What a CEO had to Learn from Prison

“No, I didn’t go as a criminal; I went to teach the inmates about leadership. But they wound up teaching me.” Jay Steinfeld is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, the industry leader in online window-covering sales, representing over half of window treatments sold online and doing more than $90 million in sales annually. In March of 2010 Blinds.com was awarded as the American Marketing Association’s Marketer of the Year.

Steinfeld said that he was impressed to find an enthusiastic welcome, smart questions, and sincere thank-yous from the inmates he visited through the Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program at Cleveland Correctional Center in Cleveland, Texas. He said that most of these guys had smart business minds and understood leadership, managing people, risk, and competition—it’s just that their former business practices were illegal (which was why he was meeting them in jail).

But setting can’t limit people from growing, and Jay was inspired by those he encountered.

1. Transformation is possible regardless of the scenery.

The men he met were working to change their lives in a dangerous place secluded from much of the world. He said it was inspiring—especially in light of the relatively petty excuses we often use to justify our lack of growth.

2. Attitude is everything.

“It begins with learning from the past and doing what you can to mend it,” Jay said. The right attitude is the first step in creating habits of kindness, curiosity, discovery, self-discipline and follow through. If these inmates can embrace a positive and constructive attitude, we certainly can.

3. Everyone needs a support system.

Jay continued, “Don’t believe those who say, ‘It’s every man (or woman) for himself (herself).’ Personal success depends on your commitment to a community.” We all need accountability, encouragement and honest feedback.

These men have made mistakes, but they have decided to not let their past define them. That is a lesson we all need to learn. Mistakes and bad decisions are bound to happen. What defines us is how we learn from them and make changes going forward. It’s never too late to make yourself a better you.