Some of the most profound entrepreneurial wisdom comes from companies that fly a bit under the radar. They are successful, growing, and often the leaders in their markets.
So, I made a list of lesser-known entrepreneurial companies that have strong leadership, are innovative in the ways they define and live out their values, and are making a positive difference in the lives of their employees, clients, customers, and communities.
I've interviewed all of the leaders on this list, so I'm confident they each have something to teach us.
CEO Jack Butorac was recently recognized by Nation's Restaurant News with a Golden Chain Award for exceptional leadership in the industry. I interviewed Bryon Stephens, the chain's president, about how Marco's became one of the fastest-growing franchise companies in America by, in his words, "getting the people equation right."
The Lesson: You can expand your company without sacrificing a passionate culture at the altar of growth.
Formerly with Athleta, Joe Teno founded this innovative sports apparel company. He stresses the counter-intuitive importance of "not knowing" and points out that taking self-assessments and 360-assessments - and learning from them - is vital to a leader's self-awareness and growth.
The Lesson: Inspiring confidence without being arrogant is a key to building a successful culture.
After helping to turn around this Florida-based logistics company, President Mitch Luciano told me how the company built a culture where team members got to know and take care of each other and their customers. And at no time was this more greatly displayed than in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, when Trailer Bridge responded by shipping tons of relief goods to help the devastated island of Puerto Rico, first to their employees and then to thousands of others in need.
The Lesson: Personal connection with your employees can help you rebuild a from a low morale situation and weather the storms--literally as well as figuratively.
This franchise company offers daycare, boarding facilities and spas for dogs. As its new leader, Neil Gill directed an effort to align franchisees and their team members on a common mission, vision and values. He told me how they came up with statements and values that really represented the company's unique personality, and for that reason they aren't just words on paper but values everyone embraces and lives out.
The Lesson: Instead of using generic, buzzword-laden language in your company's values statements, engage everyone in creating the words that suit your unique business.
Mary Miller faced a huge people-shortage problem several years ago when they decided to grow their cleaning company. They expanded by focusing on the needs of the people they already had. In an industry where employee turnover averages around 400 percent a year, theirs has dropped below 100 percent. Miller told me how they help their employees pursue their dreams -- which usually doesn't involve remaining a janitor for life -- and thereby get the best of their efforts.
The Lesson: Create programs that serve employees' specific needs (like helping them buy their first home, for example) and your staff will become your greatest recruiters.
You know your customers are loyal when they have your logo tattooed on their skin, which, as it turns out, is a common occurrence with Anytime Fitness. It's been ranked the No. 1 place to work in Minnesota for four consecutive years, and their vibrant culture is evident in its locations around the country. CEO and co-founder Chuck Runyon explained that building that type of culture is much like building a strong body -- you have to take advantage of the right tensions that lead to growth.
The Lesson: Yes, you should think big and strive to grow in the future, but be sure to protect what (and who) is working in the present.
If the challenges of your organization are overwhelming your brain, then check out the Neurohacker Collective, who just raised over $800,000 in a crowdfunding campaign. Co-founder Daniel Schmachtenberger shared some of the ways we can "hack our brains" and restore order to our chaos and balance to our leadership lives. By the way, I tried out their flagship product, Qualia, and it works so well that I became a channel partner for the company.
The Lesson: While you're leading and growing your business, be sure to take care of your physiology and brain, too.
The common threads among these leaders is that they love what they do, they love the people they work with, and the people who work with them respond in ways that demonstrate appreciation, excellence, and great results.
Keep an eye on them in 2018, and I promise you'll discover how to spread that type of love as a leader.