How can high school dropouts and extension cords boost your business profits?

You’d think in the beautiful valley of Napa, CA that everything is wine and roses and families have no problems, but this school district has their share of dropouts and delinquents just like any district in the US.

The three high school teachers I met with last week work with the District’s toughest youth – those who have been expelled from their regular school and who are given a second chance in these special classrooms. We’ve been meeting with the Board of Education since September, 2009, and in April, we finally got the chance to visit the classrooms.

Last week, we had the honor of making a presentation to these hard-working teachers on how we could teach them life-saving emotional resilience and positivity skills that they could, in turn, teach the kids. It was a poignant, strangely timed meeting as we all got the news that morning that one of the former students committed suicide.

These teachers are fantastic, committed caring individuals who are dynamite in their classrooms. The point of our meeting wasn’t how good or bad they were as teachers, although certainly a meeting like this where we want to teach them something about their classroom skills – we, having never spent one hour teaching in the classroom — could be perceived as threatening to them, increase defensive behavior on their part or, in worst case, could be taken as downright insulting to think we knew more than them. They were more than good sports to be there and listen with an open mind, knowing it’s all about the kids.

We made our presentation, and in August, we’ll be delivering a workshop for the teachers on the latest applications of resilience work, social cognition, positive psychology, and neuroscience. They’ll in turn, be able to share these ideas with the kids. Even more exciting is we’ve found a way to measure before and after results so that we can quantify the effect these tools are having.

After a while, the teachers let us know one of their biggest challenges: the “not my fault” syndrome. For example, “I missed the bus, it wasn’t my fault.” Boy do I have some tools for that one. You can’t take a single-engine airplane around the world and live to tell the story with the “It’s not my fault” thinking pattern.

I love the tools that help move people along the continuum from being victims of their circumstances to taking full responsibility. They’re not just for kids; this is a lifelong lesson that is so powerful it can move people out of poverty (or even middle class) and into glorious wealth. It’s initially counter-intuitive to take responsibility for things you don’t think are your fault, but that’s the only place where the “power” is. Without responsibility, you can’t fix it.

If there’s something in your life you’re “putting up with” or feeling a victim of, then the answer is to move farther along the continuum of taking full responsibility. Take the economy. Most people feel like they are a victim of the economy. In that place, you only suffer. When you change your mindset to take responsibility, you can begin to plan new solutions and activities to rise above your suffering.

In flying this is taken to the ultimate level. A pilot could say, “engine went out, not my fault, let’s crash and die.” Or he can be prepared with checklists, contingencies, great training, and a second redundant engine. When I speak publicly, I take all sorts of extra equipment I usually don’t need, such as an extension cord. I don’t want to get to the event and have my laptop run out of batteries because I didn’t have a power source. I take responsibility; I don’t leave it to chance. I can create and improve my chances of success by anticipating my failures and being ready to avoid them when they happen.

That’s a snippet of what we’ll be teaching the kids in August. They’ll be learning it at the bottom rung of the ladder, but the real secret is that there are hundreds of rungs on the responsibility ladder. What I’ve found is people apply responsibility intermittently in their lives and especially in their businesses. There’s always another rung of the ladder we can climb.

How can you apply resilience and responsibility to your business to boost your profits? Here are some take-aways:

  1. Know what drives you, and make decisions from that place and not from ego or from fear, like most people do. For the teachers, it’s all about the kids.
  2. Be and stay coachable. Being coachable never takes away from how good you already are. No one on the planet can know every tool they need at the rate science and knowledge is expanding. When we’re not coachable, by default we become defensive, stubborn, and set in our ways. It’s more fun to give in to our natural curiosity and to be lifelong learners, especially if you’re a teacher or an entrepreneur.
  3. Go where the power is. Take responsibility and come up with creative solutions to control the situation.
  4. Understand there are levels, layers, and rungs of responsibility. See if you can find a blind spot in your business when it comes to responsibility and shore up the gap.
  5. Know there are concrete tools now in science where we can now learn emotional resilience skills. These are the same skills that help people gain control of losing weight, making more money, and achieving their dreams. It doesn’t have to be a big unknown black mystery box any more. It’s learnable, just like math, reading, and science, and when we master this, the results produce the highest paybacks I’ve ever seen in business. This is my core message and service to others.

Although we’re good at knocking out the items on our business plans or to-do lists, the ideas above often never make it to our lists. We read the articles, and soon we forget. Don’t make that mistake. When you finally start developing these soft skills rather than continuing to work on your hard skills forever, that’s when you’re going to see true and amazing transformation in your business and your life.