On keeping a business journal

Keep a business journal.
Face it. There's too much to remember. Write it down.

You can, of course, try to remember every lesson you learn. Or you can write things down.

A few years ago, I started keeping a business journal. I’m glad I did this.

I’ve made some good, bad, and ugly business decisions in my life. My goal in starting this journal was to create my own “voice from the past” that guides me to make better business decisions. I follow that advice, for similar reasons, in my personal life as well. I find if I write these lessons learned down, I learn from them. And I’m less likely to make the same mistakes again.

Take, for instance, an event that should have been a blip on my decision-making record from 16 years ago. I was a new manager. Although I was hard-working and conscientious, I was also shortsighted.

I ran a small office for what later became a subsidiary of the giant Cintas Corporation. At the time, we were part of a smaller holding company that had a stake in several small companies across the United States. I did my best to push for new sales, expansion of our business with existing clients, and the development of a small sales team in San Diego, while also minding the P&L. One other manager worked for me.

My relations with this other manager, who was actually a 20% owner in the small San Diego operation, were strained. It started before I got there: I was being relocated to San Diego to supplant him as the General Manager, while he slid back to focus largely on new business development and leading two of the salespeople. I was 24 years old, he was 43. He had been a part of the company getting started several years previous to my coming. I was unproven in his eyes.

The decision that stands out in my development as a leader with this other manager may seem a minor one to you, but I remember it to this day. It was summer. I had been on the job for seven months. It was 95 degrees in the Rancho Bernardo community of San Diego, where our office was. We ran the office air conditioner during the day, but I made a practice of turning it off before I left each night. Here’s why that last tidbit matters:

On one occasion, when I knew this other manager would be dropping by after-hours, I left a quick note: “Don’t forget to turn the A/C off as you leave.” Straightforward, to the point, right? No harm?

When I arrived at the office the next day, the note had been altered and left on my desk. It now read: “Dan, Please Ddon’t forget to the turn the A/C off as you leave. Thanks, Brandon.”

Lesson learned.

You can be as take-charge as you want. You can make bold moves and sweeping changes and lightning-fast decisions. And you can make a quick name for yourself by getting big results within days or weeks of taking on a new role. But sometimes it’s the way you do things that determine whether you’ll ultimately be successful as a leader or not.

While I’ve also posted that sometimes you’ve got to be willing to make people uncomfortable to get things done. I also said in that post that that alone isn’t a license to be a jerk.

This note went in my business journal. It was my first entry. It’s still there. The bold, the sweeping, the lightning-fast, and the subtle (but noteworthy) decisions go in that journal.

Do you keep one?

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