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 Expert Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, do you know it all? Most people will answer that they don’t. But guess what – we should! I’m speaking metaphorically of course. The point is that if we expect to win over the long haul, we had better be expert at what we do. When we are in command of the facts, we project confidence to others and feel it for ourselves. Malcom Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours of continuous and deliberate practice to become an expert. That’s five years of plying our craft before we become truly proficient. So, does this mean that after five years of working in the same profession we are officially experts? Not so. How much of our day is truly consumed with “continuous and deliberate practice?” I submit that there are several things we can do that put us in such a lane . . . and many more daily tasks that don’t qualify at all.

Study! One of the first steps in our quest toward entrepreneurial fluency is that of study and research. We read every trade publication we can get our hands on, and every book that is even semi-related to our industry. We surf the internet for the latest trends and news that might be salient. In the earlier days of my career, there were many articles that were ripped out of magazines and circulated throughout our office. Today it’s much easier to share information with others and here’s the key. We NEVER stop studying and researching. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been in the business for five years or 45 years, we continue to be a sponge for knowledge.

Professional designations! Earning a professional certification or designation is another step toward becoming an expert. One of the first things I did after I entered my industry was begin taking the coursework necessary to attain a professional designation. I was only 25 when I received it, and it helped overcome my obvious youth in establishing credibility within the industry. I also made some lifelong acquaintances that have been very helpful in my career.

Experiment! Part of the process of continuous and deliberate practice is experimentation. Through experimentation we find out what works and what doesn’t. It’s comforting to know that the aircraft in which we fly were developed by experts. When we have surgery, we know that experts developed the procedures and techniques. These experts perfected the airplane and surgical techniques through literally millions of iterations. We entrepreneurs should be bold and unafraid to continually experiment to discover new innovations.

Collaborate! Hand-in-hand with experimentation is collaboration. We look for every opportunity to work with others who may have solved similar problems or are seeking answers in the same manner as are we. Being willing to collaborate is a sign of strength – not weakness. Rather than having to figure everything out on our own, we can shortcut the process of becoming an expert by joining forces. This is a leverage play and one that should not be overlooked.

Teach it! Teaching others is a terrific way to cement our own knowledge and to learn from others. During the teaching process many questions are asked by the “students” which can be stimulating for the teacher. Mentoring falls in this category as well. When we can explain things to others in a meaningful way and challenge them to think critically; and when it’s clear that they are realizing true value from what we are sharing, we are achieving expert status.  

Participate in the discussion! This entails writing articles, blogs, and books. It involves attending industry conferences and sitting on panels of – yes, you guessed it – experts! Who does the local or national press contact for information about an industry? If they are calling you, then you are probably regarded as an expert. Take full advantage of this opportunity and become the go-to person for as many newspapers, trade publications and other information sources as possible.

Know the answers! Finally, a real expert knows the answers and is right most of the time. We should have a deep understanding of the macro and micro elements of our industry and be able to explain how our product or service is capitalizing on these elements. Being able to construct logical fact-based arguments that persuade others is a priceless quality. And it unquestionably demonstrates expertise.

Becoming an expert in our field takes thousands of hours of study and research; is aided by earning professional designations or certifications; experimenting, collaborating, and teaching; participating in the discussion and knowing the answers. And being an expert often provides a clear pathway to high levels of 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 Cheating Entrepreneur

I’m not writing this blog to be judgmental. I’m really not. However, there are some subjects that cannot be discussed without sounding judgmental. So here goes. Let’s look at the topic of (gasp!) cheating. I can’t say whether cheating is more prevalent in the business world today than 10, 25 or even 50 years ago. It still is an issue that takes many forms.

Presumably we all started learning about cheating as small children. As a youngster, I remember many a board game that devolved into accusations of cheating. Our teachers and parents admonished us to never look at someone else’s paper when taking a test. Playground games were fertile grounds for cheating – remember four-square? “The ball hit the line and is out.” “No, it didn’t!” “You’re a big fat cheater!” Roll the tape forward and as adults we might see team members clocking in or out for colleagues; money being borrowed from the petty cash box; résumés containing college degrees that weren’t earned or military service that didn’t happen; padded expense reports and exaggerated (and sometimes untruthful) claims about all sorts of things.

This all may sound like a collection of relatively minor transgressions. So let me tell you a story. Several years ago, we had an apartment manager who used a corporate account at a local store to make some personal purchases totaling less than $100 – and she reimbursed the property without being asked. When questioned by her supervisor, she admitted her mistake. Following company protocol, the supervisor wrote a memo that ended up in her file advising her that she had violated policy with a dishonest act. In our system of progressive discipline, another such incident could be grounds for termination. This probably seems like an innocuous situation – right? But the story gets worse.

A few years later it was discovered that this individual had concocted a very intricate, elaborate and almost impossible-to-discover embezzlement scheme – to the tune of $160,000. Her property received federal rent subsidies, and while we never had any money missing – her property was always 100% occupied and all rents collected every month – she figured out how to defraud the federal government. As her employer, we had to immediately re-pay the $160,000 to the government and then filed a claim under our crime insurance policy. Of course, she was prosecuted but had spent all the money, so there was no way to recover the stolen funds from her. The biggest surprise came when our insurance carrier denied the claim. Why? There was a fine-print clause in the policy that denied coverage if we knowingly hired or retained an employee who was dishonest. And the damning piece of evidence was that memo in her file that contained the words “dishonest act” involving her use of a company credit account for personal purposes. I’ll spare you the ugly details of litigation against the crime insurance carrier as well as the errors and omissions insurance carrier. Needless to say, we lost and ate the $160,000 (plus legal fees).

The moral of the story is three-fold. First, understand the fine details of your insurance coverage and modify your policies and procedures accordingly. Second, be careful at shrugging off small acts of cheating or dishonesty. They are a window into the overall character of an individual. What may appear to be a seemingly simple “mistake” could be the tip of a very expensive iceberg. Finally, everyone needs to see us as the paragon of virtue. We entrepreneurs need to model “squeaky clean” for our team, our customers and for the public at large. As hard as it may be, we need to demand complete and total integrity from ourselves and everyone else in our organizations. We start by always doing the right thing – especially when no one else is looking. And we hold our colleagues and associates to the same standard. The temptation may be great to cheat to compete, especially if we are struggling to gain traction. But if we do, it’s hard to expect others not to follow suit.

Integrity is not a puritanical concept. Great leaders always do the right thing and show others that it is the only standard by which to operate.

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 Victimized Entrepreneur

I listened to a fascinating business podcast recently. The host was interviewing an entrepreneur who apparently has faced many challenges throughout her career. What struck me the most was her statement that she has a “chip on her shoulder.” We’ve all heard this phrase before, and often it’s portrayed in a positive light. The thesis is that a person has faced adversity and come away from the experience stronger and tougher. I downloaded the transcript of this interview (which lasted for nearly an hour) and read it carefully. What I pieced together led me to question how positive a “chip on the shoulder” notion actually is. When does it veer into victimization territory?

For starters, let’s look at some phrases that I excerpted from the transcript. “Not everybody had a fair shake.” “In another way the industry is biased, and the numbers are terrible and bleak.” “I will say that it took an embarrassingly long time to get anyone to take me seriously, so that’s where the insult is.” “Some of these barriers are just insulting.” “One person has to climb the mountain and another’s gotta climb a fence.” “The person across the table has to get a fighting chance.” “I don’t play well with others.” “I’ll tell you this honestly, our goal post has moved – it’s also there is a microscope on what I’m doing and what my company is doing, that is not on other companies.” And how about this gem? “Back to the theme that it’s a meritocracy except you have to work five or ten times harder than everybody else which is the opposite of a meritocracy.” Other words were used like “dignity,” “gut punch,” “injustice” and “really screwed me over.”

This entrepreneur shared her journey of the past two or three years, and while she’s clearly made some progress with her business, a case could be made that she ought to be farther along. She obviously believes that the reason that she is not is due to external forces that have conspired against her. I don’t think I’ve listened to someone sound more like a victim in a long time. Unfortunately, the podcast host played the part of enabler and sympathizer. He egged her on and attempted to validate her claims. Yet, she presented very little concrete evidence to support her mindset.

I can’t begin to know all the experiences encountered by this entrepreneur. Undoubtedly there have been some trials and tribulations along the way – however, the world is not selective about this! The entrepreneur from the podcast has chosen to develop a “chip on her shoulder,” advocating that the deck has been stacked against her and others have stood in the way of her success. The result appears to be a bitter self-fulfilling prophesy.

What if this entrepreneur took a different path? What if this entrepreneur looked at the obstacles as opportunities rather than conspiracies? What if she believed in her heart that every failure meant that something even bigger and better was in store? What if she could visualize abundance and possibility instead of lack and limitation? Over the course of my career, I’ve always found that embracing optimism and positivity begat the desired results far more often than wallowing in pessimism and negativity.

For me, a “chip on the shoulder” is a cynical mindset. It is typified by wariness, suspicion, skepticism, and distrust. Entrepreneurs that wrap themselves in a “chip on the shoulder” cocoon will have a much tougher time receiving the good which they are pursuing. Here’s an indisputable fact. The adversity we experience directly shapes our mindset. But we make a choice as to what shape it takes. When we dwell on “being screwed over,” “gut punches” and “not playing well with others,” we are setting that shape as a giant chip that rests on our shoulder. And what a weight that chip can become!

We can avoid a “chip on the shoulder” mentality by following the positive path to our success. This enables us to work through, around, over and under the obstacles that we face and see them as opportunities to grow.

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 the other major eBook formats.

The ‘Life is Terrible’ Entrepreneur

Jordan Peterson is a renowned Canadian clinical psychologist and psychology professor who wrote the bestselling book, 12 Rules for Life. I listened to an interview with him on one of my favorite podcasts, Econtalk with Russ Roberts. During the conversation, Peterson makes the following statement. “Life is fundamentally tragic, and ridden with suffering, and touched with malevolence and evil; and that goes for you and everyone around you.” And while Dr. Peterson may be highly respected and says much with which I agree, I must respectfully disagree with the preceding statement. Vehemently.

If we entrepreneurs bought into the premise that Life is Terrible, we’d never get out of bed in the morning. In fact, I believe just the opposite. Life is full of wonder and excitement. Life is full of joy and happiness. Life has far more upside than downside. And life offers unlimited opportunities for great and amazing things. This is not to ignore the fact that there are terrible things that do happen in life. But is life fundamentally tragic as Peterson posits? I think not.

I think it all boils down to perspective. If we choose to believe that Life is Terrible, it will be. Similarly, if we choose to believe that Life is Great, it will be. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that subscribing to the latter means that there will never be mountains to climb and challenges to overcome. But think about this. If we believe that Life is Terrible, those mountains are much harder to climb and the challenges much more difficult to overcome. It’s like adding a 75-pound weight to our back. What’s the point?

By now you know that I am the poster boy for optimism and positive thought. I attribute this mindset to the success I’ve realized over the course of my career. One of my mantras has always been, “What I think in my mind will become reality.” Because I only want Good in my life, I’m going to do my darndest to only think in positive terms.

We entrepreneurs have a lot to worry about . . . if we choose to worry. We could obsess over market share, customer reviews, rising labor costs, cash flow (or lack thereof), sales increasing too slowly, sales decreasing too quickly, government regulation, competition, legal issues, succession planning, production issues and whether we remembered to close the garage door when we left home this morning. Whew! Just thinking about all this wears me out. But with all this worry, concern, and obsession, what exactly has been accomplished?   

Being a Type A personality and maintaining a “chill pill” attitude isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Over the years I’ve discovered that concentrating my energies – mental and otherwise – on taking positive and productive steps leads to positive and productive results. There’s a surefire method that I use to measure my stress factor in this regard. I use a wrist cuff and take my blood pressure and pulse every day. I record it on a log including the time of day as well as notations as to what might have been occurring just prior to the reading. This single act is enough to serve as a reminder to remain calm. I’ve found that each year, my average systolic and diastolic readings have gradually decreased.

I’ve also trained myself to live in gratitude as much of the day as possible. When I am outwardly grateful to others for all of the good they do for me, a form of armor is created that protects me from the Life is Terrible syndrome. I’ve also found that there’s always a solution for just about every difficulty we may encounter. Somehow things just seem to always work out. I don’t think this is by accident. By maintaining focus on positive outcomes and really believing that we are entitled to them, they ultimately manifest. No longer do I blow a gasket when something doesn’t happen as planned. No longer do I wake up in the middle-of-the-night with cold sweat and a feeling of impending doom. No longer do I experience free-floating anxiety.

Jordan Peterson’s “Life is Terrible” philosophy is dangerous for entrepreneurs to adopt. A “Life is Great” mindset opens the way for a rich and full experience every single day.

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.

Commitment and the Entrepreneur

A few years ago, we offered a managerial position to a prospective team member. All the background screening was complete, and he accepted the offer. We even had a firm starting date and appreciated the fact that he felt that he needed to give two weeks’ notice to his current employer. A few days before his starting date he let us know that he wouldn’t be coming to work with us after all. It seems that his employer had offered him $12,000 more annually and he was going to stay put. There is so much wrong with this that I don’t know exactly where to start. Unfortunately, this has happened to us several times since. And I know that other businesses have encountered the same thing.

From the prospective team member’s standpoint, I have a real problem with this individual making a commitment and then reneging. Oh, I’ve heard all sorts of rationalization. “This is just the way of the world today.” Or “You can’t really blame someone for wanting to simply take care of his family.” And “This is classic Millennial behavior.” To all of this I say . . . hogwash. Strong relationships are built on commitment. It’s this way in a marriage, in a friendship, in business and certainly between an employer and an employee. Yet, some people see a potential job shift to force their current employer to give them a raise – never mind that they’ve led their prospective employer down the primrose path.

Let’s look at the other side of the equation. By offering more money not to leave, the current employer is effectively saying to its employee, “We’ve been underpaying you all along and we knew it.” How does this reflect the commitment of the employer? How is it that on one day an employee is worth what he has been paid all along, and the next day he’s suddenly worth $12,000 a year more? Why would the employee want to continue working for a company that does this?

One of our company’s five core values is Commitment. It’s definition – “We hold ourselves accountable and deliver on our promises.” Our rationale – “When we are fully committed, we are reliable and work diligently. Our commitment fosters dedication and loyalty.” We also wrap this core value with individual and organizational actions. From an individual perspective, “I take responsibility for my roles and accountabilities and strive to surpass expectations. I do what I say, I follow through and take ownership of my actions. I contribute constructive input for our company when requested or when needed.” From an organizational perspective, “Our leaders follow through and honor their commitments. Our leaders strive to make decisions keeping in mind the company, team members, customers, and stakeholders. Our leaders are dedicated to supporting their team members so they can fulfill their commitments.”

In 1975, I interviewed for several jobs as I was about to graduate from college. I agreed to work for my current company and was immediately contacted by another prospective employer and offered a position that would have paid more. The thought never crossed my mind to even consider the offer because I had already made a commitment to my current firm. That was the way of the world in 1975. Sadly, as a society we’ve lost the meaning of the word Commitment.  

For entrepreneurs trying to build a business, probably the most valuable resource we have is people. Without people, it’s virtually impossible to build an organization that provides a product or service to our customers. To attract and retain people we must demonstrate commitment in many forms. Our team members need to see that we are committed to making certain they are paid as promised. They need to know that we as leaders are committed to their well-being, to their growth and development, and to the long-term sustainability of our organizations. Perhaps by modeling commitment on our end, we can attract team members who will value this and become dedicated and loyal over the long haul.

I recommend that every entrepreneur adopt Commitment as a core value. By delivering on it each day, maybe it’s possible that the tide will turn, and we can return to the day when our word is our bond.

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 Iconic Culture Creating Entrepreneur

We entrepreneurs live in a time where differentiation can be the determining factor between success and failure. As such, we are constantly looking for that silver bullet that elevates our product or service above the competition. Yet in our quest for this elusive competitive edge, we encounter a myriad of challenges involving everything under the sun. Often, we have people issues – we struggle to find and retain qualified talent, or there may be low performance. Perhaps we endure periods where it just doesn’t seem that we can do anything right for our customers. Bottom line – entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart.

There is a differentiating factor that offers a nearly 100% guarantee of success – but is frequently overlooked by entrepreneurs. This differentiator is an iconic entrepreneurial culture. Well duh, you may be thinking. How could this possibly be overlooked? The reason is the fact that it takes a long time to build an iconic entrepreneurial culture. And we live in a society of instant gratification. The key is to start right now with this process. By taking positive steps every single day, we eventually will realize this objective.

So exactly what does an iconic entrepreneurial culture look like? It starts with a clear vision for the enterprise. Where are we going and what does it look like when we get there? This vision should be inspirational and easy to communicate. Then we must get the right people on the bus. We recruit and hire folks that share our dream and are committed to taking the necessary steps to achieve it. This is where many attempts to build a culture fall flat. We’re in a tight economy and acquiring talent is extremely difficult. Settling for a warm body (because we’re desperate) may be detrimental to the culture we are building.

Our team members need well-defined written roles and accountabilities. Without them, chaos ensues, and many things fall between the cracks. Team members also need the proper training as well as the resources necessary to accomplish that for which they are responsible. I’ve written many times about our Why – that is, why we do what we do. Simon Sinek has identified the nine Whys – one of which makes each of us tick. When we can match the roles and accountabilities of our team members with their respective Whys, we’re well on our way to keeping them challenged and engaged. Team members want to feel valued and appreciated, so we do this in a genuine and authentic manner whenever possible. We express gratitude for the contributions made by our team, and we recognize individuals for their achievements.

Incentive compensation tied to performance can be a strong motivator. Of equal importance is ensuring that each team member understands the importance of his role in the overall march toward reaching the vision. And team members need to be shown a path for their growth. This may involve opportunities for education, mentorship, and career advancement.

Developing core values for the organization is another crucial steppingstone along the cultural path. Once established, advocate them, and live them every single day. It goes without saying that core values are meaningless unless leaders model them consistently. In our company, we’ve heard from many new hires that the reason they joined was because it was obvious that we put our core values into practice.

An iconic entrepreneurial culture nurtures an environment of collaboration. Leaders work to obtain buy-in for decisions involving the team. It’s an environment that encourages experimentation and creativity. We promote the notion of a “laboratory mindset” for mistakes. In other words, when mistakes occur, they are analyzed for what can be learned as opposed to being used as a reason to criticize and bludgeon.

An iconic entrepreneurial culture is positive and optimistic. Fear is eliminated and conflict is handled in an open and forthright manner. Team members are honest with each other and avoid triangulation. They celebrate together and cry together. Systems and processes support strategic thinking – but avoid becoming bureaucratic. Staying nimble is the eternal mantra. Finally, the entire team subscribes to a customer-centric ideology that worships at the altar of the Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Creating an iconic entrepreneurial culture is difficult and time consuming . . . but it is possible. And once it has been achieved, it becomes one of the most powerful differentiators there is.

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 Stressless Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship can be a very stressful proposition. We’re trying to build our business and encounter countless challenges along the way. Cutthroat competition, product design issues, labor shortages, cash flow problems, slow sales, shipping snafus, government regulations, incredibly tight deadlines, lack of sleep and a host of other struggles. A lot of this is simply unavoidable and part of the growth and scaling process. How we deal with stress under duress is the name of the game.

Here are several questions we can ask ourselves. Is stress negative and draining? Do we view stress with fear and trepidation? Is stress something that we must survive? Or do we embrace stress and use it to “lean in” and thrive? You may think that thriving in stress is counterintuitive. But it is not.

It’s a fact that there are many opportunities for situations to become stressful. However, just because a situation is stressful doesn’t mean that we must buy in and take on the stress for ourselves. I know – this is certainly easier said than done. We start by observing how we normally react when confronted with potentially stressful circumstances. Some people withdraw and climb into a shell. Others might be combative and hypersensitive. Still others may wear their heart on their sleeve and present a woe-is-me portrait. Finally, there are those who may show panic and confusion. As entrepreneurial leaders we cannot afford to display any of these tendencies.

How we react outwardly is important to our team. If we are snippy and curt with the people around us, they will sense that something is wrong. If we show fear, they will smell fear and know that something is wrong. By always maintaining an optimistic and cheery demeanor, we can ensure the mental health of our enterprise. I realize that this is hard to do if we really aren’t feeling all that confident in the situation. It’s very difficult to fake it successfully. What to do?

On April 17, 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 bound from New York to Dallas suffered a massive engine failure that resulted in the loss of cabin pressure and the life of a passenger. Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor remained calm under fire and safely landed the aircraft. They didn’t panic and followed their training to the letter. Once back on terra firma, Captain Shults personally spoke to each passenger as they deplaned. What was their secret? They eliminated the emotion and worked the problem.  

When we’re overwhelmed stress can build exponentially. This is the time to heed the old saying – eat the elephant one bite at a time. We break down whatever massive undertaking that is causing stress into manageable tasks. I am a compulsive list-maker. When a mountain looms in front of me I try and avoid looking at it in its totality. Instead, I develop a series of individual tasks and check them off my list as I finish them. I know this may sound like a mental game, but it works for me, and it might work for you too.

The next idea may seem like a bit of a stretch but can achieve the concept of leaning in and thriving. When faced with a sticky situation we look for the silver lining and ask the question, “How can I turn this into something positive?” Accomplishing this takes a lot of practice. It involves rising above the chaos and stress to take a clinical look at the landscape and find a way to succeed. I remember talking to a friend who had a major client that was terminating the relationship. Many entrepreneurs would have wrung their hands in despair. My friend immediately reached out to the primary competitor of the departing client and told him that he was now available to work with the competitor. This new relationship was worth twice the amount of business for my friend than before.

There are many other stress-busting techniques – and there may be times when we need to utilize all of them at our disposal. We should make certain we don’t become one-dimensional. Having other interests besides work provides outlets for our stress and frustration. This may include physical activities, hobbies, civic or charitable work to name a few. Meditation and deep-breathing exercises are excellent ways to remain centered and relaxed. It’s important to practice them continuously and not just when we are in distress. Finally, I’m a big proponent of creating and saying positive affirmations. Positive affirmations pattern our minds away from negativity and fear. For example, saying something like, “I am totally relaxed and ready to claim my good!” may be a great way to start. I know it may sound corny, but I’m living proof that it works. Saying a positive affirmation in groups of ten at least 100 times a day will lay the foundation. Doing it for a week or two adds the cement.

We all have moments where stress can build to overwhelming levels. But it doesn’t have to be debilitating if we choose to embrace it; lean into it and thrive.

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 Macho Entrepreneur

Just about everyone has heard the 1978 song called “Macho Man” by the Village People. The first verse goes like this:

“Every man wants to be macho macho man. To have the kind of body, always in demand. Jogging in the mornings, go man go. Work outs in the health spa, muscles glow. You can best believe that he’s a macho man. Ready to get down with, anyone he can.” Ugghh. I never did like that song. Usually, this term refers to the male species and generally speaks to “showing aggressive pride in one’s masculinity,” according to one dictionary. The word is often associated with “machismo” which introduces the concept of self-reliance. I’m going to take some liberties here and loosely use the term as it relates to entrepreneurs – male and female.

Allow me to paint a picture of the Macho Entrepreneur. This individual is scrappy and passionate about his or her endeavors. The Macho Entrepreneur is driven to excel – a real Type A personality. Hard-charging and brimming over with ideas, this person sometimes has a mindset of “if you want it done right, you must do it yourself!” The Macho Entrepreneur is not going to let anything stand in his or her way to achieving success and will always “die trying.” Do you know anyone who displays these traits and tendencies? This used to be my self-portrait though I think I’m in more of a “recovery” mode at present. 

The Macho Entrepreneur means no harm and thinks he or she is being noble by modeling strong-willed behavior and commitment. But there are inherent pitfalls in this approach that don’t promote the notion of building a team and ultimately a sustainable organization. When I was much more inclined in the macho mode, I received feedback that some people felt it was my way or the highway. I have a high level of ego-drive which when translated, means that I want to persuade anyone and everyone to see things my way. And my enthusiasm could sometimes come across to others like a steamroller. I was somewhat of a perfectionist – even when it made no sense to be so – which is a result of some obsessive-compulsive tendencies on my part. Finally, I’ve always been inclined to keep calm and “never let ‘em see you sweat.”

Here’s what I’ve learned. Being a Macho Entrepreneur is dead-end. Well, maybe it’s more of a cul-de-sac because one can turn around and exit the behavior and take a new path. Regardless, the macho traits really don’t lead to building a successful organization. Trust me on this because I’ve lived through it all from start to finish. So, what’s the alternative?

I’ve said it many times – we must have the right people on the bus. These are people who share our values and have passion for what they do. This is critical because they will be motivated only if they understand our vision of the future and how they fit into the process of getting there. When we know we are surrounded by the right people we are more inclined to delegate. We don’t have to do it all ourselves. And we understand that while others may do some things differently than we might have, empowering them is even more important. If the ultimate objective is achieved in an efficient manner with integrity, we agree that allowing some latitude is a healthy thing. This gets us to the point of allowing others to make decisions. I once heard an entrepreneur say that he only wanted to make four decisions a year – four major decisions! This forced him to delegate decision-making and truly trust his team.

Discarding the Macho Entrepreneur label also means collaborating with others. This sends the signal that their opinions are valued and desired. And believe it or not, many members of our respective teams have some pretty good ideas! What comes next? We get to celebrate the success of others which reinforces the notion that they can make decisions and move the organization forward. Finally, we learn how to be a coach rather than command. No longer is coercion a necessity or an option (it probably never was). We help our team members look at the different possibilities and work through a process of determining the right approach to achieve the desired outcome.

Our lives and our organizations will be richer and more rewarding when we figure out how to transform away from being the Macho Entrepreneur. We accomplish this by surrounding ourselves with the right people who understand and share our vision; to whom we can delegate decision making and promote collaboration, and who we can coach and ultimately celebrate their victories.   

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 Empathetic Entrepreneur

Building a successful business requires human interaction at many levels. We’ve all seen the stereotypical entrepreneur who is moving fast and speaks in a short-clipped manner. He (or she) is the picture of efficiency and wastes little time in getting down to brass tacks. Sometimes this entrepreneur can be seen as brash and even a little bit arrogant. He (or she) often wears this description as a badge of honor. This might be a typical conversation with a member of the team. “Matthew, this is not your best work. It’s sloppy and totally misses the mark. You can and must do better. I’m very disappointed in you.” The entrepreneur might see this as brutal honesty. But is it productive?

Carol Burnett talks about her storied career in show business. She reminisces, “Back in the day, the men – Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar, and Milton Berle – if they said: ‘Hey guys, this sketch sucks. Get with it! What’s the matter with you?” They were fine because they were guys. But if a woman did it, she would be labeled a bitch. So, I tap-danced around it a lot.” Burnett went on to say, “If a sketch wasn’t working, I’d call the writers down to rehearsal and I’d say, ‘can you help us out here? I’m not saying this right. Maybe you could come up with a different line that would make it easier for me to get a laugh.’”

In his book, The Culture Code, author Daniel Coyle introduces a concept that makes a lot of sense for entrepreneurs to adopt. He contrasts Brutal Honesty with Warm Candor. Warm candor is the notion that we can still make our point – very clearly – without causing another person to feel small and unworthy. Feedback can be delivered without tearing down that person in a de-motivating manner.

How do we move toward a more “Carol Burnett-style” of offering warm candor and not be namby-pamby about the message we want to deliver? I believe it starts with our everyday personality. Are we generally positive and upbeat? Are we always looking for good in every situation? Do we acknowledge others and give them pats-on-the-back when they are deserved? Or are we generally assaholics who are negative about everything and complain incessantly? Are we such perfectionists that nothing is ever right . . . and our team members know it?

If we embrace the positive personality previously described, candid conversations with members of our team can be very constructive. I rarely ever tell someone I’m “disappointed” in him or her. If I do use the term, it’s that I’m disappointed about something – but not in that person. There are other key words and phrases that are unnecessary. Attacking someone personally may seem like brutal honesty, but it’s just mean-spirited and serves no purpose. I’m not looking for a confrontation. I simply want to provide feedback that is factual and will help my team members do better next time. I try to communicate with empathy. If after multiple attempts to coach the individual on how to step-up and there is still no progress, then I have no problem starting the transition process for this team member to exit the organization. But there’s no reason that I can’t always show a level of respect that allows the team member to maintain his or her dignity.

Building strong and positive relationships with our co-workers and colleagues allows us to effectively use the “entrepreneurial two-by-four” of warm candor when warranted. Purity of intention is critical. We all know entrepreneurs who prefer to act like “bosses” and want to be seen as big shots. Their deployment of brutal honesty is not so much about team member growth as it is demonstrating their dominance. These so-called leaders do not understand the value of connection and creating an environment of safety. Their team members live in fear of being singled out and ridiculed. True leaders go the extra mile to create a nurturing culture that sees mistakes not as failure, but as unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life.

Honesty and candor are vital ingredients to the success of an entrepreneurial endeavor. Delivering them in an empathetic and constructive manner will seal the deal.   

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 “Eliminator” Entrepreneur

What do you think of when you hear the word “elimination?” Does it have a positive or negative connotation? What could “elimination” possibly have to do with entrepreneurship? Is it a sinister plot to get rid of the competition? Happily, “elimination” is a very positive concept for entrepreneurs. Let me explain.

Nature has installed a regular elimination process within our bodies. We eat and drink foods and liquids which provide nourishment. But not all of what we consume is useful and our system eliminates this as waste. If this elimination process did not exist, we would eventually become so bloated we would explode – or at least that’s my speculation!

I read a staggering statistic recently. Apparently, the National Science Foundation published a paper in 2005 stating that the average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day! The paper went on to say that 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% of them are repetitive. If true, this is astounding. It’s no wonder that the older we get, the harder it seems to remember things – it’s probably because our minds are so cluttered with the cumulative effect of our thoughts.

So, what does this mean for us as entrepreneurs? Having a fresh mind that can think clearly is paramount to our success. And of course, mental clutter and negative thoughts impede our creativity. If 80% of our thoughts are truly negative, we are living in a danger zone when it comes to flourishing entrepreneurship. It’s one thing to acknowledge that we need to change our mindset. But that is easier said than done. After years of “practice,” negative thoughts may come naturally to us.

The answer is to embrace a process of elimination. The first step is to realize when negative thoughts have crept into our consciousness. Keeping a “thought journal” for a few days might be helpful in this regard. Every time we have a negative thought, we write it down in our journal. In a short period of time, we will become very mindful of our thought patterns and identify the triggers for negative thinking. The second step is to eliminate negative thoughts. This might be accomplished in a symbolic way by taking the negative thoughts we’ve transferred into our journal, then tearing out the page at the end of the day and burning or destroying it in some manner.

Because nature abhors a vacuum, the elimination of negative thoughts will create a void into which we can pour positive thoughts. A few that come to mind are gratitude, enthusiasm, optimism, exhilaration, confidence, and fulfillment. It’s these positive nuggets that will provide us with the “entrepreneurial energy” to reach the pinnacle of success. Just remember that the elimination process is just as important as the positive thoughts we think. Without elimination, the negative thoughts of fear, lack, limitation, envy, jealousy, hurt and unworthiness, continue to hang around and fester. They make it that much harder to usher in the positive energy that allows us to thrive. The bottom line is that we must be very intentional about the process of elimination.

There’s one more thing we can do that will physically reinforce the notion of elimination to make way for greater good in our lives. If you are like me, we have all sorts of “stuff” that has accumulated over the years – material things in our garages, attics, basements, storage sheds – you name it and it’s probably there. While cleaning out these areas may not be our idea of a fun Saturday project, it certainly can be therapeutic when we see it working in tandem with eliminating negative mindsets. And it never ceases to amaze me that I save some of the darnedest things. For example, I received a monthly financial publication for decades and saved every one of them. I guess I figured that I might go back and look at them at some point in the future. Except that I never have – not one single time. And now all that information and more is easily available on the Internet. So, I found it somewhat liberating to get rid of all these magazines (and my house is less of a firetrap to boot). The point is that eliminating unneeded physical possessions is an act that supports the elimination of unneeded and unwanted thoughts of the mind.

Entrepreneurial energy can be gained when we intentionally practice the process of eliminating negative thinking. Then the creativity and positivity that flows into the void will help propel our success like rocket fuel. 

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.