The Assertive vs. Aggressive Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur Jason and Entrepreneur Jessica are similar in a lot of ways. They have built successful businesses from the ground up; are creators of innovative products and are considered by their peers as visionaries. But there is a major difference between them. Probably the best way to explain this difference is to observe them in action.

One morning, Jason’s production manager enters his office at which point Jason launches into an inquisition. Apparently, there is an issue on the assembly line and Jason wants to get to the bottom of it. The production manager begins to explain the problem, but Jason interrupts and cuts him off. He raises his voice, and his face turns red – it’s obvious that he’s agitated. Eventually he stands up, paces and gestures frequently.

Across town, Jessica is meeting with her sales manager who is explaining issues involving a downturn in sales. Jessica sits calmly and listens to the entire presentation. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments and then asks several very direct questions. Her expression never changes as her clear blue eyes focus like lasers on her associate. Jessica is the picture of composure and finally offers her opinion in a steady and measured voice.

How would we characterize the behavior of Jason? And how about that of Jessica? The word that describes Jason is “aggressive” and the word that describes Jessica is “assertive.” There’s no question that Jason was heavy handed in his approach with the production manager. It’s almost like he was trying to overpower the guy. By contrast Jessica was able to demonstrate her leadership forcefully without showing anger.

Assertiveness or aggressiveness – which is the more effective leadership style? While it may depend upon the circumstances, assertiveness has a higher probability to successfully influence others. Think about it. Are we more receptive to someone who is positive or someone who is negative? An assertive leader may be straightforward and even direct, but never belittles or resorts to intimidation.

Why are some leaders too aggressive? I believe that one explanation could be a lack of confidence, some sort of insecurity, or a combination of both. People who are concerned about being “found out” may use aggressiveness as a smokescreen. Leaders who are overly aggressive may cause morale problems. When negative energy is created it is difficult to maintain a productive environment. Aggressive people may be prone to mercurial outbursts and unnerving stares which further contribute to the unhealthy atmosphere that has been created.

For entrepreneurs building a business (and anyone else for that matter), a gut check is necessary to determine one’s position on the aggression meter. Aggressive tendencies can be tempered when we learn how to become more assertive. And the first step is to recognize when our aggressive behavior is about to go on display. It’s important to identify a trigger that alerts us that we need to shift gears. This will require some real introspection to make this discovery. Then we must emulate the behavior of an assertive person. We become impassive with our facial features. We project calm. We lower the volume of our voice, and we show respect for those with whom we interact. Changing one’s reputation as an aggressive personality is a tall order. But with awareness and effort such a change can be accomplished.

Assertiveness is a positive quality that can enhance our leadership style. And through awareness and commitment it’s possible to eliminate aggressive tendencies and replace them with the assertive traits that are desirable.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Rabbit Trail Entrepreneur

I’ve had many conversations over the years with bright energetic entrepreneurs. In each instance, they had a burning desire to build their business. And in all cases, they were filled with ideas, but implementation was a challenge – after all, the day-to-day aspects of running their businesses needed constant attention. It’s easy to see what often happens next. I call it rabbit trails. We become enamored with one idea and rush to put it into action. Then another idea emerges and yet another. Meanwhile every time a “rabbit” pops up we are ready to chase it down its hole. This is an exhausting process! And we never seem to get where we want to go.

There is a cure for rabbit trails. Very simply, we need to know what it looks like when we get there. In other words – what’s our vision? Think about it this way. The weather is miserable outside – we want to relax in the warm sunshine. We know that it’s sunny and warm in Florida, so that’s where we head. Our vision is relaxing in the warm sunshine. We plot a course via air or car to get there. Now, here’s the rabbit trail approach. The weather outside is miserable. We jump in the car and start driving to get away. On off ramp appears ahead and we take it thinking maybe the weather will be better where it leads. As we drive along the frontage road, we see a sign directing us to yet another destination and we make the turn. Eventually after multiple detours . . . we run out of gas. The analogy is similar to what it’s like when we run our business without a vision.

My advice to my entrepreneur friends was the same in every case. Start with the end in sight. Spend the time necessary to truly understand what it looks like when you get there. Think big and even bigger. Decide upon a timeframe. Are you looking out three years, five years or even longer? Avoiding rabbit trails is critical. Having clarity about where we’re going is the solution.

Now it’s time to work backwards. By understanding where we’re going, we can identify the course that we’ll need to take to get there in the prescribed timeframe. This course may appear to be precise, but we all know that there may be a need for corrections along the way. By “reverse engineering” our vision we can determine our strategy for achieving it as well as the individual tactics that will support the strategy. A big vision may require big resources and this process will help us identify the level of human and capital resources. All of this will help us assess how realistic our vision is and guide us to make the necessary adjustments.

There is another aspect to avoiding rabbit trails. I’ve written several times before about the notion of “why” we do what we do. Our organizations also need a “why.” In Corporate America today a CEO can tell us what his company does. He can tell us how it’s done. But when asked “why” his company does what it does, he may struggle with this question. Often the answer may be, “we do what we do to produce a return on investment for our shareholders.” But that’s not really a “why.” There are nine “whys” that include: 1) Doing things the right way; 2) Doing things a better way (innovation); 3) Making sense of complexity; 4) Making a difference; 5) Creating trust and building relationships; 6) Simplifying things; 7) Mastering things; 8) Challenging the status quo and thinking differently, and 9) Creating clarity. Often the “why” of an organization mirrors the “why” of its founder/leader.

Understanding our personal “why” and the “why” of our organization will enable us to develop a vision that is congruent with that “why.” Thus, it is critical that the “why” and a vision be developed in concert. We will struggle to implement a vision that isn’t aligned with our “why.”

Rabbit trails can be all consuming. Determining our “why” and defining a clear picture of what it looks like when we get there will help keep us on the path to success.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Undaunted Entrepreneur

Have you ever felt like your back was against the wall? And I’m not talking about a looming deadline to renew a driver’s license. No, I’m referring to a true-life Indiana Jones sort of experience. You’ve stepped into a room and activated some sort of an ancient counterweight that causes the floor, ceiling, and walls to shift and begin to close in on you. There’s seemingly no way out and you can either await your doom or “MacGyver it” and improvise a solution. I apologize – sometimes my metaphors can really become convoluted. Indiana, meet MacGyver. Perhaps you’re running low on cash – in your business or personal life. Maybe your top three team members have just announced they are setting up shop across the street and will become your competitor. Or your top three customers have determined that they will be purchasing 75% to 90% less of your product.

Human nature might say that a panic attack is in order, followed by a bottle or two of something at least 100-proof. We’re at a loss in terms of how to react. Some might call this a state of shock. While all we may want to do is run and hide, that’s simply not an option. And we really aren’t receptive to the notion espoused by a parent (or a coach) at some point in the past – “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Instead, we look at the wall that seemingly has no way over, under or around, and completely shut down. Except there’s one thing . . . we cannot shut down. Period. Ultimately, we develop a special kind of spirit. I call it “undaunted spirit.” In our hearts we truly believe that nothing is insurmountable. This isn’t just a conscious state of mind – it’s a knowing at the very core of our being.

So exactly how do we achieve this undaunted spirit? We can’t just snap our fingers and manifest it. It requires daily preparation and practice every chance we get. Undaunted spirit isn’t something that flips on and off like a light switch. Once we have it, we always want to maintain it.

Step one is to make a game out of solving problems creatively. Entrepreneurs are often quick to solve a problem and move on without giving much thought to all the different solutions that might be available. We usually go for the most intuitive, expeditious and least costly. But doing this deprives us of the opportunity to look at a whole host of other ideas. The entire point in doing this is to help us realize that there are usually many different options from which we can choose. It may be obvious that if kids are tracking a path through our yard after school, we plant a couple of thorn bushes to dissuade this behavior. If we slow down and think about it, there may be other solutions that are equally workable or even better. Maybe we could have the lawn sprinkler system set to come on as school is dismissing. Using everyday issues like this to practice creatively identifying multiple solutions prepares us for the Tuesday when we learn that there’s not enough money to make payroll on Friday.

Step two is to do whatever it takes to stay positive every minute of every day. I’ve said it before – negative thoughts and negative energy never solved anything. Worse, they block the flow of positive energy that delivers creative solutions. Practicing maintaining a positive mindset in our everyday life prepares us for the day when the “you-know-what” hits the fan.

Step three is simple – stay calm. I remember years ago I was flying my airplane and practicing approaches in unstable weather. I was instrument rated and wanted to get some real-life experience in more difficult conditions. A storm was moving in, and I was near the airport when suddenly I was caught in a strong downdraft. I was going straight down, and I mean STRAIGHT DOWN. Charts and pencils were flying around the cabin – and just as quickly I was caught in an updraft and going straight up, and I mean STRAIGHT UP! I will confess that there was moment of “pucker factor,” but I had practiced staying calm and the practice took over. I knew I just had to fly the airplane and not worry about anything else, and by remaining calm I was able to make it through a scary situation unscathed.

Creatively identifying multiple options; fiercely maintaining a positive frame of mind and keeping calm helps us develop undaunted spirit. Then like a magician, we are able to pull the rabbit out of a hat whenever the need arises because we know that no challenge is insurmountable.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The “Say No Quick” Entrepreneur

There are very few things in life that I truly hate. We optimistic entrepreneurs are upbeat and resilient. But there is this one thing. Let me set the scene and see if you share the same disdain as do I. You reach out to a prospective customer and actually snag a meeting. Arriving early, you are well prepared and have done considerable research on this person and his company. No question will go unanswered, and every key point will be covered. The meeting seems to go well, and you get positive though non-committal feedback from the prospective customer. As you wrap up you hear those 11 dreaded words . . . “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

Naturally you are polite when you are told this, but you leave indicating that you’ll check back in a week – the customer smiles and nods. Of course, you send a nice thank you note, and a week later you are in follow-up mode. You call and leave a voicemail message. You e-mail and re-state your interest in working with this individual. There is no response. Another week goes by with another voicemail and e-mail. The third week you actually reach the customer when you call, and he tells you how slammed he’s been; asks a question and says he’s still thinking about it. But there’s hope isn’t there? He asked a question – that seems to be a sign that he’s interested.

You know the rest of the story. After an interminable period of time, you somehow learn that he actually committed to buy the product from a competitor – weeks ago. This is a locker-kicking, punching-the-wall moment of frustration. The age-old question spews from your lips, “Why couldn’t he just say NO?!”  

Whether or not we’re entrepreneurs, we’re always going to find ourselves in situations where we need someone to say yes or no. It doesn’t seem like these answers should be hard to provide. And yet there apparently is a great deal of indecision in the world today because getting to yes or no is a great struggle for some. Why? What’s the point of the “string-along?” Often it may be that a person is concerned about hurting someone else’s feelings by saying no. It’s true that a person may need to consider his or her options and truly contemplate before providing an answer. But that’s no reason for not responding to phone calls and e-mails.

Having dealt with this issue for many years, I’ve resolved not to treat others in similar fashion. When I’m called for a meeting, I will try to quickly determine if I have an interest in what the other person is offering – now or ever. If I’m not interested – ever – I’ll tell the other person and refuse the meeting. It’s a quick “no.” If I’m not interested now but might be in the future, I’ll say this, “I can tell you that I’m not interested right now. However, I’m happy to take the meeting because I want to learn more about you and your product for future reference. It certainly helps to build a relationship.” The other person knows exactly where I stand and can decide herself if she still wants to schedule the meeting. If I go through with the meeting and don’t want what is being offered, I will say “no” on the spot. If I truly need time to contemplate, I’ll tell the other person that I need to do so and will provide a firm date for follow-up.

Here’s one more thing about a “no” answer. Many of us learned that when we’re told no, it’s simply a plea to be “sold” some more. I think this is still true but with a twist. If I say no – never, that’s probably what I mean. But if I say no – not right now, that could very well mean that I’m a “yes” in the future. There’s no harm in building relationships and keeping our name in front of someone with whom we want to do business. Being in the right place at the right time is a real art. Through relationships the odds of being in this position are vastly improved.

We’d much rather hear a quick no than be strung along through indecision or sensitivity for our feelings. Giving no as an answer allows the other person to move into a longer-term relationship-building mode and enables him or her to pursue other prospects without wasting time.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Entrepreneur’s Winning Culture

Southwest Airlines has been in business since 1967 and has recorded 47 consecutive years of profitability. The company flies 737 Boeing 737 aircraft with 380 more on order. Southwest pioneered low-cost air travel and has grown to be one of the largest airlines in the world. United Airlines launched Ted, its low-cost brand in 2004 with 56 Airbus 320 aircraft. It folded operations in 2008. Delta Airlines launched Song, its low-cost brand in 2003 with 47 Boeing 757 aircraft. It folded operations in 2006.

How is it that two enormous legacy air carriers failed to challenge Southwest with similar low-cost service? Just like Southwest, they flew point-to-point routes. They used a single type of aircraft, just like Southwest. And they charged low fares, just like Southwest. What’s more, they had massive financial backing from well-established parent companies. All three companies were playing a commodity game. So why did Southwest win the game?

There was one aspect that neither Ted nor Song could replicate. Southwest had developed a unique culture that was friendly, whimsical, and borderline radical at times. Customers were attracted to this culture. Southwest passengers enjoyed corny songs sung by flight attendants and the overall attitude of the Southwest team. Ted and Song were simply offshoots of United and Delta and reflected their respective cultures. It’s true that there are other low-cost airlines that are profitable today, but they haven’t made serious inroads into Southwest’s market share or customer base.

What’s fascinating about all of this is how a Winning Culture can be so elusive. I’ve said many times that I’m not particularly concerned about sharing my playbook with my competitors. It’s not the design of the plays that necessarily wins the game. It’s how well those plays are executed that makes the difference. There are a multitude of sports metaphors in this respect. Think of all the professional football teams that are stocked with amazing athletes possessing world-class talent. And every single team has a playbook full of intricately designed plays for the offense and the defense. Yet, a dropped pass here and a missed block there can be the difference in whether a team wins the Super Bowl or watches it at home on TV.

What exactly is a Winning Culture? As entrepreneurs, it is something we may not think much about, but it can be the difference between success and failure. Far too often, entrepreneurs may not pay enough attention to creating and nurturing a Winning Culture, opting instead to focus more exclusively on operations and metrics. Southwest infuses the following into every employee it hires:

  • A warrior spirit.
  • A servant’s heart.
  • A fun-“luving” attitude (Southwest’s stock ticker symbol is LUV).

At Southwest, the warrior spirit is “being fearless in terms of delivering the product,” according to Ginger Hardage, the now-retired chief communications officer. The servant’s heart is based upon the Golden Rule and the need to treat everyone with respect. It’s obvious what the “fun-luving attitude” is all about. Southwest looks to hire people who don’t take themselves too seriously and always have a smile on their face. There’s no question that Southwest pays a great deal of attention to operations and metrics, but its cultural foundation is rooted in these three values.

When a company stops winning and starts losing, the first place to look is to see if it has strayed from its Winning Culture. If the culture’s not right, the operations may be off kilter and the metrics will look bad. I believe that we must fix the culture first and then make the technical adjustments from there. And one more cogent point needs to be made. A Winning Culture is different than just plain culture. An organization may have a culture that has been intentionally cultivated but doesn’t necessarily lead to winning. To win, we must be extraordinarily positive about it. Our entire team must be convinced that we are going to win, and they must completely embrace the notion.

A Winning Culture is not replicable. It is unique to each company or organization and must be developed organically. It enables us to execute our playbook effectively in ways that our competition can’t.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Entrepreneur and the Team Slump

My favorite Major League baseball team was in a slump. They couldn’t hit their way out of a paper bag. Their starting pitching was amazing, but the bats were asleep. They were losing games 1 – 0 or 2 – 1. For a fan, it was agonizing to watch. How could it be that an entire team that is paid over $140 million a year cannot hit? What’s worse, the two highest paid starters were batting .169 and .203 respectively. It’s one thing for a player or two to be slumping. It’s quite another for the whole team to be in this predicament. Yeah, I know – I should have taken the long view. The season goes on forever and eventually the bats should come alive (they didn’t). Hopefully it wouldn’t be too late to make a serious run at a pennant (it was). But this whole episode is instructive from an entrepreneurial standpoint. What happens when our entire team is in a slump?

Have you ever felt like nothing is going right? Multiply this by the same feeling being shared by nearly everyone on your team and you may have a genuine team slump. The reason for this is as obvious as the entire baseball team slumping all at the same time. In scientific terms, the team’s attitude is messed up! So, you ask – how did we get there in the first place? Who knows? The important thing is that if we’re not careful it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It often starts with one person – perhaps a star producer – who is struggling with a losing streak. That individual may grouse a bit with the “woe is me” routine. Others listen to this and can’t help but be impacted. It’s particularly concerning when a leader in the organization becomes negative in this way. Team members begin to feel a bit insecure. Everyone starts looking over their shoulders. They work especially hard to avoid mistakes and become very self-conscious in the process. Eventually each member of the team has become part of the downward spiral that creates the aforementioned slump.

What’s the way out? In baseball, sometimes the general manager fires the hitting coach. In other instances, the manager may shuffle the lineup. I’ve heard of more drastic situations where a team meeting occurs, and a player reads the riot act to the rest of the team. Then everyone rallies, puts on a new face, and plays the game with new resolve. And sometimes all of this can work.

I submit that when a team is struggling as a whole, it’s time for the leader to step up. It’s a time for calm. If the entrepreneur/leader starts to panic, it’s awfully hard for the whole team not to follow suit. Instead, strong positive reinforcement is needed from the leader. Each team member needs to be told in genuine terms how critical he or she is to the organization. The leader should point to the positive patterns of success that have been realized in the past. He or she shouldn’t hesitate to provide coaching where there are obvious flaws in execution.

It’s also a time to engage the team in an exercise of collaboration. Team meetings are held where ideas are exchanged, and new positive energy is created. It’s important for us as entrepreneurs to be truly optimistic and upbeat. It’s not a time to wallow in despair and dwell on all the negative things that have been occurring. When we model calm and creativity, our team will respond in kind. Our leadership has never been more important than at times like this.

Ultimately, we want each member of our team to commit to a positive attitude. Sound a bit woo-woo? It’s not. I haven’t been in the locker room of my favorite baseball team, but I’m willing to bet that the attitude isn’t very positive. Attitude is a razor’s edge. It’s easy to tip either way into positive or negative territory. If the team ends up with a negative attitude there is no way that it will win. It’s the entrepreneurs charge to make absolutely certain that a positive attitude is attained and maintained.

Team slumps can be attributed to the team’s attitude. Strong leadership that creates infectious positivity is a great start toward helping the team regain its balance and winning form.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Enamored Entrepreneur

Once upon a time there was a prince who traveled to the far reaches of the kingdom. He spied a young woman who was the most magnificent creature he had ever seen. The prince spoke to her and rather than being demure, she was witty and charming in her reply. They conversed for nearly an hour over a chalice of wine and the prince hurried back to the castle in a state of euphoria. He just knew that he was going to take this woman to be his wife. After telling his father and mother about his encounter, he set about making plans for the wedding. The royal florist was summoned as was the baker. The wedding was going to be an elaborate affair with only the finest of materials for the bride’s gown. Special jewelry was to be made for the soon-to-be-bride, and the prince had a long conversation with the priest about the ceremony. He also cast about to find the perfect location for a new home to be constructed inside the castle walls and met several times with the royal furniture and cabinet makers.

Everything was going to be perfect . . . or so thought the prince . . . except for one thing. The woman with whom the young prince was smitten was already married. In his eagerness to move forward with a wedding and a life with a new wife, the prince ignored the first step in developing a plan. He forgot to get the facts first.

It’s easy to fall into this trap whether we’re entrepreneurs or not. We become so enamored with an idea that we immediately want to plunge into developing a plan to make it a reality. Then we either pay lip service to the facts, or we just blow right on by this step. Fact Finding should always be Step One for any planning process.

Suppose we have an idea to scale our business. We’ve been sailing along making a reasonable profit but believe that we could really make it big if we could only grow much larger and capture a wide range of efficiencies in our processes and cost structure. Our experience in the industry is extensive and we think we’re tuned in to the nuances of the market. We begin to look at all the different options for expansion. The owner of a competitor is rumored to be retiring and perhaps we could acquire his company. There’s a sharp woman in another city that we’ve been recruiting for quite some time – she could open an operation for us in that city. Our production line has been running at full capacity for over a year. Maybe we could invest in a second production line that would allow us to ramp-up even further. Lots of ideas are swirling around and suddenly we’ve entered the Danger Zone. Why? Without some serious Fact Finding we could make several mistakes with our expansion – some of which could be fatal.

For starters, even though we think we know the market like the back of our hand, there may be subtle shifts that we haven’t noticed. When is the last time we calculated our market share and that of our competitors? What is the longer-term outlook for our product? Maybe it’s going great guns right now, but in two years it will be obsolete because a better mousetrap is in the offing. Do we have more than anecdotal evidence that there’s demand for a second production line?

The Fact-Finding step should take a “fresh eyes” approach to all aspects of our business and the market. It’s as though we are entering the business for the first time. No matter how much we think we know; no matter how experienced we think we are, looking at everything with a fresh and detailed perspective is critical to our success and maybe even our survival.

Great ideas need to be fleshed out in a careful and systematic fashion. While we don’t want to be frozen in analysis paralysis, performing adequate Fact Finding should always be the first step when creating an implementation plan.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Entrepreneurial Small Stuff

We’ve always been told that there are no guarantees in life except death and taxes. I submit that there is one more guarantee that’s much more pleasant. We can be guaranteed that every day will be a good day . . . if we make it so. How? Read on.

Whether our day is good or bad depends upon our state of mind. By extension, we make the choice as to whether we will generally be happy in life. Being an entrepreneur is a tough gig. There are plenty of obstacles – way too many to list here. We can allow these obstacles to eventually overwhelm us, or we can look at them as opportunities for growth and success. But how do we get our mind right to look at our challenges this way? Here are some ideas that work for me in guaranteeing that every day is going to be a good day and that I’m able to be happy about my life overall.

Smile before answering or making a phone call. Smiling helps to release neuropeptides that counteract stress. Also, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin all go to work when we smile. So, there is a positive physiological reaction to smiling that can’t be ignored. And no doubt the conversation will be more pleasant and may result in a positive outcome – all because of a smile.

You know all those e-mails we send every day? We probably send too many because it’s such an efficient way to communicate. Yet, I find life can be pretty dull if we just keep to ourselves. I like to convert some of my e-mail conversations into face-to-face meetings or phone calls. I also find it hard to build relationships exclusively via e-mail. Thus, I build stronger relationships with the personal touch, and it makes me feel good to have human interaction throughout the day.

Express gratitude every single day. We have so much for which to be thankful. My day is more fulfilling when I tell someone how much I appreciate them and what they are doing. Gratitude helps me to feel more optimistic and contributes to building stronger interpersonal relationships.

Become centered. Life moves at warp speed for most of us. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and all-of-a-sudden things, can spin out of control. Spending a few moments from time-to-time with deep breathing and visualization exercises helps to ground me and restores my calm.

I was a Boy Scout and we committed to doing a good deed every day. I know it’s going to be a good day when I do something for someone else and am rewarded with their smile. This can be as little as holding the door for another person or helping someone put their bag in the overhead compartment on an airplane.

If exercise isn’t part of your daily routine, it’s certainly worthy of consideration. A good morning workout and long walk set a pattern for the day. I feel great after sweating and burning calories. I’m able to control my weight as well as ward off stress through physical activity.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. One of the healthiest things we can do – multiple times each day – is to laugh. And if we can laugh at ourselves, that’s even better. As with smiling, laughing offers innumerable health benefits and it’s usually the result of something funny. When we take ourselves too seriously, we may become self-conscious and begin to doubt ourselves.

Do at least one creative thing every day. But I’m not a creative person you say. That’s beside the point. We all can be creative at some level. Find something large or small where we can stretch our minds in a creative fashion. And guess what, you’ll find a nugget of good somewhere in the process.

Finally, be present. This can be very hard for us as entrepreneurs when we’re caught up in the fast-paced life we lead. It’s been my experience that I make fewer mistakes (that can erode the feelings of a good day) when I focus on the moment. Maybe that’s concentrating on a task at hand or something as simple as giving my full attention to someone with whom I’m meeting.

Yes, every day is guaranteed to be a good day if we take the necessary steps to make it happen. I can’t wait for my feet to hit the floor each morning because I’m stacking the deck in favor of this guarantee!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Portrait of a handsome young man in the city

The Gritty Entrepreneur

What do sandpaper, tiny bits of stone and gravel, a 1969 John Wayne movie, and successful people – especially entrepreneurs – have in common? The one-word answer is . . . grit. I’ve written before about perseverance, but grit takes this idea a step beyond. It’s one thing to keep on keeping on, but grit adds a special dimension to the notion of resolve. But before we dive in, let’s go back to the opening sentence for some context. Sandpaper has a very rough surface that is referred to as grit. This grit can be very coarse or very fine depending upon the project at hand. Chickens eat tiny bits of stone and gravel to help them digest their food. These small particles are also called grit. And who can forget the classic John Wayne movie called True Grit, in which a young teenage girl works in tandem with a drunken U.S. marshal to track down her father’s killer.

Many of us call it quits too early when something isn’t going the way we had envisioned. As entrepreneurs we are told that we must persevere and eventually things will turn out the way we want. So, we slog on and keep fighting the good fight. However, this isn’t grit. Remember the earlier mention of sandpaper. Everyone knows that if we rub sandpaper on our skin, we can draw blood. Grit does this metaphorically. We invest more of ourselves in whatever we are pursuing than just time and stick-to-it-ness. In the process we may get a little bloodied. We may get a black eye or a broken nose. But in the end, we win.

So just how does grit manifest in more concrete terms? Let’s look at some people who have demonstrated “true grit” in exemplary fashion. Singer/songwriter Dolly Parton grew up dirt poor as she describes it, in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Even so, she maintained a cheerful and positive mindset throughout her childhood that has served her well during her long and illustrious career. Today, at age 75, she has amassed a fortune worth more than $650 million. She claims she had more “guts than talent.” But I think it was her optimism and sunny disposition that helped her overcome the obstacles she faced along the way.

Next, there’s the amazing success of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. Bezos graduated from Princeton in 1986 and went to work on Wall Street. He enjoyed a lucrative career in the investment world, but he had a dream. He saw that the Internet was going to dominate the future and gave up his hedge fund job to start Amazon in 1994. The catalyst for him was his passion for that which was scientific and technological.

Finally, most of us know the story of J. K. Rowling. Divorced, on welfare and struggling to provide for her baby, she was nearly out of options in 1994. Despite these challenges, she wrote the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The manuscript was rejected by 12 different publishers before finding one that would print it. And in several cases, the rejections weren’t very kind. But Rowling had no choice but to bounce back and keep trying – it was either that or she would never be able to climb out of the deep hole she was in. Her resilience made all the difference – and of course the rest is history with 500 million copies of the Potter books being sold.

There are many other elements that can be included when defining grit – courage, bravery, pluck, mettle, backbone, spirit, strength of character, strength of will, moral fiber, steel, nerve, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, determination, tenacity, guts, and spunk, to name a few. I’m partial to a combination of optimism, passion and resilience that accompany persistence and endurance.

Call it what you will, grit is essential for moving beyond perseverance to the successful outcomes we desire. And yes, there will be blood, sweat and tears along the way. But they are merely proof that we have invested our heart and soul in the arduous and exhilarating process of fulfilling our vision.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The No-Replays-Allowed Entrepreneur

Recently I was speaking with a man who was miserable in his job. He was feeling very stifled and unappreciated. He told me about several decisions his boss had made that proved costly to the company and impacted his bonus on a personal level. He was particularly incensed that the boss shielded his superiors from the rest of the troops – and thus the higher-ups in the organization were unaware of the screw-ups and incompetence that were evident. Going over the boss’ head would be suicide. Have you ever heard this before? Perhaps you’ve even experienced it yourself.

We might be tempted to simply dismiss this as a classic case of job dissatisfaction, which it is – but . . . For 20 minutes this person went over and over the issues with which he had been dealing. He was intense. He was angry. This individual had a passion for what he had been doing and felt as though this passion had been stolen from him. Without a doubt he was grieving over what was obviously a loss for him. And to make matters worse, he felt powerless to do anything about it.

I recounted to him what he had told me and followed up with this statement, “So, it sounds like you’re done, right?” After a brief pause, he said, “Yeah, I guess so.” And then he repeated it a bit more emphatically. He was so mired in misery that he hadn’t really come to grips with the fact that he had already made up his mind to make a change. At this point I redirected the conversation and began to ask a series of questions intended to stimulate his vision for the future and what he’d like to do. Yet, he continued to re-hash what he was encountering in his present position. Finally, I asked his permission and then offered him the following advice, “You’ve already walked through the gate. Close it; don’t look back and move on.”

I realize that this advice may sound trite and overly simplistic. But if you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you’ll understand how easy it is to become trapped in a vicious cycle of “replays.” This is where we replay blow-by-blow how we’ve been wronged. Somehow, we’re transformed from savvy entrepreneurs into finger-pointing victims. What to do?

Intuitively we know that the replays must stop, and we must move on. It’s also true that we may not necessarily have someone around who will shake us out of our funk. It’s a fact that the negative energy expended with the replays has never solved the problem for anyone. So, we have a choice to make, and there’s only one choice. Remaining locked into the status quo isn’t an option. And we’ll assume that there’s nothing we can do to improve the status quo.

I recommend taking the following steps. First, we affirm that we are ready to move on. The best affirmation is to quit whatever situation is no longer tenable. But that might not be immediately possible. If it’s a job or a partnership, it may be necessary to map out an alternative before making a move. But emphatically making the decision is vital. Second, we set a timetable for moving on, especially if it’s going to take a while to plot our course. Third – and this one is important – we create a vision of our future. If there were no obstacles in our way, what would we be doing five years from now? I always suggest painting the grandest picture possible and then work backwards to the present. This can be an exhilarating exercise and helps create a positive mindset for moving forward to make our vision a reality. Putting this vision in writing is critical along with identifying the process we will undertake to get from here to there.

Being stuck in replay mode when we’re mired in a hopeless situation does nothing more than make us miserable. Affirming that we’re done with the negative circumstances; committing to a timetable and creating a vision for our future are the steps needed to move forward.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.