Guiding principles can be useful, especially for young entrepreneurs, in making decisions, developing strategies, and building the company culture.
If you’ve ever experienced a wilderness adventure or spent time on the open water and felt uneasy about exactly where you were or what decision to make, you likely referred to the map, got your compass, looked for the lighthouse, or back tracked to look for landmarks along the path in order to get your bearings. The map, compass, lighthouse and landmarks are all symbols of what guiding principles do for us . . . they bring us back to our base, our foundation, our launch point and they provide a filter or a checklist to help us make sense of the information we have in order to make the right decision. It is routine for many of us to use basic decision criteria to help us make decisions and in life. The problem is that we tend to change the criteria. In certain situations, some criteria are relaxed or ignored. Our own emotion and lack of discipline results in critical decisions being made without a full vetting of the very principles that, at some point, we thought were so important that we establish them as the basis on which we would make critical decisions.
Over the years I have developed some guiding principles that I use in business and in life to help me make good decisions. While I may have more specific criteria for a particular decision, my guiding principles are pretty basic, fundamental, and not specific to any business deal or life decision. They are also in a particular order. First, I believe I must have a strong Faith and the decisions I make must be consistent with my spiritual beliefs. I’ve been a Christian all my life, a Catholic for nearly 30 years and I believe one must have a strong belief in a higher power or calling. I happen to believe that if I’m not serving some purpose much bigger than me, I’m likely to be self-centered. Second, I believe one must stay fit and live a healthy lifestyle. Because these principles are in specific order, this one surprises some people. How can I put Fitness before family? Simple . . . if I don’t keep my mind and body in reasonably fit condition, I cannot protect and serve my family, my business interests, or my community. Third, I must consider how every major decision will impact my Family. My wife and children are a gift from God and it is my responsibility to serve them, protect them, and insure that their faith and wellness are intact. Yet, I cannot do this fully without a strong faith and good health. Finances may seem odd as a guiding principle to some folks. However, the financial resources necessary to support my family, church, charitable work, and community must be guarded and secure. Otherwise, other guiding principles may be at risk. This one is particularly challenging for me because I’m involved in a number of entrepreneurial activities that, by their very nature, present financial risk. Finally, as important as each of the previous principles may be, they must all be kept in reasonable Balance over time. If one aspect of my life, earning a living (Finances) for instance, dominates all the others for an extended period, I put my faith, family and/or fitness at risk. Our lives are almost always out of balance at any particular point in time. Sometimes variables we have no control over cause imbalances such as work projects that spill over into the evenings or weekends. The key is to be sensitive to the potential for an imbalance and proactively deal with it by purposely compensating for it as soon as possible.
Although I fail at times, I attempt to apply these principles at home, in my business ventures, and in all other aspects of my life. If you don’t already have a set of guiding principles, I recommend to young co-founders that they make an effort to develop them. Give it some time and thought. Write them down. Look at them daily. If you don’t, you could find yourself in the wilderness of life or business without a map, a compass, or landmarks.