The 3 great separators

Over my 45+ year career in the business, I’ve experienced what I call the 3 great separators when talking about traits that will almost guarantee success. These are the elements of change or critical personality traits that truly separate you from the crowd.

It’s really about those that have a growth mind-set, versus a fixed mind-set. If you have a growth mindset, there is no limit to what you can achieve if you are willing to put in the hard work to learn something new in order to get out of your comfort zone and grow in your knowledge and career. If you have a fixed mind-set, you believe that your destined to only go so high in your career and you can’t really do anything about it. You’re not too willing to learn new things or improve on your skill sets or personality. Kind of a go with-the-flow person.

The first great separator I saw begin to happen in the 80’s.

But first you have to understand that I grew up in western Oklahoma and graduated high school in 1977. When I graduated high school, we didn’t have any computers in the building. For typing class, we had the IBM electric typewriters. Yep, that’s it. Oh, and electric adding machines.

I worked for United Supermarkets right out of high school and in 1986 while a store director in Weatherford, Oklahoma – the company decided to put in scanning systems. I was tapped to drive the new initiative, but had zero computer training and had zero programming knowledge. But I was hungry to learn. Being a current store director as well, I didn’t have a lot of time to learn the details of my new task. We had 27 stores and our plan was to convert about 5 stores a year until we got them all upgraded.

Fast forward to 2014, living in Phoenix, Arizona and on-board with Sunflower Farmers Market as VP of I.T. and Marketing. After a buyout from Sprouts Farmers Market, I became the Chief Information Officer & Chief Marketing Officer of Sprouts. Little did I know just how much the experience at United would pay dividends. We went from a 37 store chain to now a 154 store chain and I was in charge of leading the I.T. team and the marketing team. If I hadn’t ever took that step to get on-board with the information technology train, I’m not sure where I’d be today. Instead of doors closing, they were opening.

The separation I saw during those years was all in my peer group that didn’t embrace technology or care to learn about it, are basically at the same level they were twenty-five years earlier. Very few ever grew higher in their careers.

What I discovered was that if you truly knew how to manipulate data and learn systems, you could mine that data and put together the information you needed to excel in your role. If you couldn’t, the company had to hire an administrative person to do those tasks for you. And today, that model just simply doesn’t work.

This is one of the top questions today when I’m interviewing someone for a leadership role in our company. With the right answer, you move on through the interview process, with the wrong answer, the interview is over.

The second great separator is leadership. Not a position of management, but truly interested in leadership growth. John Maxwell is known for his saying about leadership that is critical for having a long career in higher roles.

A lot of people believe that reading books and always growing in your leadership style is a bunch of kum-ba-ya stuff. And that mindset, is exactly why some people are separated from the crowd. It doesn’t matter what role you have, unless you are a one-person operation, there is no way you can do everything. The quicker you learn that you need people to be successful, and the quicker you learn how to inspire them to greatness, the quicker success will come your way.

And by the way, not just people, but the RIGHT people. If you have the wrong people on the bus, your leadership direction will fall on deaf ears. Don’t waste your time on people who care nothing about leadership.

You have to be hungry, your team has to be hungry and you have to lock arms and intentionally grow your leadership skills together. One team.

When you come in with a leadership focus, what happens over time is those that don’t embrace it will stand out among the group so clear that you’ll be forced to allow them to move on. It’s their choice.

I’ve experienced those that wrap their arms around leadership growth so strong that you have no choice but to continue to promote them and give them more and more responsibilities. They will figure it out and that’s the type team member you want in the fox hole fighting with you.

The third great separator is an insatiable positive attitude. The retail grocery business will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t have a positive attitude.

I’ve known people who have spent their entire career letting the pressures of dealing with cranky customers, cranky team members, cranky vendors and cranky bosses drive them into the most negative attitude you can imagine.

I like to think of it like the story I heard several years ago about the farmer that had a donkey that fell down in an empty well.

After observing the donkey down in the well, the farmer made the decision that he had no way to get him out, so he decided to put him out of his misery and just bury him. He gathered up some of his friends and they began to put shovels of dirt down in the well. As each shovel of dirt fell on the donkey’s back, to their amazement, he just shook it off. After enough shovels of dirt had been shook off, he took a step up. After three hours of repeating this, the donkey just stepped out of the well and went on about his way.

I’ve worked with some people that no matter what comes their way, they figure out “how to shake it off and step up higher.”

If you’ve worked with anyone with an insatiable negative attitude. You know they suck the life out of everyone around them and the rooms they are in. They’ve got to go.

When I think of people over my 45+ career that I’ve had to open the bus door and let them off, they normally possess the negative element of all three of these great separators.

If you’re interested in growing your career and getting the most out of what this ole life has to offer – I’d focus on these top three separators.

To me, everything else is coachable!