” – a forum where they won’t be judged negatively for sharing. To build trust at your next work meeting, suggest that you begin with asking each person present to state the greater purpose for the meeting -- from their personal perspective. End the meeting with another round for each person to express what’s working well with trust and alignment, and where they see opportunity to expand trust.

5. Examine Just One Unexpected Success. It’s funny how larger companies forget that unexpected success is really important feedback that should be paid attention, rather than just celebrated and then disregarded. Find an unexpected success in your work that occurred somewhere on the fringes of your efforts, rather within the core of your focus, and see what it tells you about your customers, your products and your future.