The Disappointed Entrepreneur

Every entrepreneur will experience disappointment at one time or another – that’s a fact. We tend to be optimistic and visualize very positive outcomes. Of course, not every outcome is realized exactly the way we anticipate. To succeed we need to have a heavy dose of resilience. But there’s more to it than just the ability to bounce back.

Once upon a time we had a very large deal blow. It involved the sale of several apartment properties and would have resulted in a very large financial gain after holding these properties for nearly 20 years. The buyer had made a preliminary inspection of the properties, and a purchase and sale agreement had been executed by both parties. Then the buyer claims that our broker misrepresented an element of the transaction that would ultimately result in a substantial reduction in the price – something we were unwilling to accept. We believe that the buyer never intended to pay the agreed-upon price and was starting the process of “chiseling” once the documents were signed.

This wasn’t the first time we’ve had a deal blow up and it certainly won’t be the last. And it isn’t the first time that a buyer acted less than honorably – nor will it likely be the last. Our initial reaction was one of disappointment. It would have been wonderful to monetize an investment that was many years in the making, and we would have disposed of some smaller assets that no longer fit our strategy going forward. Naturally, resilience kicked in and we didn’t shed any tears over this situation. The broker went back to the drawing board and worked to find another buyer. Here’s what may be a surprise to you though – our mindset in the moment.

After I understood the transaction wasn’t moving forward, I was excited in a positive way. Why? Because I tend to look at situations like this as a sign that “something better is in store!” Yes, we would have had a very favorable result had we closed the deal. But I’m convinced that there’s something much bigger and better to come from this.

Some may snicker and laugh when they hear this. They might say that this is simply naïve and wishful thinking. I would tell them that I’ve been living my life this way for 45+ years and more often than not, I’m right. Here’s why. By knowing and believing that something better is in store, I’m telling my creative juices to kick into overdrive. In the case of this apartment sale, our broker might come up with another buyer. Yet I have an idea that will require a bit more innovation and take a bit more time, but the result could be even more profitable than originally planned. And it jazzes me to develop and execute the strategy necessary to make this happen.

A more conventional approach might be to lament the loss of the original buyer. It might be to play the victim and become angry that the original buyer was less than honorable in his dealings with us. We could be mad at the broker for his misstep in the way he worded the offering document that purportedly caused the issue in the first place. But what purpose is served with all the negativity? The fact remains that the buyer backed out. The choice is ours as to which fork in the road we take. The one that leads to an even greater success or the one that leaves us wallowing in misery and limited thinking.

When we realize that our entrepreneurial lives are continually unfolding as a series of opportunities, we never look at unexpected outcomes as setbacks. Instead, they give us a chance to use our skills, our resilience, our experience, and our creativity to achieve even better results than we initially sought. Allowing negative thoughts and emotions enables limitations on our creativity. What might otherwise be viewed as a disappointment is simply a nudge to adjust, modify and tweak in such a way as to eventually win a better prize.

Entrepreneurs need a baseline level of resilience to survive. Seeing greater opportunity in what others might term as failure is a step beyond resilience. And knowing and believing that something better is in store enables us to thrive in amazing ways.

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 Superhero Entrepreneur

Superheroes are known for their superpowers. Superman could fly and possessed incredible strength. Captain Marvel could levitate. Wonder Woman had x-ray vision. Hercules could self-heal. Iron Man could become invisible, and Stretch Armstrong was a shape shifter. Cartoon characters are bestowed with amazing superpowers and always seem to find themselves in situations that call for the use of those powers specifically unique to them.

Successful entrepreneurs also have their own unique superpowers. Discovering and utilizing such powers can lead to some amazing results. As we progress through our careers, we become more and more aware of our superpowers. The earlier in life we can discern our special abilities, the sooner we’ll be able to focus them and realize our full potential. Just like most of the superheroes, we entrepreneurs can’t lay claim to all the superpowers which is why we need to understand what ours is and how to use it. Here are a few ideas on the subject.

Creativity and Imagination are foundational superpowers for many entrepreneurs. Probably one of the most creative individuals ever to walk the planet was Steve Jobs of Apple fame. Jobs had a vision that was unmatched, and he transformed society by imagining things that had never been done before. He envisioned the iPhone to have on-screen features rather than the old buttons that were used on other cell phones.   

Tesla’s Elon Musk exemplifies the superpowers of Perseverance and Resilience. Another of his enterprises is a company called SpaceX which is attempting to commercialize space travel. Even though there have been countless setbacks including rockets that failed to function properly or exploded in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015 and 2016, Musk continued to stay the course to reach his goal of making space travel affordable and colonizing Mars. And SpaceX has had numerous successful launches since the earlier failures.

McDonald’s would not be the company it is today had it not been for its founder, Ray Kroc and his superpowers of Optimism and Ambition. Very early in his career he met Earl Prince, the inventor of a five-spindle milk shake machine called the Multimixer. He spent 15 years selling the machine to a variety of customers including two brothers in San Bernardino, California. Dick and Mac McDonald entered an arrangement with Kroc to expand McDonald’s beyond a single restaurant and the rest is history. Because of his Ambition, Kroc was able to effectively push the expansion plan. And his Optimism was contagious and enabled others – franchisees, suppliers, bankers, and investors, to believe in him and his plan.

When we think of Amazon, we understandably think of its founder Jeff Bezos. Here is a man who is not afraid of failure because his superpower is seeing the world as a laboratory in which to Experiment. Is there any doubt that he’s done exactly that? He started selling books online, and today sells EVERYTHING through the Amazon website. In addition, Amazon Web Services, is a subsidiary that provides a cloud-based computing platform to the business community. Bezos convinced investors to back his approach of experimentation from Amazon’s launch in 1995 to 2021 when it achieved annual sales of $469 billion. He advises entrepreneurs to focus on process not failure, and further to “deconstruct products, processes and ideas.”

Building and serving Relationships are Reid Hoffman’s superpowers. Hoffman was the COO of PayPal and co-founder of LinkedIn. He likes to build deep, long-term relationship that give insider knowledge. Says he, “If you reverse engineer the relationships of many successful entrepreneurs as I have, you will realize that many people work with the same people over and over in their careers.”

What is your superpower? Once you find it, focus on it, refine it, and exploit it. It may not enable you to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, but it may be just what you need to build a successful and sustainable organization.  

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 Cynical Entrepreneur

Suppose you are an entrepreneur who is seeking start-up funding for a terrific idea you have. You do your homework and put together a solid business plan. Market research shows a lot of upside. Then you pitch your idea to a group of investors and hear the following observations, “I’m concerned that it would be very easy for a competitor to take this idea and run with it faster than you will.” Or “you are projecting revenues to grow at a 25% rate per quarter for the first three years. Do you seriously believe this can be accomplished?” And finally, “your burn rate seems pretty low – in my experience a rate double what you suggest would seem more appropriate.” What do these statements and questions represent? If you said “skepticism,” you are correct.

Skepticism can be a healthy thing for entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike. In 1987, Ronald Reagan made his famous “trust but verify” statement about a treaty with the then-Soviet Union. This is a great guidepost for us where skepticism is kept in a positive perspective. Part of advancing new ideas is to have them challenged. A lot of questions are to be expected, many of which may be doubting in nature. This is good – if our ideas can survive rigorous scrutiny and we can provide evidence that is sufficient to prove our case, everyone wins.

There’s a very fine line between the kind of skepticism that is all about looking for answers or proof, and that which questions veracity or integrity. When others become suspicious of our motives, we’ve entered dangerous territory for now we’re on the border of “cynicism.” Cynics suspect that others are motivated by self-interest and at times exhibit varying degrees of paranoia. When cynicism exists in an organization it’s like a cancer. The attitude of a cynic is negative. I believe that cynics are related to Murphy – you know, the Murphy of Murphy’s Law . . . anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Cynics are often denigrating, disapproving, apprehensive, sarcastic, and like to run other people down. You can see why cynics and their cynicism are so unproductive for any organization or institution.

Let’s juxtapose the skeptic and the cynic in our previous example of the start-up seeking funding. I already provided statements and questions that might have been made from a skeptical point of view. Now, here is what the cynic might say. “This idea is unoriginal and doesn’t stand a chance to succeed. Why are you pitching this to us? I’ll bet you’re going to take our money; buy a few computers; have a big party; shut down your company and leave us holding the bag!” Not one positive thing was said there. And all the various cynical tendencies were on full display – sarcasm, suspicion, bitterness, paranoia, and disapproval. Sure, this may be a bit over-dramatized. But the illustration shows the stark contrast that is important to understand.

We need to maintain a certain dose of skepticism lest we suffer too large a degree of naïveté. Skepticism can be difficult for some entrepreneurs. We are optimists and have powerfully positive mindsets. There may be times when we aren’t interested in looking at the downside of our ideas. That’s why it’s critical that we have people on our team who exhibit a higher level of skepticism. And we must give them permission to prod and probe while expressing their skepticism in a constructive manner. Skeptics serve the entrepreneur well as a counterbalance to wild, pie-in-the-sky unrealistic notions. On the other hand, we must constantly be on the lookout for cynics and eliminate them when they surface.

Embracing healthy skepticism helps to build a better and more sustainable organization. Denying cynicism before it takes root is equally important to the long-term success of whatever it is that we are pursuing.

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 Insecure Entrepreneur

Let’s go exploring. Let’s explore the mind of an entrepreneur. What types of thoughts are entrepreneurs thinking? The answer may surprise you. Many people see entrepreneurs as self-confident, assertive individuals who always have it “all together.” Look at the roster of famous entrepreneurs – Sir Richard Branson, Mark Cuban, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg. Certainly, no shrinking violets in this bunch!

So, we’re all like this star-studded list of entrepreneurs – right? Well . . . maybe not so much. All that moxie and nerves of steel gives way to self-doubts and uncertainty. Am I a fake? Am I not good enough? What if I fail and lose all my money? No one likes me or my idea. These thoughts are insidious and destructive. And yet we think them anyway.

We’ve all heard the “fake it till you make it” mantra. This implies that an entrepreneur is continuing to perfect his or her product/service while still pulling out the stops to sell it. Products and services are iterative and there will always be newer and better models. Our entrepreneurial insecurities emerge when we worry that there may be flaws in the current version that cause such a strong level of customer dissatisfaction that our whole enterprise bombs. This is where the “fake it” part of the equation can spill over into our psyche and cause us to question whether we really know what we’re doing.

“What if I’m not good enough?” Often, we’ll see other entrepreneurs who seem to be riding the wave. Everything is going right for them, and we surmise that they are on top of the world. Perhaps we’ve just suffered a setback of some sort. We look at the competitive landscape and begin to wonder if we’re losing the race. This feeling intensifies as this cycle persists – others seem to be winning and we aren’t.

It’s 3:00 AM and we wake up in a cold sweat. Our hearts are pounding and we’re a bit disoriented. We’ve just launched a major project that by our assessment, involves more risk than we’re used to taking. Then the mind games begin. We see the endeavor cratering which will cost us a lot of money . . . not to mention reputation. This is followed by the thought that we’re losing our mojo and our business will eventually fail. Ultimately, we declare bankruptcy, lose our house, are divorced by our spouse, and end up living under a bridge!

Finally, some of us may be feeling rejected. Again, we may have been told “no” so many times that we begin to wonder what is wrong with us. Is there something about our personality, the way we look, the things we say or the way we act? Maybe it has something to do with where we live, the car we drive, the people who are our friends or even where we went to school. Our natural reaction is to feel hurt and maybe even victimized.

Entrepreneurial insecurities are understandable but unproductive. It’s important that we recognize them; resolve them as quickly as possible and move on. Allowing them to fester can be a slippery slope to some serious career or life-threatening behaviors. Drug and alcohol abuse, deteriorating health, extramarital affairs, gambling, physical and psychological abuse of loved ones and even suicidal tendencies are some of the more prevalent examples.

We entrepreneurs thrive when we have a healthy self-image. Developing great resilience is critical to our success in this arena. Smoothing out the ups and downs of our fast-paced lives is also a step in the right direction. Earlier in my career I would experience the euphoria of winning to the fullest. But similarly, I would experience the depression of losing to the fullest as well. These wild emotional swings would result in my feeling on “edge” much of the time. The feeling of victory was fantastic, but I always wondered when the other shoe was going to drop.

I’ve learned to moderate my emotions. When I am part of a winning experience, I know I’ve been there before. And it’s the same with the losses. I know what it takes to achieve victory and I know what to do to avoid defeat. Some of this is simply age and experience. But I believe most of it is the mindset I have chosen for myself. The key word in the previous sentence is “choice.”

We can avoid the pitfalls and traps that are set when we have entrepreneurial insecurities. This is accomplished by celebrating our success not by spiking the ball in the end zone, but through understanding exactly how we won and replicating it over and over. Steadfastly focusing on our vision for the future is paramount to warding off negativity and self-doubt. Above all, we build our resilience by maintaining our optimism and positive attitude, no matter what.

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 “Gut Whisperer”

Entrepreneurs make decisions every day. Some are large and many are small. Have you ever stopped to determine how it is that you go about making your decisions? Some entrepreneurs are deliberate and others tentative. Some are procrastinators and some use a consensus approach. I’d like to focus on two methodologies that present quite a conundrum for entrepreneurs – gut vs. data.

How many times have you heard the expression, “go with your gut?” We all know what this means. When presented with a choice or several choices, we use our intuition to select the one that “feels” right. Gut level decisions typically require no cognition or rational thought. To a great extent they are based simply on a feeling that we have. But . . . that feeling is generally developed over time based on a wide range of experiences. The word “experience” is the key here. I’ll grant that there may be times when a gut decision can be successful without foundational experience. But I do not believe that gut-driven decision making can consistently be accurate in the absence of incrementally derived experience.

Decisions that are made utilizing factual data and logic may seem like a safe bet. But . . . there are a couple of caveats. First, we can sometimes be too analytical. We ponder the data and agonize over it. Do we have every last fact that might make a difference? What if one or more of the facts aren’t correct? Ultimately, we can end up in an analysis paralysis situation that turns into a first-class muddle. Second, even with data we still must interpret it. Assume that all the facts are correct and that we have everything we need. The wrong conclusion can be reached if the information is improperly interpreted.

Early in our careers we should make decisions much more based on facts and logic. As much as we might want to “trust our gut,” we just don’t have the experience necessary to do so and consistently make the right decisions. As we gain age and experience there’s a possibility that we also become a bit wiser. Wisdom is the magical ingredient that allows us to listen to our gut and make the right call. This doesn’t mean that we ignore fact-based decision making. But there will be situations where we’ve seen this rodeo several times. And as a result, we can pretty much predict what is going to transpire.

We all have intuition at the earliest stages of our adult lives. The big question is whether to trust it. Steve Jobs famously said, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become.” This is all fine and good. However, lofty and soaring statements like this aren’t necessarily helpful. The point I’m trying to make is that we can sharpen our intuitive skills by validating the patterns we observe over time. Here’s an analogy that will put this in a better perspective. Suppose we have a 26-year-old airline pilot. He’s very good at executing the mechanics of flying a jet aircraft. He’s been flying since he was 16 and has logged nearly 5,000 hours in the cockpit including 400 in his current aircraft type. Suppose you are one of 120 passengers aboard his aircraft. How comfortable are you placing your life in his hands if he tends to be more “intuitive” about the way he flies? Compare this to a 60-year-old airline captain who has been flying for more than 40 years. He has over 35,000 hours of flight time including 10,000 hours in the Boeing 757 that he currently drives around the sky. Which pilot’s “intuition” are you more likely to trust?

The veteran pilot has developed a sixth sense – aka intuition – for his aircraft and for flight in general. He’s seen it all over the course of his career. While he flies by the book and always checks the facts on all things weather, mechanical and aeronautical, he just “knows” when he needs to act on something that may not be factual in nature. Perhaps a little voice is telling him that there’s a problem with an engine even though the gauges are in the green. That little voice might be a subtle tone or vibration that only he can feel. Why? Because he knows his airplane so well that he has almost become one with it.

When we combine age, experience, and wisdom, we sharpen our intuitive skills. Laying such a foundation enables us to rely more and more on our gut as we move down our career path.

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 Whale Shark Entrepreneur

Solving problems is a hallmark of entrepreneurship. Challenges are presented every single day of our existence – some small, some large and some that are the size of a 41,000-pound Whale Shark. Regardless of their size, we know that we must persevere and work through the many issues we face. Let’s stop for a moment and think about our problem-solving encounters. Are they particularly stressful or do we handle them on an even-keeled basis?

There have been periods in my career where problem-solving was extremely hard. Why? Because I made it so. There were times when nothing seemed to go right. It was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle and there was a piece that I absolutely, positively knew belonged in a specific location, but it wouldn’t quite fit. It was a maddening experience until I eventually figured out that I had jammed the correct piece in another spot – and that was also wrong. How did I feel? Frustrated is an understatement. At other times I’d be cruising along fixing little nits and nats along the way, only to find that other minor issues would keep cropping up. I remember putting together model airplanes as a kid. I might get a little too much glue on one part that would leak out through the seam. Or my hand wasn’t as steady as necessary, and I’d get some paint in the wrong place. How did I feel? Irritated is the proper term.

Frustration, irritation, anger, and anxiety are all emotions that we can feel when we are dealing with our challenges du jour. Then when a Whale Shark-sized problem swims by, it can push us over the edge into a full-blown meltdown. I’ve been there with all of this and I’m betting that you’ve been there too. Eliminating the drama in my life has been a priority in recent years. I decided to try and become more like a robot in this regard  . . . a robot named Zen! As time has passed, I’ve become much friendlier with Zen. I’m much less inclined to major in drama where problem-solving is concerned.

Here’s how I’m succeeding at experiencing less in the way of negative emotions when dealing with business and personal obstacles alike. I’m not a poker player but have watched enough poker to understand what a “poker face” is all about. So, I try and emulate a poker player when I’m working a problem. It’s become a game for me to see if I can reach a solution without anyone (including myself) detecting frustration, irritation, or any other unfavorable emotion. This works most of the time for small issues.

For larger problems I take a deep breath, smile, and gulp in a healthy dose of positivity and optimism. Starting from a positive place is critical. Recently I heard someone reject optimism in favor of hope. To me, optimism is more of an action-oriented belief system. Hope is like keeping my fingers crossed. I’d rather place my trust in visualizing a positive outcome than keeping a rabbit’s foot in my pocket. Each step of the way I remind myself to stay positive and avoid the negative emotions. I look for the small victories along the way. And guess what – there are small victories during solving large challenges if we look for them. They are like steppingstones that take us from one side of the stream to the other without getting our feet wet.

Finally, here’s my approach to the Whale Shark problems. I get into a clinical state of mind. I map out a process from A to Z. My business colleagues know that I work a lot with spreadsheets and diagrams. I use these tools quite often to figure out the really big, hairy, tough stuff. This is where my robot, Zen, enters the picture. I love the story about Captain Sully Sullenberger who landed his US Airways aircraft on the Hudson River when both engines flamed out after ingesting a flock of geese. This man became a robot. In his mind he mapped out a solution to the problem. He remained calm and didn’t panic. Sully didn’t agonize over the decisions he made because there wasn’t time to do so. Embracing a process-driven approach and maintaining focus is the best way to avoid destructive negative emotions when solving the Whale Shark-sized problems.

We will succeed to a much greater degree when we learn how to control or eliminate negative emotions when solving problems. Then it doesn’t matter if the issue is small, large or of a Whale Shark scale – we’re well prepared.

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 “Old Tapes Playing” Entrepreneur

Consider the following conversation that an entrepreneur named George is having with himself. “I really would like to accept the invitation to speak to the Downtown Civic Club. But I’m afraid I’ll be too nervous.” Here’s similar conversation being held in the head of Megan, another budding entrepreneur. “I just don’t know. Maybe I should apply for that fellowship – but the odds aren’t in my favor to win.” And finally, Entrepreneur Don is thinking, “I’m reluctant to invest in a new product line because I’m not convinced it can succeed.”

But there’s more of a story behind each of these “conversations.” For George, he remembers the time several years ago when he made a presentation at a conference and was unprepared – he bombed. Megan recalls once applying for a highly coveted membership in a leadership organization. The process was very competitive, and Megan’s application was rejected. Finally, Don previously invested in a product line that failed and he lost a chunk of change on the idea. I’m going to use a descriptive phrase for what is happening that will probably demonstrate a generation gap. What George, Megan and Don are doing is “playing old tapes.” Some younger members of the audience who may not know what “tapes” are. In the old days, some of us “old people” listened to music and dialogue on a thin magnetized strip of plastic film. There were reel-to-reel tapes, eight track tapes and cassette tapes to name a few “tape” formats.

To “play old tapes” is to recall negative experiences from the past and make decisions today based upon those experiences. Playing old tapes generally embraces the notion of lack and limitation. It’s based in fear – often an irrational fear – that shakes our confidence. Over time, these old tapes can have a paralyzing effect for an entrepreneur. Eventually we can fall into a rut with narrow guardrails that are reflective of our past failures. What we really want to do is to venture off this rutted road to nowhere and get back on the freeway that will take us to our dreams.

Getting rid of old tapes is harder than it sounds, but it can (and must) be done. First, we embrace who we are right now. We cannot change the past. There’s not a single person alive today who hasn’t made mistakes. And I think it’s safe to say that all of us have made many. We should use the past for its instructive elements while discarding the emotional aspects of how it felt to be embarrassed, hurt or even shamed. The instructive element for George is to always be sufficiently prepared for future presentations. It’s in his best interest to release the humiliation that he carries for it serves no purpose. In a sense, it’s time to get rid of the rearview mirror.

Once we have determined the instructive elements from our past mistakes and thrown out the emotional rearview mirror, we move on to the next step. What exactly does our success look like? For Megan, she holds an image in her mind’s eye. She sees herself attending a luncheon with hundreds of other people. And at the appointed time, she hears her name being called and watches as she walks to the stage to receive congratulations for winning the fellowship. This visualization is powerful and is a “tape” worth playing over and over. In so doing, we pattern our brain to be receptive to the success that awaits us.

Finally, we celebrate by making new “tapes.” This is accomplished by rejoicing in the small victories that we constantly encounter. We entrepreneurs think big. We set lofty goals and we are always pushing for the big wins. But we tend to overlook the small wins we experience every single day. Entrepreneur Don realizes that his sales are growing at a respectable pace. His team has been 100% intact for four years. His defective product returns are zero. All these factors are wins and Don should take pride in their achievement. He now sees that he’s on the right track and is perfectly capable of making the right decisions.

We stop the process of playing old tapes by discerning the instructive elements from our past mistakes and eliminating the negative emotions that we remember. Then we repeatedly visualize our success and celebrate the wins we are experiencing each day. The result is a completely new set of positive tapes that are free of lack and limitation. 

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 Appreciative Entrepreneur

Robin goes to work every day at the consumer products company where she has been employed for the past two years. She faithfully performs her roles and accountabilities and has received relatively high marks from her supervisor. In fact, she has never taken a sick day and is proud of the fact that she’s never missed a day of work other than scheduled holidays and vacations. But recently, Robin has begun to feel more and more like she’s on a hamster wheel. She believes her compensation is relatively fair and she likes what she does. However, she often wonders about what she might be missing at another firm.

Robin is feeling unappreciated and undervalued. No one has been disrespectful or mean to her, so that’s not the problem. More than anything no one outside of her operating unit seems to really care whether she’s part of the team or not. It’s this level of apathy that’s eating at her. She sees the “big boss” almost every day, but he’s never once spoken to her. She rationalizes this by acknowledging that there are over 1,000 employees in the company and it’s impossible for him to know everyone. Still, her accomplishments are seemingly unnoticed and taken for granted.

The scenario just described is repeated countless times every single day across a wide spectrum of companies – large and small. There are multiple studies showing that feeling valued is more important to many people than what they are paid. And this is not a problem that is easily solved with a large company event, a cruise or other significant activity. No, our team members need to feel valued on a regular and ongoing basis.

Leaders need to understand that helping others to feel appreciated and valued is one of the most important functions we can perform. It requires a genuine and authentic mindset that we are here to serve. Yes, you read that correctly. We are servant-leaders. The objective is to look for every way we can to make others feel important and fulfilled. It’s not a mindset that we can turn on and off depending upon who we encounter. We can start creating this mindset by trying to find something good and positive about every situation and everyone. When we are served in a restaurant, we can call the server by name and tell him or her what great service was provided. In public spaces there are always people cleaning the floors or polishing the glass. We can compliment them on how they are creating a sparkling appearance.

We continue to practice our appreciative mindset at our workplace. We make certain to greet everyone we walk by and call them by name. We go out of our way to acknowledge the efforts of others and thank them for their contribution. As leaders, it’s our job to encourage other leaders to create a culture of gratitude.   

An initiative we launched several years ago involves sending a letter to each of our team members on their work anniversary. It’s form letter that changes annually and is signed by me as the CEO. But we’ve taken it a step further. A spreadsheet is created onto which is recorded comments about each team member’s accomplishments provided by his or her supervisor. Toward the bottom of the letter, I handwrite a personal note – several sentences – citing these individual accomplishments and thanking the team member for being a part of the team. I write several hundred of these each year and can tell you that it’s one of the high points of my month. I also call team members when I hear about exceptional performance and express my appreciation for their service.

It’s equally important for our team to feel as though their input is needed. Mandates from on high are sometimes necessary, but soliciting feedback from team members and involving them in the decision-making process whenever possible promotes buy-in. And we need to make sure when people speak that we listen and act accordingly. There are many great ideas and practical solutions that can be accessed from such a collaborative approach.

Acknowledging value and showing respect starts at the top of an organization. If the executive leadership doesn’t incorporate this as part of the cultural fabric, it’s not likely that it will be a priority for others either. If the “big boss” would simply say hello to Robin and show a little interest in her and what she does, it’s unlikely that she would feel the way she does.

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 Marauding Capitalist Entrepreneur

There have been some interesting developments in recent times on the subject of capitalism. An angry anti-capitalism movement is in full bloom in the U.S. and around the world. The classic definition of capitalism from Merriam-Webster is, “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” And what do the anti-capitalists want? They are pursuing a moneyless society or some other economic system such as socialism or communism. How have we arrived at this point?

There has always been a certain element of society that voices opposition to capitalism. Lately the voices seem to have grown louder and perhaps greater in number. I believe that this may be due in part to some bad behavior on the part of a few marauding capitalists. What is a “marauding capitalist?” Here are some examples. The financial services company, Wells Fargo, fraudulently created more than two million phony bank accounts which generated fees for the bank and helped push sales figures for thousands of employees (along with their bonuses). Then there was the scandal involving the EpiPen. The cost to Mylan, the pharmaceutical company producing the EpiPen is $30, and yet the consumer was being charged $600. And finally, there’s the case of Martin Shkreli, formerly CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who jacked up the price of the HIV drug Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to over $700.

Some of these actions were illegal. In all cases they were immoral. When this sort of behavior is perpetrated, it gives capitalism a bad reputation. It’s not hard to see how the term “marauding capitalists” came about. Society generally disapproves of those who scheme and those who take unfair advantage of others. Is it any surprise that resentment has built to the point that the anti-capitalists are coming out of the woodwork?

What can we do to inoculate ourselves from becoming a “marauding capitalist?” It all starts with a foundation of Core Values. For a good part of my career, I heard about companies with Core Values, but in most cases, they were “lip serviced.” They were only for window dressing and no one paid any attention to them. Several years ago, we decided to become serious about developing our culture and did so by developing meaningful Core Values. Since then, we’ve focused on them relentlessly and celebrated the way they are lived by members of our team. Our Core Values include Commitment, Integrity, Customer Fulfillment, Team Member Fulfillment and Community Impact. By maintaining focus on delivering on our Core Values, we have avoided the kind of actions that might be regarded as unacceptable or offensive.

With well-thought Core Values and a commitment to living them every day, we entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about doing things that are immoral or illegal. But we’re not done yet. The “living them every day” part is critical and the most difficult. This is where Culture comes into play. Every organization has a Culture – intentional or unintentional. When the Culture is positive and aligned with the Core Values, it reduces the likelihood for moving off the straight and narrow. If someone on the team proposes an initiative that is contradictory to the Core Values, someone else will call this into accountability. A healthy Culture can become a self-policing mechanism that stops “marauding capitalism” in its tracks. Most importantly, the top leaders of an organization must embrace the Core Values and model them every single day. This sends the message that the company has not simply adopted Core Values to be politically correct.

There are plenty of companies that are doing it right. Panera Bread, Atmos Energy, Kohl’s, Western Union, Marathon Petroleum, Quest Diagnostics, Union Pacific and Sempra Energy, are just a few that are admired for their trustworthiness. Unfortunately, only takes a few bad actors to poison the well for capitalism overall.

We can all do our part to prevent marauding capitalism from becoming mainstream, for it invites more government regulation and gives a platform to those who want to destroy capitalism outright. When our operating principles are congruent with our Core Values, we will be successful in this effort.

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 Hustling Entrepreneur

The legendary Sir Richard Branson was 16 when he launched his first business venture in 1967 – a magazine called Student. He followed this with a business selling records through the mail. Thus, was born Virgin Records and ultimately a multitude of companies under the Virgin brand.

Mark Cuban was 25-years old when he started software company, MicroSolutions. Seven years later he sold it at a price that put $6 million in his pocket. He reinvested his winnings into another of his start-ups, Broadcast.com which netted $5.7 billion when sold.

John Paul DeJoria bounced around in the foster system as a boy. He was involved with crime and spent time in the military before he borrowed $700 to start John Paul Mitchell Systems. His humble beginnings included door-to-door sales and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Later he founded Patron tequila, another killer brand. Today he’s worth more than $3 billion.

What did all three of these entrepreneurs have in common? They were all “hustlers.” I know that when many of us hear that term, it doesn’t have positive connotations. We have images of a smarmy, greasy, fast-talking character who is constantly trying to run a con. But this isn’t the kind of hustle to which I refer. Instead, this kind of hustle is all about a desire to win.

Entrepreneurs who have hustle are resilient. They are creative and they are fearless. The easiest way to describe an entrepreneurial hustler is to look at the parallel of a hard-fought basketball game. We’ve all seen players scrambling after loose balls, flying into the stands, and throwing themselves onto the floor. They are willing to sacrifice their bodies with reckless abandon in their quest to achieve victory.

When we hustle we have a warrior’s mindset. Our initial focus is on survival. How many successful entrepreneurs started from deep and dark places? Remember how J. K. Rowling faced tremendous adversity in the early days before her celebrity as the author of the Harry Potter books? Her mother passed away; she gave birth to a child and went through a divorce; was clinically depressed and lived on welfare for a time. But her only choice was to write to survive. When we are ready to curl up and hide from the world, we should remember how others were able to make it through the tough times and come out the other side stronger and ready to whip the world. Resilience is a major key to survival.

Perhaps our business isn’t growing like we planned. Maybe we’ve even seen it slide backward. Now is the time to get into “hustle mode.” This can take many forms but the most important is a mindset of renewed determination. We examine our strategy and tactics so that we can make the necessary adjustments . . . with renewed determination. We push to new levels of innovation . . . with renewed determination. And we may even do things we’ve never done before . . . with renewed determination, so that we can survive.

Eventually we begin to achieve momentum. We begin to win. And we continue to hustle. Our mindset shifts away from simple survival, and the focus is now on how to thrive. We are relentless in discovering ways to become even more creative. We absolutely, positively know that we are going to succeed. Our “hustle” now involves an even greater sense of urgency along with commitment and dedication to setting our goals even higher. We ignore our critics and all the naysayers. We work hard and we endure the pain. There is no question we’ll make many sacrifices along the way. I can remember in the early years of my career when we were building our business. We had passed the point of survival and were beginning to thrive. I would sometimes arrive at work very early – 3:00 AM. And I would meet another colleague who was leaving to go home for a few hours of sleep. We were hustling and we were winning.

The entrepreneurial hustle often begins with survival and eventually results in a breakthrough where we thrive. Resilience, hard work, creativity, a fanatically positive mindset, and laser like focus are some of the more important factors to this equation.

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.