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Yost: Good leaders have game books

Kim YostKim Yost, CEO of Art Van Furniture, Warren, Mich., encourages attendees of Furniture/Today’s Leadership Conference to “inspire, grow and become more.”
NAPLES, Fla. - A few years ago, when Art Van Furniture was preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Chairman and founder Art Van Elslander gave his leadership team an "amazing license," said Kim Yost, CEO of the Warren, Mich.-based Top 100 chain.
     Speaking at the Furniture/Today Leadership Conference, Yost recalled Van Elslander's words - "The only thing that's remaining the same at Art Van is the name on the building." Everything else was open for change and a new direction.
     The four years since have been among the retailer's most successful as it grew sales, introduced new formats such as the Art Van Pure Sleep bedding stores, and stormed into new markets, including Chicago and Toledo, Ohio. None of it came about by chance. The retailer's success is driven by a singular focus among its 3,000 employees who follow a new "game book" every year, one that celebrates the achievements of the previous year, highlights its missions and sets out new goals with performance indicators.
     From his years of playing hockey as a kid in Canada, Yost said he came to realize that whenever he had a coach with a game book, one who shared plays and inspired the team, great things would happen. On the other hand, the years under a coach with no game book didn't end so well.
     So Yost urged his audience to create their own game books, and he added that they should try to keep the title down to a single powerful word that can inspire their teams. This year, the title of Art Van's book was "Focus." Next year's will be "Grow."
     "Ad when you work on the game book think of one thing and one thing only," he said. "Imagine a new competitor ... is coming to take you out, get all your market share and kill you.
     "What would they look like?" he asked. What products would it sell? What would its marketing and stores look like? What would its training and recruitment be like? Visualize all of this, Yost said, and then, "Turn yourself into it and write about it in your game book."
     Yost offered plenty of other advice for both professional and personal development, including strategies he has covered in a series of motivational books: "Pumptitude," "Maximum Pumptitude," and his latest, "Internal Pumptitude."
     His message was all about growing, embracing change, and the leader's role in inspiring others to grow.
Among his suggestions:
     The "Power Hour." For the past 40 years, Yost has religiously put in at least 60 minute of vigorous early morning exercise, and he urged everyone in the audience to do likewise saying, "It will change your life."
     "Why? Because energy is everything," Yost said, and he joked about being a drug addict and drug pusher, high on the positive mental endorphins that exercise stimulates, leading to "return on energy," "return on attitude" and "return on success."
     Find your Schmonday. Decades ago, Yost began squirreling himself away in his office Sunday nights from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for uninterrupted "my time," using it to do everything from reading to developing business plans to writing books.
     He asked attendees to find their own Schmonday and devote at least an hour a week to this reflection and personal time, promising, "It will become the most powerful habit you can adopt if you can do it consistently."
     Stay "open for learning." It's a phrase and hand gesture (arms extends, palms up and forming a cup) that Yost picked up years ago when he was a buyer traveling to Asia. He said many people will tell you they love feedback, but they don't really mean it.
     "Feedback is an irritation that forces you to grow," he said, adding, "We learn more from the people who irritate us than the ones that don't." And related to this, Yost talked about the need to stay hungry, with a "beginner's mind," noting that the same concept came out in remarks by Furniture/ Today's Master of the Game honorees the night before. He called them the "one percenters" who have learned to stay hungry and keep going despite their already great success stories.
      Adopt a 68-Day Challenge. Art Van introduced this last year to employees and had "unbelievable success" with it, inspiring employees to improve personally, which was to the benefit of the company professionally.
     The challenge - considered a way to jump start the year - has seven parts: defining a personal goal (anything from losing weight to developing a new business model); inspiring yourself; writing the plan; taking action; learning and adapting following the initial action phase; sharing successes; and celebrating on the final day.

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