About anentrepreneurswords

R. Lee Harris grew up in Manhattan, Kansas and has lived in the Kansas City area since 1977. A 1975 graduate of Kansas State University, Harris began his career with Cohen-Esrey, LLC as an apartment manager two weeks after he graduated. Now president and CEO, he is involved in apartment management, development and investment; construction and tax credit syndication on a nationwide scale. Over the course of his career Harris has overseen the management of more than 27 million square feet of office building, shopping center and industrial space and nearly 60,000 multi-family units. He has started dozens of business enterprises over the past 40+ years. In 1991, Harris wrote a book entitled, The Customer Is King! published by Quality Press of Milwaukee. In 2012 he authored the book, An Entrepreneur's Words to Live By. He has mentored a number of business people over the years and has been a long-time participant in the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program. He and his wife Barb have two grown daughters and one grandson. They are active in their church, community and university.

The Entrepreneur’s “Skin”

How’s your skin? Does it fit comfortably? How thick is it? There are a couple of things to know about the skin of successful entrepreneurs. They are usually very comfortable in it and it’s thick as rhinoceros hide. Let’s explore what all of this means.

Our behavior, especially the way we treat other people, is a pretty good indicator of how comfortable we are in our own skin. We’ve all seen the caricature of a hard-driving take-no-prisoners Type A boss. He berates others and makes unreasonable demands. He is completely insensitive to the feelings of those around him and is often loud and boorish. I’m painting a pretty negative picture of this individual to dramatize my point. Such people are often deeply insecure. I’ve gotten to know several people like this. Every one of them has been a good person at heart, but they live in constant fear which adversely impacts their personality. They are afraid of being “found out” – they think that maybe they aren’t as qualified or “together” as the image they are trying to project. They are afraid that at any given moment they might fail at whatever endeavor they are tackling. The tough guy act overcompensates for these insecurities.

We all experience varying degrees of insecurity, but it’s how we deal with it that truly counts. I’ve had many friends and mentees over time that confided that they may be nervous about a particular situation and want my advice on how to handle it. As a seasoned pro when it comes to anxiety, I am able to boost their confidence by saying three simple words . . . “just be yourself.” And what I really mean is just be your true self. Not the mask that is worn and shown to others. Now you might say that this seems like overly simplistic advice. I agree. Just being ourselves is pretty simple. We try to overcomplicate things but it all boils down to this simple premise. I’ve learned how to overcome my anxiety and just be myself by pondering the following question. “Is this a life or death situation?” Fortunately, I’ve always been able to answer “no.” Putting things in this perspective allows me to melt away the insecurity and just be who I am. As long as I’m being myself and maintaining my core values, I really don’t care what others may think. And then the pressure is off.

This brings me to my second “skin” point. Our insecurities mirror the manner in which we are affected by our interactions with others. When we allow ourselves to be hurt, feel slighted or victimized by someone else, it’s a reflection of how secure we are in our own skin. We take a lot of body blows as entrepreneurs. We may or may not get the credit when things go right, but we’re definitely the focal point when things go wrong – our fault or not. The business world is ultra-competitive and not everyone plays fairly. Conflict may erupt within our own organization and it’s up to us to resolve it. Bottom line – there’s a lot of opportunity to personalize the constant hammering to which we are subjected. We develop that suit of armor that gets us through the wars when we are totally comfortable with whom we are. I suppose in a way it’s more like a suit of Teflon™ that deflects the attacks. And perhaps they aren’t really attacking at all if we don’t perceive them as such . . . right?

Being comfortable in our own skin accomplishes two objectives. It enables us to treat others with dignity and respect and it inoculates us from allowing ourselves to be hurt by others. This is a pretty good twofer in my book.

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 Doubting Entrepreneur

There’s one thing of which I’m certain . . . I think. Have you ever had this kind of feeling? We entrepreneurs are a pretty confident lot. We are scrappy and tough. There’s nothing we can’t do including leaping over tall buildings in a single bound. Throw us a challenge and we’ll whip it with one hand tied behind our back and blindfolded to boot. Right? Well, maybe. And most of the time.

Entrepreneurs have several “thought enemies,” one of them being gnawing and nagging doubts. Here’s a not-so-fictional example. Let’s say that things have been going pretty well in our business and we’ve had some nice wins along the way. Then we hit a little speed bump – perhaps a contract doesn’t get signed that we thought we had in the bag. Or an important customer stops doing business with us. In other words, we get knocked off our game a bit. That part we can handle with aplomb as we go on to sign another contract or we fix the problem with our important customer. It’s what happens next that can be perplexing.

After we’ve been bucked off the horse so to speak, we begin to have feelings of doubt. For example, we are ready to introduce a new product or service, but we wonder if it might flop. In the past, we would have launched without any trepidation, but now it feels different. Could something else go wrong that that might cause everything to come unraveled? We know that these gnawing and nagging doubts aren’t healthy and could become self-fulfilling prophecies. Yet still they are there and hard to push out of our mind.

Why is our confidence shaken, and doubts have entered the picture? I’ve thought about all of the times this has happened in my life and believe it centers on a rather recent failure in the past. The earlier example that I gave where the contract or customer was lost illustrates this notion. Coming off of a failure makes us wary and more sensitive. As entrepreneurs we have winning in our DNA. Failure is for losers. And yet we do fail, and we do lose. Sure, we’re resilient, but we can’t ignore what it felt like to fail and lose, and we don’t want to experience it again. And so, we’re vulnerable to doubt and uncertainty. Subconsciously we’re thinking, “I’m sure what I’m doing now is going to work, but if it doesn’t, I don’t want to be hurt again.” We find ourselves moving forward but wondering . . . always wondering when the other shoe will drop.

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself when these insidious doubts start creeping into my consciousness. I step back and take inventory of all of the positive successes that I know lay in front of me. I may have just lost a deal, but there are ten more that I believe with all my heart will succeed. Now here’s the key – even if only half of the ten deals actually succeed, I’m still way, way ahead. In other words, I’m not looking at the glass half full, but I’m looking at multiple glasses and every one of them is overflowing. Immediately my mindset changes and all is right with my world again. I’ve accepted the fact that I had a prior setback. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll have more setbacks in the future. But I know that the pluses will always far outweigh the minuses and the winning score will be in my favor – overwhelmingly!

Gnawing and nagging doubts are usually a product of a recent failure. We get past such feelings by looking at the scoreboard and realizing that we are way ahead in the game. Ultimately this makes us unbeatable.

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-Chasing Entrepreneur

I recently was at the beach and watched seagulls flying across the water with large objects hanging from their mouths. Upon closer examination I realized that they had plucked seahorses from the waves. But they were struggling to eat them. To begin with, the seahorses were way too large to swallow. And there was no way for the gulls to tear them apart because seahorses have a tough armor-like skin. A few weeks later I watched another seagull flying with a large fish in its mouth while being chased by two more seagulls. Finally, one of them stole the fish from the first (in mid-air!) but ended up dropping it in the water. The third retrieved it, landed on the beach and tried to swallow it – but the fish was too big.

All this seagull activity got me thinking about an interesting issue that we entrepreneurs face from time to time. We often chase a piece of business that we very much want to win. Sometimes it’s a really, really big piece of business and we think to ourselves, “This may be way out of our league but why not give it a whirl? Maybe we actually could win!” Our pursuit of this business may be somewhat fanciful, but stranger things have happened and lo and behold we do win. OK, now what?

A number of years ago our apartment management business unit was pursuing a very large property management assignment. We had not previously done business with the prospective client, but the firm was well-respected in the industry. Months and months of relationship-building culminated in a “mystery” dinner with the client representative where we were told we were going to be awarded a large management contract. The client explained that a portfolio of apartments was going to be assigned to us, but we couldn’t be told where the properties were located until right before we assumed management. The reason – the client was self-managing the properties and didn’t want the on-site or corporate office teams to know about the management change until the day the company-wide announcement was to be made. We had also been told that the property assumptions would occur over a phased period of time – two or three months. When all was revealed we ended up with more than 3,000 units in 52 apartment properties scattered across the country. Oh, and they were dumped in our lap all at once with no phase-in. We were literally the dog that chased and caught the bus!

Needless to say, this assignment did not work well for us. It turns out that this client gave us all the “dogs and cats” (tough properties) in its portfolio – so we were behind the eight ball from the beginning. Client expectations were unrealistic; our compensation did not begin to cover our costs, and our team was running ragged. After 18 frustrating months, we resigned the account at a loss of approximately $250,000.

What did I learn from watching the seagulls and my own experience? It’s very simple. It’s great to plan to catch a whale, but we must have a plan for what to do with the whale once it’s caught. There’s no question that the property management assignment I described overtaxed our resources. Unfortunately, we had no idea how large the portfolio was going to be in the first place – we never should have put ourselves in that position. But as a quintessential entrepreneur I’ve often had the attitude, “Let’s just get the business and then we’ll figure out how to deal with it.” I’ve found that this approach is a great way to crash and burn. Pulling together the entire team for a series of planning sessions is paramount. Understanding how to scale our human and capital resources is vital. And sometimes we just have to say “no.” That’s pretty tough for an entrepreneur to do but saying “yes” to the wrong opportunity could be extraordinarily costly.

Thinking big and pursuing big opportunities are part of our DNA as entrepreneurs. Comprehensive precision planning for the big wins paves the way for long-term 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 Big and Bold Entrepreneur

I saw a video clip the other day of the Haohan Qiao Bridge that stretches 980 feet between two cliffs in China’s Shiniuizhai National Geological Park. It’s a suspension footbridge that is extremely unique in one particular sense . . . it’s made of glass. As you walk (or crawl) across, you see through the glass floor and look straight down 600 feet to the canyon below. We’re told that the glass is 25 times stronger than ordinary glass and if it breaks it is so dense that a person won’t fall through.

What’s interesting about this bridge is the fact that it’s bold, it’s big AND it’s safe (we’ll assume for the moment that what we’re being told about the bridge’s safety is correct). This bridge is the perfect metaphor for what we’re trying to accomplish as entrepreneurs. There’s nothing wrong with small ball, but after playing this way for many years we sometimes yearn to take that big leap across the canyon. Doing so requires that we push beyond our comfort zone and summon a fearlessness that we may not have previously experienced.

What prevents us from taking big and bold action? Often, it’s a question of safety. We’ve invested much in the way of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today and we don’t want to risk our bank account, our 401(k), our home, our health, our reputation and yes, the possibility of failure. The risk of failure is likely the Number One reason we don’t take those big and bold steps. The rest of the risks can be successfully managed. We use them as “why not” reasons, but ultimately it all boils down to the chance that we might fail.

What does failure look like to you? Many of us are programmed to abhor failure. In school, getting an F was something to dread. Our parents were disappointed. We thought we looked stupid in the eyes of our classmates. There was real shame associated with this letter grade. Throughout our lives we have been conditioned to avoid failure at all costs. And so, we say things like, “I don’t want to go all-in on my business idea because I can’t afford to put my family at risk.” But at the root of it, we are afraid to get that paper back from the teacher with a red F in the upper right-hand corner.

I’ve said many times that failure is simply an unfinished experiment in the laboratory of life. Failed experiments can sometimes be the only way we eventually get it right. I’ve started numerous business ventures that failed. In one case we raised investor money to fund a particular concept but could not get the traction we were looking for. Within a few months we realized that we were going to fail and so we gave everyone’s money back and shut down the venture. The goodwill from the early recognition of our failure and the act of returning the investment capital enabled us to build even stronger relationships with those investors who have invested in subsequent ventures. Long ago I realized that there is nothing to be ashamed about when we fail and maintain our integrity in doing so. I just haven’t figured out how to go big and bold without the risk of failure somewhere in the equation.

Here’s the bottom line. Step One – think big and then think bigger. Step Two – focus on how to mitigate the risks that could be associated with failing when launching that big (bigger) idea. Step Three – release the ego and realize that failure doesn’t diminish us as individuals. Step Four – create a solid implementation plan. Step Five – GO FOR IT!

Going big and bold is a process to be managed. But it also means that we must get out of our own way to deny the insecurities and perceptions of failure that prevent us from moving 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.

The “Loyal-to-a-Fault” Entrepreneur

Think about how much loyalty is a part of your life. How loyal are you to others? And how loyal are they to you? Do you have loyal customers; loyal partners; loyal employees, loyal friends and loyal family members? Loyalty is a strong and positive quality. It’s a key element in building and maintaining relationships. So, everything must be peaches and cream, right? Ah, but there’s a bit of a dark side to loyalty.

You probably have heard the term, “loyal to a fault.” This is when we may be too loyal to someone else and that loyalty clouds our judgment and may even be damaging to our business. Whether or not we’re being too loyal can be a tough call. It requires us to be very objective about a particular person and their performance. This can be exceptionally difficult for anyone and nearly impossible for someone who places a very high value on the loyalty trait.

Here’s a scenario that may be familiar. Perhaps it’s even happened in your own organization. A high-level executive has been with a firm for 30-years and reports to the founder and CEO. This executive is part of the CEO’s inner circle and his advice and counsel are often sought by the CEO. Unfortunately, this executive is also a flaming jerk. He’s very nice and thoughtful to other senior level executives, but when it comes to those who don’t have as prominent a position in the organization, he can be unreasonably demanding and thoughtless. Because of his tenure with the CEO, his behavior is tolerated. The employees of the firm have learned to steer clear of him and know that he is “protected” by the CEO. Complaints were lodged about him in years past but it’s well-known by everyone working for this company that he will always get away with whatever he wants.

If asked about this high-level executive, the CEO would undoubtedly say, “I know that he can sometimes be a bit abrasive, but overall he’s done a great job for this company.” The CEO might also say something like this, “He and I were fraternity brothers and he’s always had my back.” Sound like something you might have heard before? In this situation, many of the employees of this company have lost respect for the CEO because he won’t fix the problem. If this was a family business, it could very well be that the CEO and high-level executive are related – brothers perhaps. The bottom line is that the organization cannot function effectively because the CEO has misplaced loyalty to a problem individual.

As entrepreneurs we must learn how to maintain our objectivity, especially when it comes to employees and team members who are key to us. We have to be able to separate our feelings of loyalty from what is best for our organization. Loyalty can easily become a blind spot for us unless we have a method to deal with it. In a larger organization this can be done through a human resources department. The HR director must be given permission by the CEO to lay the facts on the table about each and every employee. In a smaller firm, it may be helpful to hire a consultant who can facilitate the performance of a 360-degree review of senior executives or even all members of the firm. In both cases, the HR director or the consultant should provide an honest perspective to the CEO that one of his or her reports needs to be coached, disciplined or even dismissed.

Loyalty is generally a good thing. But when there’s loyalty to a fault, we need to be willing to listen to someone tell us when we have a problem. And then we must deal with it accordingly.

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 False Choices

It’s 3:00 AM. You’ve just awakened with a start. Your heart is racing – not pounding, just a generally anxious sort of feeling. You aren’t sure why this is happening. There’s no sound of an intruder and everything externally seems to be in order. Then you lay there struggling to return to your slumber. You know you must get up in two or three hours, and you know you desperately need to finish getting your rest. But there’s one BIG problem. Your mind won’t let you.

I’ve never figured out exactly what causes this. There’s obviously something churning around in our subconscious. And it’s frustrating beyond belief to wake up this way, not know why, and then try to drift back to the Land of Nod. And I can attest to what happens next. I will allow my mind to conjure up False Choices. Perhaps I’ve been in the middle of a complicated real estate deal that has a lot of “hair” on it – that is, many moving parts that aren’t all moving as planned. At this point the game begins. Here’s the dialogue that occurs.

What if the appraisal for the apartment complex comes back at slightly less than is needed? Then the loan amount will be less, and the equity requirement will be more. But wait a minute – I only have an equity commitment for the exact requirement and I don’t have time to raise the extra amount that will be needed! Oh my (or some other less printable phrase) – we won’t be able to close this deal!! If this happens we’ll lose the earnest money that is now totally at-risk; we’ll lose all of our credibility within the industry; we’ll never be able to do another deal again; I’ll go broke and have to live under a bridge!!!!!!

OK, the bridge part may be a little dramatic, but you get the idea. The point is that in this state of semi-consciousness it’s very easy for our mind to magnify our concerns and create wild scenarios that are disconcerting. Often, logic is totally absent in these moments, and because of this the False Choices become overwhelming. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely experience this anymore. But I can tell you that in years past I’ve gotten so worked up that I had to get out of bed and become totally awake to bring my full faculties to bear and find the solution. Kind of blows the opportunity to get any more sleep completely out of the water . . . right?

Rather than trying to figure out what triggers this kind of response, I’ve learned how to avoid letting my mind run away in this manner. If I do wake up with that general feeling of unease or even if something specific looms in my mind’s-eye, I immediately deny it. That’s it. I refuse to allow the monsters in my brain to come to the surface and get any satisfaction whatsoever. It’s my belief that we are extremely vulnerable when we are half-awake and half-asleep, and trying to resolve any sort of issue is futile and dangerous. If we let down our guard, invariably we end up in False Choices.

Learning how to deny these thoughts will not be easy at first. It will take a lot of practice. What I do is quickly translate the issue that is bubbling up into a visual image – perhaps it’s a dragon from a fantasy world. Then I take out my mighty dragon slaying sword and thrust it deeply into the dragon’s chest at which point it melts away and I fall asleep again. Thus, I’ve taken the horrible problem that somehow has invaded my sleep; turned it into a dragon; killed it instantly and gone back to sawing logs. While this might sound corny, I can tell you that with practice it works. It doesn’t matter what the outer issue is, I simply turn it into a dragon and eliminate it.

We must avoid the False Choices that may be presented while we sleep. Denying them before they have a chance to take hold of our minds will allow us to deal with them in a rational fashion when we are awake.

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 Blessed Entrepreneur

We all have aspirations. So, what kind of an entrepreneur do we aspire to be? I would like to be a Blessed Entrepreneur. How would this manifest?

The Blessed Entrepreneur has a rock-solid set of principles and core values. He or she marches to a tune of integrity and honor. Decisions are made in part with an eye toward how others are helped and most certainly an avoidance of intentionally hurting anyone. The purest test of this individual comes when a choice must be made between earning substantial profits by “cutting corners” or doing the right thing that generates little or no gain.

The Blessed Entrepreneur sees the glass not half empty or half full. This person sees many glasses overflowing and is always in deep gratitude for such bounty. A completely positive mindset is one of the strongest attributes of the Blessed Entrepreneur. Thoughts of lack and limitation are quickly swept away with optimism and hope; then translated into process and action that preordains the desired outcomes. Even moments of doubt and challenge are transformed into opportunity and silver linings.

The Blessed Entrepreneur exudes a quiet confidence. There is no arrogance – only competence. This confidence evolves through knowledge, experience and selflessness. The Blessed Entrepreneur is never too proud to ask for help or admit ignorance about a particular subject or situation. He or she is totally comfortable in his or her own skin. There’s no need to “put on airs” or pretend to be someone they’re not.

The Blessed Entrepreneur is the quintessential leader. This person is a role model and a collaborator. A command and control style is never utilized. Coaching is the approach most favored and a clear vision is continuously articulated. The Blessed Entrepreneur inspires members of the team to do better and be better. He or she is always looking for ways to recognize the accomplishments and success of others. An intentionally positive culture is developed and nurtured.

The Blessed Entrepreneur understands his or her priorities. Outside of a vocation, this individual has a strong focus on living a healthy lifestyle. This includes regular exercise, eating right and getting regular medical checkups. The Blessed Entrepreneur is aware that good health impacts all other aspects of his or her life. Similarly, this person also pays attention to the family unit, spending quality time with a spouse or partner, children, parents, grandparents and other family members. Most important of all, being fully present defines quality time.

The Blessed Entrepreneur is financially prosperous but not because wealth is his or her goal. Instead, a passion for a profession drives this person to excel and discover new opportunities. This passion unlocks a powerful creative flow that results in amazing success. And part of this success can be measured in a level of financial benefit that becomes a by-product of the overall effort.

The Blessed Entrepreneur embraces change and fearlessly pursues innovative solutions to problems that are faced. The prospects of change stimulate excitement and a desire to lead the process that enables an orderly transition. There’s no hand wringing about the past – only a positive outlook for the future with an expectation that every day will be even better than the last. This attitude converts to boundless energy that is infectious for all those with whom contact is made.

Finally, the Blessed Entrepreneur lives a life of service to others. He or she is always looking for ways to offer a helping hand without quid pro quo. There is no need or anticipation for accolades and recognition. The Blessed Entrepreneur has an innate ability to spot those who need assistance whether it be a colleague, a friend, a family member or even a stranger. This giving of one’s self may be small in nature or significant – it matters not.

Blessed Entrepreneurs lead complete and satisfying lives. They are committed to their aspirations which becomes inspirational for the rest of us.

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.