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Ken Keller: Use strengths to come back

Posted: July 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Ken Keller Ken Keller
Ken Keller

There is always plenty to be concerned about — high costs going higher; unexpected moves by the competition; uncertainty in the world that could inadvertently impact your business and your life.

Owners and leaders often forget that everyone has strengths. The more a person is able to use strengths, the more productive and engaged he or she becomes. The focus in business is, unfortunately, on the very visible weaknesses that each person has.

Here are two short stories of people who were at turning points and used their strengths to make a comeback:
Carl Bernstein had been employed at the Washington Post newspaper for six years. During that time he had managed to anger almost all of his colleagues and all but one of his supervisors. He had violated more company policies than the next 250 employees combined.

In the late spring of 1972 he was stuck covering local Virginia politics, and was on the verge of being fired. Carl had spent a year’s worth of budgeted expense money in a very short time as he ate his way through a number of fine dining establishments while on the job.

In his enthusiasm to get to one story he rented a car and when he was finished using it, simply parked it, forgetting to turn it back to the rental car company. The bill was enormous. Bernstein’s days were numbered.

Management had him in their sights to let him go.

In mid-June 1972, fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward was assigned to cover the break-in of the Watergate complex, because it was deemed a metropolitan police story.

Behind Woodward’s back, Bernstein took the role of editing Woodward’s articles. While not pleased with what Bernstein had done, or how he did it, when he found out, Woodward appreciated the editing that resulted in a better written story.

As the Watergate story grew, Bernstein’s local upbringing, connections and persistence uncovered more than anyone at the Post thought existed.

Between Bernstein’s know-how and Woodward’s persistence, the two of them became known as “Woodstein” in the pressroom.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting in 1973. The two reporters combined to write two books about the Watergate affair, “All the President’s Men” and “The Final Days.”

In the movie version of “All the President’s Men,” Bernstein was played by Dustin Hoffman.

After leaving the Post, Bernstein worked at ABC News, Time and has written numerous articles. He has also published books on his parents, (“Loyalties: A Son’s Memoir”), on Pope John Paul II (“His Holiness”) and most recently on Hillary Clinton (“A Woman in Charge”).

Around that same time, a tie salesman became a $10 million dollar a year fashion guru, but his business was going broke. The man, Ralph Lauren, was an excellent designer, but manufacturing costs were driving him out of business.

Lauren took a step back and assessed his strengths. According to Bill Pullen, a career coach in Washington D.C., one of the least-applied concepts in corporate America is assessing strengths with objectivity and then concentrating efforts for success.

What did Lauren do? He outsourced production and marketing on everything but the men’s line. He took his life savings and applied it to his plan.

What happened to Ralph Lauren? Within a decade he was doing $1 billion a year in business.

“Now, Discover Your Strengths” remains on the best seller lists for a very good reason. Millions of individuals are learning what their strengths are and how to apply them at work and in life.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with small and midsize business owners to grow top line revenue. He can be reached at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.



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