It is that time of the year again when we all set our goals for next year. We pour over this year’s numbers looking for the trends, the openings for growth, where we fell short and so on. We drive a flag into 2011 and declare success or stick a fork in it and say it is done. Many of the wins were in our control and many of the losses were well out of our control. Or, that is the story we peddle to ourselves. All we know is that next year needs to be better. We need more. We want success. The nagging question placed at our feet is defining success. 

“I have chosen the path less traveled when it comes to defining success.”

This is one of those posts that is tough to write. I can come off looking like “dad of the year,” a really bad business person, a self-serving ego maniac or a person one brick short of a full load. But, I trust there are many more like me out there who define success in far different terms than traditional wisdom allows.

Years back, when I started my first business and realized that I had a knack for creating things that make money, I decided to set aside some planning time to define what it means to run a successful business. I am quite sure my list mimicked conventional wisdom which is still held today: good product, happy customers, happy employees and profit. Heck! What else is there right? As I tried to work that list, thinking about metrics, how much, by when and so on, my mind would always drift to the lessons of my father. He was a good man who taught my brother and I about life, how to live well and that success is measured not by what a man has, but what he does. I can remember like it was yesterday. He gathered my brother and I at the end of a family dinner and discussed the virtues of being wise, not only in life, but in business.

His big lesson centered around the end of one’s life. He said, “Boys, I am pretty sure when the end is near, and you are lying in the bed knowing the end is near, that it is not business or success you think about. It is not how much or how little wealth; it is not fame or lack thereof. It is your kids, your family, the memories you created and the ones you failed to create.” Years later my father passed away. I was able to spend about 30 minutes with him right before he “moved on down the road” as he called it. He looked up at me, smiled, and said, “By the way Kenny, I have thought about a lot of things today and not once did business or anything else enter my mind – only family.”  He said, “I just wanted you to know that the lesson I worked so hard to teach you and your bother was indeed the correct path.” He smiled and told a joke; I left the room and he passed away. 

My take away from my father’s teaching is that business is a means to the end. It is certainly not the end in and of itself. When I started building companies, I set goals that seemed well out of the mainstream back then. Today, I see hints that businesses, managers and employees are rethinking their work life to include personal metrics in the planning process.

Some of my early goals included: being home every day at 3:00 when my kids get home; to attend every event they have no matter how small it seems; to be readily available to help a friend or business associate when the need arises. As the business grew, my goals and desires expanded to company employees. I wanted a company that embraced family and family events. Today, we tell our family of employees to leave, get out, go to the game, see the play, take a day. Sure, you have to take care of business and you certainly have to make a profit to run a business in this fashion. I think it can be done and I sincerely believe that companies that take an interest in the personal lives of their employees turn a far greater sustainable profit than those that don’t. I encourage you to mix your personal goals with your work goals. 

I leave you with this. It was one of my father’s favorite sayings and lessons:

“In life, as in the game of chess, it is important to remember

that the king and the pawn are returned to the same box.”

I miss my father dearly. My wish for the New Year is to see businesses ensure that those of us who are alive are not missed by our family. Yes – a very different set of metrics, but I would argue the right ones to measure by.

Happy Holidays! Enjoy your family and friends,