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 “Lift Up” Entrepreneur

The news lately has been grim in many respects. So many headlines are focused on bad things people are doing. There were sexual assault scandals, charges of racism, political mudslinging, competitive misdeeds, and a host of other negative events. It seems like many of our citizens were committed to tearing down their fellow man. But to what end? How has this made the world a better place?

Entrepreneurs thrive on positive energy – we all do. Rather than use the hand to slap, how about we use it to lift up? Rather than pick others apart why don’t we pat them on the back. And rather than be hypercritical of everything about everyone, let’s intentionally look for the good. It goes without saying that this applies to our personal and professional lives alike.

If this sounds a bit too woo-woo, consider this. When are we most productive? When we are in conflict or in harmony? When are we most creative? And when are we the happiest and most fulfilled? I doubt anyone can honestly say that negativity has paved the path to their success. While our positive approach improves the wellbeing of others, guess what? It’s even more for our own benefit.

Here’s a simple test. Do you hear your friends, family and colleagues say more positive things about others, or more negative things? Recently I’ve listened to others (and myself) in this regard, and have noticed that often, the negative conversation outweighs the positive – that is, unless I move it in the other direction. When I intentionally find something good to say to someone or about someone else, it’s quite interesting to watch where the conversation goes. It takes a decided turn to the positive. Perhaps it’s contagious, or maybe it just needs a kick start. What’s fascinating is to see how easy it is move others in a positive direction by just being positive myself.

This practice takes no effort other than authenticity and a genuine desire to see the good in others. When we pay a compliment to a team member, a spouse, or a child, it’s obvious how it makes them feel. But how does it make us feel? Perhaps there’s a bit of an afterglow for us that creates a lingering positive mindset. A routine I have developed is to walk through our office several times a day and speak to people. I’m looking for ways to build people up rather than tear them down. This occurs by engaging in short conversations, offering a word or encouragement here or there and smiling – always smiling. The process is energizing for me and stokes my innovation and creativity. And members of my team seem to take the cue – we hear them saying nice things about each other and pitching in to help one another.

I firmly believe that an organization (or a family) with a strongly positive culture will do great things. An uplifting spirit will help us through tough times and give us the momentum we need to climb the metaphorical mountains that need climbing. If members of our team are always looking over their shoulder and wondering when they are going to be criticized, a negative mindset ensues. If there is backstabbing, a constant rumor mill, cliques or a general air of indifference, the culture will reflect same.

Entrepreneurial leaders can be the difference maker when it comes to a positive or negative culture. The behavior we model in this respect will be noticed by everyone. If we are consistent about it, we may even help shift the mindset of others to entrench a positive culture that is permanent and enduring. Valuing the contribution of our team members and looking for every way possible to assist them is what can help us become the difference maker.

Making a commitment to continually see the good in others is healthy for our organization. The positive energy that it creates not only lifts everyone else but also elevates us to an even greater state of being.

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 “Little Steps” Entrepreneur

A friend of mine has a company he started several years ago and he’s on an unbelievable roll. If he’s not there already it won’t be long before his top line revenues exceed nine figures. When I first met him, his business was grossing nearly $10 million. Not only has he seen a gigantic increase in his sales, but his profitability is off the charts. I fully expect to read about him in Forbes one of these days. How has he done it?

My friend is not a particularly flashy guy. He didn’t design fancy strategies or engage in crazy risks. Instead, he concentrated on taking little steps. You or I might see them individually as pretty mundane. But when viewed collectively these small steps have become giant leaps, propelling his organization to dizzying heights. What have I learned over the years about how my friend has built such a successful company?

In the early days my friend was the classic bootstrapper. He literally did everything. He and one key associate were the “executive” level management. They paid attention to the little details and obsessed over their customers. I remember urging my friend to spend more time working “on” his business than “in” it. Over time he took this to heart and began to be more strategic. But initially he was the chief cook and bottle washer as well as the CEO.

Also in the beginning, this man was allergic to debt. He re-invested his profits and made sacrifices to get through the leaner times. I suggested that he procure a line of credit to which he responded, “Why? I don’t need it.” I explained that at some point in the future he would need a lending relationship with a bank and that he should establish it sooner rather than later. He could borrow against it and then pay it right back if that would make him feel better. Ultimately, he did obtain a line of credit and it was eventually quite helpful in accelerating his growth.

My friend was very particular about the business he would take. There were opportunities abound, but he showed great discipline in staying in his lane. He did not set out to be the biggest company in his industry, nor did he care if he developed a national footprint. By only taking assignments that he knew he could handle, he avoided the pitfalls that many entrepreneurs have made (including yours truly) by gobbling up every piece of business they could. At first, I thought he might have an affliction of limited thinking. But I was wrong. Though it wasn’t articulated, it was obvious that he had a winning formula that was taking shape because of his intuition.

Over time, my friend learned how to scale his company. He gradually created the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of more and more customers. Today he hires more than 50,000 people a year to staff the industrial operations of his customers. He attributes his continued growth to his ability to identify and value talent. The “value” part is especially intriguing. He genuinely cares about the team he has assembled. It would be easy to view 50,000 workers as a commodity. But he doesn’t. My friend goes to great lengths to make certain that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.

Above all, he’s played it straight as long as I’ve known him. He makes certain that he only hires team members who are legal, and I’ve never seen him cut corners. Over many breakfast meetings and other encounters, I’ve observed this man to be grounded in principle and integrity. We’ve all heard about high-flying businesses that came crashing down when it was revealed that they had been involved in some form of cheating. My friend is Mr. Straight Arrow and has marched to that tune from Day One.

Overall, I think I can ascribe his level of success to his ability to execute. Some leaders are born to perform – my friend seems to do so effortlessly. I’m sure he’s stubbed his toe along the way. But I’m not aware that he’s made any major mistakes that would have jeopardized his future. I can’t say that he was studious about creating strategic plans and organizational charts or subscribed to the Harvard Business Review. Maybe he did. My guess is that he simply exercised a great deal of common sense and had an amazingly deep understanding of his industry.

My friend is a living example of how taking little steps can lead to sweet success. What he has done can be instructive for the rest of us as we grow and flourish as entrepreneurs.

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 Accountable Entrepreneur

Here’s a term you’ll hear a lot in the entrepreneurial world – accountability. In our organization every team member has written Roles and Accountabilities. There is a lot of talk in the business world about holding people accountable. So, exactly what does all this mean?

There are some leaders who are confused and think that accountability is a binary choice. They boil it down to believing that either someone keeps their job, or they don’t. In other words, if someone doesn’t perform in satisfactory fashion the only option is to fire him/her. Otherwise, there’s no way to hold that person accountable. Fortunately, this is a misconception – there are many different aspects to accountability.

In some cases, performance issues may be the result of a team member not fully understanding what is expected of him or her. The solution is simple. That person obviously needs further clarification of his/her role. This can be accomplished by making certain that the position description is comprehensive enough followed by a meeting to clarify the expectations and gain an acknowledgement by the team member as to his/her understanding.

Perhaps a team member is struggling to perform in a satisfactory manner because he or she isn’t adequately trained or properly equipped. The leader must make this determination fairly and then prescribe the antidote. In this situation it’s important to understand exactly which elements of the position the team member need re-training. After the re-training takes place, it might be wise for the team member to take a test of some sort to make certain that the training has been effective. Part of the analysis needs to be ensuring that the team member has the proper tools and/or resources to do the job. It’s unfair to hold someone accountable if the company hasn’t done its part in this regard.

I remember in my earlier days as a property manager, encountering difficulties getting a certain maintenance person to perform. He should have been able to close out many more job tickets than he was. I made sure that he understood his role, was properly trained and had the right equipment. After doing so, I began to suspect that he didn’t have good organizational skills. Rather than hand him multiple job tickets, I began doling them out one at a time. When he finished one, he would come back to me for another. This worked quite well, and I was gradually able to help him learn how to prioritize. This type of accountability was a combination of additional training and closer supervision.

We’ve all experienced situations where a particular team member continues to miss the mark in terms of meeting expectations. Role clarification, re-training and closer supervision didn’t do the trick. Naturally this can be incredibly frustrating, and our initial instinct may be to terminate this team member. But there are other steps in the accountability process to consider. One is more frequent performance reviews. The team member meets with his/her supervisor at the end of each week and is apprised of the progress (or lack thereof) made for the week. The conversations may become sterner over the course of time if there’s no evidence that the team member is trying to improve.

Suppose this team member isn’t making progress and doesn’t appear to care. Eventually more severe consequences must be taken. This could include a demerit type of action involving a write-up for the team member’s file. A second write-up might result in a probationary status for the team member. At the end of the probationary period – two weeks, 30-days, etc. – the team member could be terminated if the issue hasn’t been resolved.

Other techniques for holding team members accountable might include re-assignment, suspension, demotion, or a reduction in compensation. In the case where a person just isn’t cutting it, a re-assignment to a different role might be a relief and save a valuable member of the team. I’ve seen cases where the individual is really trying but just isn’t meant for the job. A re-assignment needs to be mutually agreeable – if not, a termination would be a better avenue.

We had a situation where a senior member of our firm was abusive to the administrative staff. She was repeatedly counseled and advised that this behavior was unacceptable. We then threatened to suspend her for two weeks for the next infraction. After another incident of abuse, we followed through on the suspension. I was sure she would quit but she didn’t. When she returned there was never another instance of her abusing the staff.

Accountability takes many forms. The most important thing for an organization is to identify the different methods for accountability and have a process for their use.   

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 Purposeful Entrepreneur

Allow me to introduce Colin Timothy O’Brady. Born on March 16, 1985, O’Brady was raised in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from Yale in 2006 with a degree in economics. After graduation he went on a trip to an island off the coast of Thailand. During a fire-rope jumping event he accidentally caught on fire and suffered second and third-degree burns to 25% of his body with the most damage to his legs and feet. Doctors said he might never regain full functionality of his lower extremities.

O’Brady defied the odds and completed more than 50 triathlons as a professional, between 2009 and 2015.  Then roll the tape forward to 2016 and enter the Explorer’s Grand Slam. The Slam involves climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents plus expeditions to both the North and South Poles. O’Brady launched this effort on January 10 and completed it on May 27, 2016, setting the record for the fastest time. This included climbing Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet. According to CBS News fewer than 50 people in history have completed the challenge and only two in under a year. He made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet) in less than 12 hours – a normal person takes six to seven days to climb it.

The extreme physical nature of this feat is beyond incredible. Imagine the stamina and endurance he had to have, not to mention the talent and agility it would take to conquer these dangerous towering peaks! But that pales in comparison to the mental focus and toughness O’Brady had to maintain. “I hope that people take away from this the power of the human spirit,” he said. “When you believe in yourself, and you dream big, that anything is possible.” The obstacles he faced were numerous. Fifty mile-per-hour winds, temperatures of -40˚ F., headaches (early signs of acute mountain sickness), icy conditions, a guide who suddenly left with his climbing ropes while on Mt. Elbrus in Russia in the middle of the night, and a cracked ice runway at the North Pole – just to name a few. Meditation was a staple for his mental health.

Colin O’Brady’s life experience offers a parallel to the life of an entrepreneur. Fortunately, we don’t have to face the same physical dangers, but the obstacles can certainly loom as large. Competitive pressures, cash flow (or lack thereof), recruiting talent, legal issues, unhappy customers, production problems, product problems, regulations, difficult economic conditions, and maturing bank lines can add up to a challenge as daunting as a cracked ice runway at the North Pole.  

To thrive and succeed we need more than perseverance and resilience. We need a Mt. Everest mindset. Just trying to “muscle” through often is not enough. A steadfast belief in a strong sense of purpose is a great place to start. For Colin O’Brady, he had been told that he might have difficulty in walking normally after his horrific accident in 2007. This provided a level of motivation that propelled him well beyond simply walking normally. Instead, he set out to do something no other human being had ever done before – and he did it.

What is our sense of purpose? If it’s only to make a lot of money we may not be able to reach the summit. On the other hand, if we are driven to change the world in a profound way, our entrepreneurial endeavors may have a much better chance for success. We’ll press on through the pain and suffering. We’ll become calm as 50 mile-per-hour winds hammer us with metaphorical ice and snow. I submit that without this strong sense of purpose, we cannot muster what it takes to achieve the Grand Slam of whatever we are undertaking.

We can have a successful entrepreneurial career playing it safe – and there’s nothing wrong with this. However, if we want to dream big dreams . . . and realize them, we’ll need to have a Mt. Everest mindset. It will be incumbent upon us to find that deep-rooted sense of purpose that drives us upward and onward. Have you discovered your strong sense of purpose, and do you hold a steadfast belief in it?  

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.

An Entrepreneur’s Shame

There’s an epidemic of massive proportion moving across this country at the speed of light. It has swept up the high and mighty – politicians, actors, corporate chieftains and many a lesser soul. Careers have been ruined and reputations destroyed. Why? All because of a pattern of bad behavior that is no longer being tolerated in society. Claims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and racism are reaching a crescendo with no sign of abatement. We have officially entered the Age of Shame.

Entrepreneurs need to pay particular attention to this trend. We have an opportunity to do great things, but we can easily be derailed by our own actions. This is really very simple. We must be respectful of others at all times – period. We don’t make inappropriate comments to or advances on anyone else. We don’t take actions that could be construed as discriminatory of others. We treat others as we would want to be treated.

There’s a dangerous downside to the Age of Shame. The frenzy of accusations has created a lynch mob mentality – aka – Cancel Culture. No longer are we innocent until proven guilty. Now, convictions are swift in the court of social media. There are no trials in the current “me too” environment. We can easily become ensnared in this cycle unless we take extra care to avoid it.

Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly, and Matt Lauer all have something in common. It’s called arrogance. These men thought their station in life entitled them to boorishness and worse. This sense of entitlement led them to become arrogant and fostered a belief that they were bulletproof. As entrepreneurs we may realize a great deal of success. The best way to inoculate ourselves from arrogance is to remember this. The more successful we become the more humble we should become. It’s easy to develop “swagger” with success. I’m not a fan of swagger. It’s too easy for it to become an in-your-face gesture which in turn can lead to the arrogance we must guard against.  

We can avoid the Age of Shame and its corresponding pain and replace it with our own Age of Gain. We have much to gain if we do it right. We can display the highest level of integrity and model the type of behavior that others can admire. We are color-blind, gender-blind, sexual-preference-blind, and national-origin-blind. Our objective is to focus on pursuing our mission and vision utilizing all the talent that we have available. Once again, the simple calculus is that we are respectful of others at all times.

The notion of respect is easy to understand. When our team members, our customers and our vendors feel respected, they are much less likely to take offense at something we might say or do that could be misconstrued. In other words, we buy goodwill that allows us the benefit of the doubt. Harvey Weinstein didn’t get the benefit of the doubt because he was such a tyrant. On the other hand, if everyone we know sees our motives as pure, an unintentional faux pas may be overlooked.

Character really counts these days. Rightly or wrongly there’s a lot of judging going on. Walking the straight and narrow truly matters. Being completely honest isn’t just a hallmark – it’s absolutely necessary to survive in the current environment. Keeping our reputation intact is essential to navigating the minefield of shameful accusations and hyper-reactions that we are witnessing daily.

When we are respectful of others at all times, we are less likely to be a casualty in the culture war that is raging. In so doing, we can sleep at night without worrying about the consequences that we might otherwise face.

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

The No Quit Entrepreneur

At the time I’m writing this, my soon-to-be 16-year-old grandson is struggling to finish his service project to earn his Eagle Scout award. This project has been tough for him. He had computer issues and lost all his notes not once, but twice. This has been a tough lesson for him in not downloading stuff that contains viruses. He has watched friends obtain their Eagle award with projects that were much less rigorous than his, and where adults were more involved in the planning and preparation. To him, this has been unfair. He has wanted to quit – not just the project but abandoning the whole process of earning his Eagle award. Frustration has boiled over and turned into indifference. We continue to encourage and support him and by the time school starts he will be finished . . . we hope.

My overarching message to our grandson has not been how important it is to earn the coveted Eagle Scout award – he wonders if it really is all that coveted. No, the primary message has been to finish what you start. Do not quit. I have explained in the strongest terms that quitting at this early age sets a pattern for the rest of his life. Quit now and it will be easier the next time to quit then.

Watching our grandson’s trials and tribulations reminds me of the many parallels with the entrepreneurial world. There are two primary elements that emerge from our grandson’s Eagle project experience for which entrepreneurs should take to heart. The first is quitting. And the second is playing the victim.

The entrepreneurial game is a rough and tumble experience. We entrepreneurs get kicked in the teeth (and elsewhere!) every single day. There are times when we wonder if it’s all worth it. The constant slog; getting beaten up by customers, vendors, team members, and investors; losing more than winning; and taking two steps forward and three steps backward. Maybe it would just be easy to throw in the towel and go do something else. But we don’t. We develop thick skin and great resilience. We persevere and continue to get off the ground and get back on the horse – over and over and over again. Why? Because we know that eventually we’ll figure out a way to succeed. As the years go by, we become smarter at our game and don’t rely so much on “muscling through” the tough times. I know there were times as a child that I wanted to quit something. Fortunately, my parents would not let me just as I’m not going to allow my grandson to quit. For those who have children, it’s critically important to help your son or daughter develop the stick-to-it mindset that will serve him or her well as an adult.

The other element I mentioned is that of playing the victim. During one of my rah-rah speeches, I told our grandson that he need not worry about how others are playing the game. It’s the same speech I give to any entrepreneur who wishes to listen. Life is unfair – it always has been and always will be. When we focus on how someone else is being treated and perceive that we’re getting the short end of the stick, we lose the focus that we need to succeed. We are buying into a sort of victim mentality. In the long run, I’ve always found that doing things the right way with integrity is always rewarded. It’s sad to say that too many people in society today seem to be fixated on how others are winning rather than figuring out for themselves how to succeed.

Successful entrepreneurs are not quitters. Their focus is on what it will take to accomplish their goals and objectives without comparing their circumstances to those of others.

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 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.