Article previously published in Arkansas Money & Politics

If you’ve ever experienced a wilderness adventure or spent time on the open water and felt uneasy about exactly where you were or what decision to make, you likely referred to the map, got your compass, looked for the lighthouse or back-tracked to look for landmarks along the path in order to get your bearings. 

The map, compass, lighthouse and landmarks are all symbols of what guiding principles do for us… They bring us back to our base, our foundation, our launch point, and they provide a filter or a checklist to help us make sense of the information we have in order to make the best decision. It is routine for many of us to use criteria to help us make decisions. The problem is that we tend to change the criteria. In certain situations, some criteria are relaxed or ignored. Our own emotion, human nature and lack of discipline result in critical decisions being made without a full vetting of the very principles that, at some point, we thought were so important that we establish them as the basis on which we would make critical decisions.

It has also been my experience that some business owners and senior executives have one set of criteria for business decisions and another for decisions in their personal life. They may treat family, friends and customers with great respect and kindness and be a tyrant to their employees, vendors and competitors. Having two sets of guidelines for behavior and decision-making, or rules that change to support the desired outcome, can create conflict in families, companies and in the hearts and minds of leaders.

Over the years, I have developed some guiding principles that I use in business and in life to help me make good decisions. While I may have more specific criteria for a particular decision, my guiding principles are pretty basic, fundamental and not specific to any business deal or life decision. I committed to these principles, and their order of priority, after a great deal of discernment and soul-searching.

First, I believe I must have a strong Faith, and the decisions I make must be consistent with my spiritual beliefs. I’ve been a Christian all my life, a Catholic for nearly 40 years, and I believe one must have a strong belief in a higher power or calling. I happen to believe that if I’m not serving some purpose much bigger than me, I’m likely to be self-centered. 

Second, I believe one must stay physically and mentally fit and live a healthy lifestyle. Related to my Christian beliefs, I believe my body is a temple provided to me by God, and I have an obligation to take care of that gift. Again, my principles are in order of priority, and many people question how can I put Faith and Fitness before family? Simple. If my spiritual, mental and physical health aren’t strong, I cannot properly serve and protect my family. 

Third, I must consider how every major decision will impact my Family. My wife and children are a gift from God, and it is my responsibility to serve them, protect them and ensure that their faith and wellness are intact. I firmly believe that God put Gwen, my wife of nearly four decades, in my path. My relationship with her is second only to my relationship with God.  

Finances may seem odd as a guiding principle to some folks. For me, financial strength is necessary to support my family, church, charitable work and community. An absence of financial strength may put other guiding principles at risk. This one is particularly challenging for me because I’m involved in a number of entrepreneurial activities that, by their very nature, present financial risk. That risk has to be offset and kept in balance. Speaking of balance, finally, as important as each of the previous principles may be, they must all be kept in reasonable Balance over time. 

If one aspect of my life, earning a living for instance (finances), dominates all the others for an extended period, I put my faith, family and/or fitness at risk. Our lives are almost always out of balance at any particular point in time. Sometimes variables over which we have no control cause imbalances such as work projects that spill over into the evenings or weekends. The key is to be sensitive to the potential for an imbalance and proactively deal with it by being intentional and restoring balance as soon as possible.

Although I fail at times, I attempt to apply these principles at home, in my business ventures, and in all other aspects of my life. If you don’t already have a set of guiding principles, I recommend to business leaders, especially young entrepreneurs, that they make an effort to develop them. Give it some time and thought. Write them down.  Look at them daily. If you don’t, you could find yourself in the wilderness of life or business without a map, a compass or landmarks.  

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