Lawrence Pfaff, Owner, Pfaff and Associates
Dr. Pfaff has spent four decades doing executive leadership and career coaching and he has consulted on HR issues such as hiring, discipline and sexual harassment. He has also been a full-time university Professor of Psychology and Business and held university leadership positions (Dean and Director.) He has a BA in Physics and Doctorate in Counseling Psychology and is a Licensed Professional Counselor. He has consulted with thousands of leaders are all levels.
What's your industry?
Professional Services - Consulting
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
As a youngster I wanted to be a scientist, and I earned a degree in Physics and was a Physics teacher for a short time. But I realized I really wanted to help people live more personally productive lives and being a scientist wouldn’t allow for that especially not in the educational system. So, I went back to school and earned two graduate degrees in psychology and started a private consulting practice. That was over four decades ago. Along the way I have done numerous things but the common thread among all of my roles has been helping people learn and grow, whether they are the CEO of a large corporation or a new graduate right out of school or anything in between. It has been amazingly rewarding.
What does an average day look like for you?
I tell my clients that as adults we spend more time working than anything else in our life.
Given that fact, choose an area of work that 1) has tasks you enjoy doing, 2) utilizes your strengths, 3) will allow you to continue to learn and grow. If you can find that type of role, you will feel fulfilled and satisfied. I have been lucky enough to find that combination, but it wasn’t on my first try. My days are spent helping others get a clearer, more fulfilling direction in their lives. It is incredibly gratifying.
How do you balance the needs of your business with the needs of your personal life?
Well, by having the things in work that I mentioned (things I enjoy, my strengths, continue to grow) then my personal life and business life are very complimentary. But making sure that we take care of and maintain connection with those we care most about is also critical to happiness. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, a mentally healthy person is one who has fulfilling work and love in their life. I think I am lucky to have both.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you on your journey in business?
I played college football, and my head coach Ed Baker, taught me many lessons. He was like a second father to me. There are two things in particular that I carry with me to this day. They have helped me with my business success, but I think they apply to life in general also. The first lesson was something he would say regularly at practice, "The only way to run faster, is to run faster!" In other words, the only way to get better at anything is to practice and perfect it. But practice isn't just going through the motions, it is focusing and improving constantly on what you do through feedback and openness to change. It is a willingness to constantly continue growing! That lesson helps day to day. The second thing I learned from Ed was that winning with integrity is more important than winning at any cost. Because after you win, you have to be able to live with yourself. And winning includes the big things (a successful year) and the little things (helping an individual employee be more successful.)
What's been the hardest part about the path you've taken and how would you advise someone facing a similar situation to overcome it?
The average person has no idea how difficult it is to start a business and make it successful. And the media, especially social media, make it appear to be much easier than it actually is. The hardest part are those first few years (yes, years, plural), where you are trying to develop a reputation and establish a customer base. I remember sitting down and lining up all the bills that had to be paid and deciding which ones I could put off the longest and investigating business loan options or finding investors. That is why my advice to anyone starting a business is to go into a line of business you can feel passionate about and proud of. I guess it is related to what Coach Baker instilled, something you can be proud of.
Are there any well-known Books, Podcasts, or Courses that you credit your current success to?
My training is in the Psychology and Organizational Behavior, so I like to use the original research to guide me. But there are some good authors worth reading. I think Daniel Pink's book "Drive" gives one of the best explanations of how to motivate people. And Anders Ericsson's book "Peak" is outstanding for helping people become expert at pretty much anything. Those are my two favorites at this time.
What do you think are the most important qualities for a successful business owner or executive to have?
There are a few and these are not necessarily in priority order. One would be a passion for the business you are in. As I already mentioned, if you don't love what you are doing, you won't be able to stick with it and it will wear you down. A second would be a willingness to constantly learn and grow. As soon as you believe you can't learn something new from just about anyone or any situation, you are in trouble. Constant growth and learning today are critical in all areas. Third, knowing that it isn't about YOUR success, it is about the business success and the success of the people around you and delivering quality to your customers. When you believe you are the most important person and no one else matters, you are heading for trouble. Fourth, a passion for people, especially as the business grows and you are more and more dependent on the output of your employees. Making your people successful is how you make your business more successful. And that is true in "non people" industries.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out as a business owner?
Do your research up front about the viability of what you want to do. And be ready to work harder than you ever have before and be prepared that it may take years before it becomes truly successful. Look at how many years it was before Amazon was profitable. But if you are driven by hard work, seeing something grow and you have something you are passionate about, go for it. But contrary to what you read in much of the media very few people get rich quick.
What are the top three things you think are essential for business success?
Being driven to succeed and thrive on hard work.
Loving what you do.
Being able to delay gratification.
Do you think someone can be a great business owner without having many years of experience first?
Yes, and I have advised many people before they started a business. More important than business experience are being able to delay gratification, willingness to work very hard, openness to learning and passion for what you do. The management and technical skills can be learned or found...but you have to be willing to ask for help.
In general, do you think the world is producing better business owners in 2023 than it was fifty years ago?
Absolutely not! I say that because I started my consulting business in 1980. At that time I saw what leaders and managers at all levels of business were doing. I saw what major corporations were doing with their practices. I thought there is so much potential and there are so many things that can be done very easily to greatly improve business productivity and efficiency and even employee satisfaction. And now over 40 years later I am disappointed. Why? First, I have worked with thousands of people over the years and I have only encountered a handful of really good leaders in all this time, no more now than ever before, perhaps even less. Second, I see companies and business owners making exactly the same mistakes I saw them making in 1980 at about the same rate.
With all of this wonderful information and resources available most businesses and business owners aren't using any of it. One example - One of the areas I have done a lot of work on is how to hire the most productive employees. Again, compared to 1980, companies do it no better now, even though there is a huge amount of research on how to do it better. Leaders just don't follow best practices and perhaps they even do it worse today. I don't know the reason. Perhaps it is the availability of so much free information gives business owners a false sense of confidence and think they can do everything themselves. And there is just as much bad information as there is good information on the internet. But I do find it very disheartening.