Enlightened Self-Interest

Barry Goldberg On Leadership

Enlightened Self-Interest

For almost two years now, it seems like nearly every conversation, every plan and every event is affected by, tethered to or derived from the impact of COVID-19 on our lives.

We have adapted, argued, amplified and ameliorated our way through a much longer, much deeper impact than we anticipated when the first case in Arkansas was reported in March 2020.

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There are many groups deserving of our thanks in this season of gratitude. They include health care workers, first responders and those who keep services working so that some sense of normalcy is preserved.

But this Thanksgiving, I want to recognize another group: the owners and leaders of small- to medium-size businesses whose grit, imagination, focus and tenacity have been fundamental to keeping our economy alive in what may be the most challenging environment since the Great Depression.

OK, I am biased. Each month I am privileged to work with owners and leaders of organizations who have risen to the challenge and brought grit, imagination and focus to the process of keeping their businesses alive, functioning and providing jobs. I have been witness to collaboration, imagination and the willingness to stretch and change in order to keep the doors open, people employed and supply lines intact.

Yes, there were government programs and loans that helped, and yes, it is in an owner’s best interest to protect the businesses they have grown and nurtured. And yes, some have even benefited from changes in the market. But each month, when there is a new challenge, a new insurmountable problem, I get to witness the imagination, generosity of spirit and tenacity of men and women who have chosen to launch or sustain a business and accepted both the benefits and the responsibilities of that role.

As an executive coach and a Vistage peer group chair, I am aware of the stress, the risk and the concern that small- to medium-size businesses face in a period of economic stress. The list is no surprise to any business leader these days. The “Great Resignation,” regulations that are controversial and ever changing, snarled supply lines are all added to the customary challenges a business leader faces.

The executives in my groups are as good a sample of the small to medium business population as you could expect. Leaders of companies whose sales range from $3 million to about $500 million, they all signed up for taking responsibility for the organizations that they lead, and the challenge of preserving the jobs they provide.

But beyond that, I have witnessed the tenacity and imagination that create and sustain jobs, fill niche demand and engineer new solutions — and all without the deep pockets of larger enterprises.

Leaders of smaller businesses are scrappy, tenacious, imaginative and dedicated.

They have to be if they are going to keep their businesses open.

And of course that is true not only of my clients and members. Anyone who owns or works in a small to mid-market company can tell you that. But they will also observe that small to medium businesses are more easily buffeted by changing economies. So we have seen the pandemic hasten the closure of organizations that did not have the focus, grit or reserves to sustain them through the storm.

And while the business news seems to be focused on the sensationalism of big business and financial markets, it is the entrepreneurs, the leaders of small- to medium-sized businesses who sustain local economies, are less likely to send jobs offshore and provide a model for both courage and entrepreneurship for a next generation.

I have much to be grateful for in this season of gratitude. If you are reading this, you probably do as well. There are many groups who are deserving of our gratitude, given the sacrifices and the risks they take every day to provide services, health care and safety.

But as this is a business publication, I want to take this month to recognize the leaders in the business community, especially the small to medium companies, for the role they have played in keeping the doors open, paychecks cut and the products and services we depend on flowing.

Yes, it is “enlightened self-interest” as well. And that makes it all the more sustainable. A good thing too, since we will need our local businesses to continue to fight the good fight and have much to be grateful for on their behalf.

I. Barry Goldberg is a credentialed executive coach and Vistage Peer Advisory Group chair in central Arkansas.