Contractors 2000 has incredible programs for helping contractors become better businesspeople and make more money.

Once upon a time, a milkshake machine salesman walked into a burger joint. His jaw dropped when he saw six milkshake machines whirring non-stop, putting out hundreds of milkshakes a day. Most of his customers had one machine and they sold the occasional milkshake. What was going on here? Two brothers owned the burger joint. They had a sure-fire system for putting out perfectly consistent burgers, fries and shakes. The salesman figured if he could teach other people how to run their fast food restaurants like these boys did, well, he could sell a whole lot of milkshake machines.

Have you guessed that this salesman was Ray Kroc? And the brothers’ last name was McDonald? I guess you know McDonald’s Inc. has done pretty well in the business world.

But, let me point out a couple of things:

1.) Ray Kroc sold milkshake machines. At the same time he was negotiating with the McDonald brothers, somebody else developed a milkshake process that made his machines obsolete! I bet the rest of the milkshake salesmen at his company panicked. I bet they tried to stop, deny and condemn the new milkshake-making process. Ray Kroc recognized the new system worked better. He quit selling milkshake machines and decided to go into the fast food franchising business instead.

2.) Ray Kroc knew nothing about fast-food restaurants. He didn’t invent McDonald’s. He discovered it. And he was able to duplicate it. The McDonald brothers created the system for making fast and consistent meals. But they never saw the franchise opportunities as Ray Kroc did. They never really “bought in.” They maintained ownership of a couple of stores, and let Ray take off with the idea. When Ray would explain his vision of a world dominated by “golden arches,” they thought he was nuts. It seemed too far-fetched, too impossible.

Ray Kroc was a leader. He took the reins and rode out in front of everyone shouting, “Come with me to the future! I can see a better place up ahead. Follow me.” And he got folks to follow him and help him create a world power built with burgers and fries. And milkshakes.

I work with Contractors 2000, a trade association of service contractors. I love C-2000. I love the members. The group has incredible programs for helping contractors become better businesspeople and make more money. But not every member succeeds. Membership in C-2000 is not a magic pill. Some members quit. A few maintain their membership but don’t really take off financially. And some multiply earnings by 1,000 percent.

I asked executive director Jack Tester, “What seems to make the difference? Is there a common thread among the most successful companies?” Jack responded, “The owners who do well have two characteristics — the ability to inspire and the discipline to implement.”

I’ll buy that. Leaders inspire and implement. It’s not enough to be just inspirational. Soapbox preachers can get you all fired up. But then, nothing happens. Nothing changes. You realize it’s all hot air.

And strict disciplinarians can be tiresome. It’s nice to run a tidy ship, but it needs to be going somewhere. There needs to be some purpose.

A leader has fire-in-the-belly and dirt-under-the-nails. Makes sense. Ray Kroc fit the bill. Now, how do you become a leader?

Start by accepting the role. This seems self-evident, but don’t skip this step! If you are the leader of the company, assume the role and accept the responsibility. It isn’t a matter of being better than the rest of the company. It is a position. Someone has to drive. If it’s you, announce, “I’m driving.”

There Can Be Only One Leader: Stay with me while I explain this next point. I didn’t believe this, but I do now. There is no such thing as an equal partnership in business. Somebody must be the buck-stops-here person. There can be only one leader.

When Hot Rod and I worked together at Hot Rod & Yox Plumbing and Heating, I hoped — pretended —we could run the company as equals; standing side by side on the top rung of the corporate ladder. But then we would have a disagreement. All hell would break loose. I came to understand one person must make the call. Once I put my ego aside (no small task) I could see how much sense that makes.

As a result, Hot Rod and I work better in separate enterprises. I know dozens of husband-wife teams who work well together. In every case, the buck-stops-here person is clearly understood. (No, it is not always the husband.) I also know lots of husband-wife teams who are ready to strangle each other. There is a battle going on, sometimes covert, sometimes for all the world to see. It can be because both want to be the top dog, or because neither does.

Business partners can suffer from this confusion as well. Even if you have a 50/50 ownership arrangement, be sure to pick a chief of operations.

Think BIG: As a leader you must think BIG. Create a compelling company. Have a purpose. Look for higher meaning in the work you do. A friend of mine polled his employees and told me the No. 1 thing they were looking for in their jobs was to be part of something important. Could you inspire your team with your vision? Think BIG!

The best part about having great, big dreams is there is absolutely no risk to it — shoot for the stars and you miss … so what? There are no “goal police” who come and carry you away. If you shoot for the stars, you just might get one. Or you might miss and still land on the moon!

You know the Chicken Soup for the Soul books? Well, authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen were talking to their publisher about their first book’s printing. The publisher asked how many books they thought they could sell the first year. Mark and Jack said, “1.5 million books.” The publisher almost choked. He suggested they tone down their expectations to a realistic 20,000. Well, they didn’t hit their goal in that first year — they only sold 1.2 million books.

Press On: Suppose you are hit by a bolt of lightening. (Figuratively speaking.) You see how your company can be a vehicle for worldwide peace, love and prosperity. You decide to aim for the highest star. You are going to be the best darned provider the world has ever seen. You announce this vision and propose it at the Monday morning meeting.

How will your company respond to this announcement? They will roll their eyes. They will look at their watches. They will make bets on how long it will take you to abandon this crazy nonsense and get back to business as always.

They will wait you out. You see, they have seen you all fired up before. And they don’t think this will last. Although they want to believe in your big dream, they don’t want to get disappointed again. You are not the only one to disappoint them. Their mamas may have. Their friends could have. They have disappointed themselves.

You are going to have to earn their trust. You must persevere.

Don’t choose that highest star randomly or on a whim. Soul search for your purpose in this lifetime. It is OK if it isn’t plumbing. How lucky you are if it is, if you are already “on purpose.” Find the work that makes your heart sing. If you are going to become a great leader, your work must be aligned with your true self.

Then hang in there and keep working at it. Eventually, your employees will drop the cynicism. They will buy it. But it will take time. You will need to demonstrate to them, every single day, you are fully committed to the dream. This takes discipline and implementation. Little changes stick and become big differences in the way your company runs.

So at your company’s holiday party this year, I want you to gather the troops around you. Make a speech. (WARNING: Don’t do this after three cocktails and do keep it under 5 minutes.) Stand proud and tall. Assume your role as their leader. Tell them your hopes and show them your vision. Promise you’ll help them get better, more able, wealthier — personally and financially.

Light the way.