Like many of you I took the holidays to reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming year. For me there were many valuable lessons learned that will help me be a better person and wiser in life and business. I thought they may also be of value to you also. So here are the best lessons I learned last year.

Have Faith

While we do our best to plan our future, we really have little control of it. Control is an illusion. In 2014, I really learned the value of letting go of control and instead keeping my eyes and mind wide open for opportunities which seemed to always come in unplanned and unpredictable ways.

These unexpected business opportunities that came my way have been a tremendous blessing. Several new clients and interesting projects came to me and I repeatedly found myself saying “Wow, I didn’t see that coming”. Having faith that my efforts and actions would eventually pay off (though in expected ways) has proven more valuable than thinking I can predict and control what will happen. Even more surprising is that the work has turned out to be more fun than I could have imagined.

Lean Startup

Having just celebrated being in business for 7 years in November, I’ve learned a lot of things. Much of it hasn’t come easy and it’s been the school of hard knocks despite trying to educate myself on important things. One of the great books I came across in 2014 was The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I highly recommend it whether you are just starting a business or have been in business for 20 years. Some of the more important concepts include understanding and finding the right customers and markets, focus on experimentation to create validated learning, and agile methods for product development. Perhaps the most important is knowing when to pivot your business based on what you have learned.

The Lean Startup has fundamentally changed my perspective on business. I believe these concepts are so important to business owners that I’m expanding and pivoting my consulting business to focus on Lean Startup.

Connect

One of the major time investments I made over the last few years was expanding my network. I joined the Arizona Excellence Group (AEG) and various professional groups who not only shared similar interests but were truly interested in helping each other. I learned the importance of knowing how to properly refer someone. You have to understand their business, their target market, what makes them unique and what triggers their prospects interest. It takes an investment in time.

The give and take with respect to business generated isn’t always even but helping others can be rewarding and being a part of helping and connecting folks makes me feel good.

Know Your Why

Many of you may have seen Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” video on YouTube. Not only does it resonate in a business context but it also makes sense at a personal level as well. I was fortunate to be introduced to Cristi McMurdie, of WhyMediate, through a mutual acquaintance. Cristi is a “Why” coach and she helped me understand my “Why”. What is my “Why”? It’s about making the complex simple. In my own words, I like understanding and solving problems because I want to help people. While I’ve done many behavioral and personality assessments over the years. Knowing my “Why” has helped me communicate what motivates me in a way that connects with people I meet.

Trust is Key

Having recently experienced several business ventures gone south, I have come to better understand the importance of knowing who you are doing business with. While I tend to believe that everyone is trustworthy, that is just not reality. I’m not wired to be distrustful but I’ve learned that others have to demonstrate their trustworthiness in a meaningful way before I’m going to make a big commitment of my time and resources. I was fortunate in 2014 to develop some good business relationships which have not only benefited me because we were able to build trust. While there are mechanisms such as contracts that can be put in place when there is little trust, I’ve decided that I won’t won’t partner with someone unless there is a high level of trust.

Really Listen

Having been more attuned to the lack of good listening skills, I’m amazed how badly I and others really listen to each other. I often catch myself listening so I can refute, defend or challenge someone’s words or position so I can have the upper hand or appear smarter. However when I take the time to truly listen, my understanding and communication becomes much richer. By listening not only to what someone is saying but the context and emotions, I find that they also realize that I understand at a deeper level. It’s not easy but definitely something I will continue to work on for the rest of my life. By listening better more of the time, I get more out of the lessons I learn.

What important lessons did you learn last year?