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 Storytelling Entrepreneur

If you strive to be a successful entrepreneur it’s incumbent upon you to be able to persuade others to buy from you whether it’s a product, a service, and idea or whatever. The same goes for you even if you aren’t an entrepreneur. Somewhere along the line you must convince someone else to say “yes” to you. With that as the backdrop, consider the following pitches for the same product.

Scenario #1: The Jimmy Styks Apex Hybrid 114 Stand-Up Paddle Board is one of the best paddle boards on the market today. This paddle board is 11’4” in length, 32” in width and amazingly light at 33 pounds with a thickness of only 4.8”. The 5” nose rocker and the 3” tail rocker offer tremendous stability for this sleek wave runner. And its rugged design will accommodate an NFL-sized bruiser of up to 260-pounds. Real bamboo inlays provide superior strength, and utility tie-downs keep your gear in place while you paddle. The board is camera mount ready, and a carry handle is included for easy transport to and from the water. This is a top-of-the-line model and will give you years of pleasure on the water.

Scenario #2: I went on a journey the other day. But it wasn’t the kind of journey with which you might be familiar. The ocean was like glass and I could see to the bottom 40 feet below. Fish were swimming everywhere and I saw a baby octopus poke out from between two rocks. My Jimmy Styks Stand-Up Paddle Board was my constant companion as I glided effortlessly across the surface. After about 20 minutes something glistening caught my eye. The sun was bright overhead and I stopped to look. There it was again! Something was definitely on the bottom and was shining in such a way as though it was beckoning to me. I dove to the bottom and gently brushed back the sand. Yes! It was a Spanish gold doubloon. I brought it to the surface for closer inspection and found it to be in perfect condition with a mint stamp of 1798. Wow! I dove back to the same spot and there, waiting for me, were five more doubloons – a truly amazing find. Thankfully my Jimmy Styks comes equipped with a carrying case into which I stashed my treasure and utilized the built-in gear tie-downs.

Since that first journey I’ve taken many others to the same spot. Fortunately, my Jimmy Styks can hold a lot of weight, up to 260-pounds. I only weigh 180 so I was able to haul a lot more treasure from that spot with each visit. I mounted a GoPro camera on the board to record my recovery effort and was gratified that my bamboo-constructed Jimmy Styks was so stable, even with the weight of shifting gold, diamonds, and emeralds. Yes – I also found exquisite baubles on the ocean floor as well – a real pirate’s treasure. In all, there was 100 pounds of the stuff. And I was able to quit my job and now live the life of leisure thanks to my Jimmy Styks Apex Hybrid 114 Stand-Up Paddle Board.

Far too often we try to persuade others with facts and figures. While important, facts and figures don’t tell the whole story. And that’s just the point. Storytelling is a much more powerful method to help someone buy something. I don’t know about you, but I would be much more inclined to have an interest in purchasing a Jimmy Styks Stand Up Paddle Board after listening to the story in Scenario #2. The recitation of facts in Scenario #1 was fine, but I wasn’t particularly inspired. Customers are more likely persuaded to buy from us when we inspire them in some fashion.

Storytelling is an effective way for us to help others buy from us. Painting a picture that someone can envision is more inspiring than simply pointing out facts and features.

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 Apolitical Entrepreneur

It’s time for a touchy subject. I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time and have been very reluctant to take the plunge. But as time has passed, I feel obliged to weigh-in. The subject is politics. Don’t worry – I’m not taking sides here. Instead, I’d like to pass along some observations that I hope will be thought-provoking

For starters I think we can agree that society has become polarized to an extent never seen before in our lifetimes. It used to be that certain political figures were despised. Now this hatred extends to those who support the politicians. The media and especially social media are ablaze with inflammatory rhetoric and shrill commentary – all of which spans the political spectrum. Echo chambers have emerged with like-minded people egging each other on. Here are my basic questions. Exactly what is this accomplishing? What problem is being solved? Is the conversation (if we can call it that) lessening the polarization that we are witnessing?

For entrepreneurs (and others too) this is quicksand territory. When we spew forth on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or some other platform we run the risk of alienating others – that’s obvious. I’ve heard a lot of talk about “being unafraid to speak up for our values and principles.” OK, fine. But to what end? Do our customers want to do more business with us because of our public proclamations? How does this affect our team members? And what about our friends? I made the decision long ago not to participate in political dialogue on public forums. Those who know me well are certainly aware of my political leanings. But the last thing I want is for my persona to be wrapped in political packaging.

A number of high-profile CEOs and entrepreneurs have chosen recently to make political statements. In one instance a business leader purportedly said that team members who supported a certain political candidate weren’t welcome in his company. In other cases, customers have supposedly been told that their patronage is not desired if they subscribe to a specific ideology. Without judging the merits of this discourse, I simply wonder what is to be gained by such messaging.

I’m the last person to subscribe to political correctness as a reason for raising this issue. And it goes beyond angering customers and team members. What’s really at stake is the health and well-being of our society. The polarization path we are on is not in our mutual best interest. The notion that anti-anything or anyone is productive is puzzling. We need positive energy to advance our entrepreneurial endeavors. And we certainly need positive energy as human beings to live vibrant and fulfilling lives. I submit that handwringing and negative social media posts do nothing to achieve that which we desire.

Part of the polarization problem we are experiencing may stem from the tribalistic nature of our society. There’s a lot of talk about open-mindedness but the fact that many of us function within monolithic “tribes” prevents a diversity of ideas and a true desire to gain understanding of other perspectives. This is not a condemnation but merely an observation.

What has been happening in this politically charged environment is a wake-up call for me. Rather than join the fray and “one-up” the argument, I am choosing to measure my words and actions against a standard of positivity and productivity. I’ll stand up for my principles in the voting booth and with my checkbook. My public conversations are about how I can serve and help others meet their needs and find success. I am striving for my customer and team members to see me as a positive force in their lives. I want to be for something rather than against. My brand of entrepreneurship is politics-free.

We need to work together to end the polarization in our society. We can start by taking a positive stance on social media and in our other public dealings.

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.

Mistakes and the Entrepreneur

I’ve said many times that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. Too often we beat ourselves up over the mistakes that we make. Innovative forward-thinking entrepreneurs make a lot of mistakes. This is normal and necessary to some extent. It’s when the same mistake is made repeatedly that there’s real cause for concern.

Understanding how mistakes are made can be helpful in eliminating their repetition. Simply shrugging off a mistake as “an unfinished experiment” is a missed opportunity to gain deeper insight into why it happened and what can be learned. This also must be tempered in the other direction. We’ve all seen sports teams that play not to lose. Often this ends badly. We can become tentative and overly focused on avoiding mistakes. And what happens then? We end up making even more mistakes.

I’ve learned quite a bit about mistake-making over the course of my life and career. Many were silly. Some were more significant. Fortunately, none were ever life or death. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Several of my mistakes occurred because I failed to Plan. I shot from the hip or simply jumped into the water without any forethought. Plotting a course doesn’t mean having a 40-page business plan. But it’s important to think through the different steps that will be taken to reach the ultimate objective. In the process we also look for possible hiccups that might be encountered and determine what can be done to avoid or mitigate them.

With a plan in hand, we make sure we have sufficient resources to effectively implement it. Further, we also determine if we (and/or our team) are adequately Educated on what we will need to do to succeed. A large percentage of mistakes are made because those implementing the plan aren’t fully up-to-speed on how to do so. Failure to be sufficiently educated on the “how” and to understand the context of a particular situation can have deadly consequences. Think about an auto mechanic who isn’t properly trained on how to re-connect a brake line on a particular model of car. Uh oh.

Following a plan and being educated on the “how” doesn’t guarantee a mistake-free execution if Process is ignored. On June 1, 2009, Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all aboard. The report by the French Aviation agency, BEA, stated, “Temporary inconsistency between the measured airspeeds likely following the obstruction of the pitot probes by ice crystals that led in particular to autopilot disconnection and a reconfiguration to alternate law,” and “inappropriate control inputs that destabilized the flight path.” In other words, the pilots failed to follow the prescribed process for such conditions.

Here’s a cause for mistakes that happens more often to me than I care to admit. It’s called Distraction. I’ll be cranking away on a project and the phone will ring; someone stops by my office, or I need to dash off to an appointment. Unfortunately, my project was interrupted and so was my train of thought. When I pick up where I left off, I’m in the danger zone. Invariably there’s a gap that I can pinpoint as the root cause of whatever mistake ensues. More recently I’ve been trying to make some notes to myself before tending to the distraction.

Information Failure is usually referenced in the field of economics. But I think it can be broadened in more general terms to include mistakes that are made from bad information, bad facts and/or bad conclusions. There have been times that the data was old, and I hadn’t bothered to make sure that it was current. And there’s no doubt that I’ve drawn the wrong conclusion as a result of incomplete information.

We all want to minimize our mistakes. Understanding what causes them is the first step in this process. For me a failure to plan, be educated, follow process, becoming distracted and using bad or incomplete information are usually the reasons for my mistakes.

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.

Accountability, Bears and the Entrepreneur

Here are several scenarios. Tell me what’s missing. A manufacturing operation is experiencing an alarming increase in the number of product rejections. A child chronically fails to turn in his homework assignments. Monthly financial reports for a company seem to always be delivered at least two weeks late and sometimes more. Customer service ratings for a particular business are abysmally low. Bears are constantly getting into trash bins in a neighborhood and making an incredible mess.

So, what is it? What’s missing? It’s a concept that can sometimes be elusive in entrepreneurial environments and often in our personal lives as well. It’s called . . . accountability. Accountability has four basic components – understanding, commitment, responsibility, and consequences.

A failure to understand what is expected can obviously lead to an overall failure in whatever operation is being performed. The manufacturing rejects could very well have been caused by a machine operator not understanding a critical step in his or her process. It’s hard to hold this person accountable if there was a lack of training to ensure a full understanding of the process.

Without commitment full accountability is impossible. The child must not only understand how important it is to submit his homework, but he must also be committed to the notion as well. If he refuses to commit to turn in his work, then he will refrain doing so. While it’s true we can hold him accountable for his actions, it’s unlikely that we’ll achieve the desired result.

The path to accountability involves a willingness to take responsibility. “It’s mine (or ours) to do” becomes the mantra. In unhealthy organizations there may be a great deal of finger pointing. “It’s the fault of Marketing.” “No, Sales screwed up!” No one seems willing to step up and claim whatever “it” is. Taking responsibility is a sign of integrity and sacrifice, especially if things go wrong.

Finally, there are consequences. We may think of consequences in a negative sense but of course consequences can also be positive. The accountant who finally figures out how to deliver the financial reports on time may benefit from positive consequences in the form of a bonus. On the other hand, the customer service department that gets consistently poor ratings might suffer the consequences of being terminated. It’s important to note that for negative consequences to be administered fairly, the individual(s) in question must have a clear understanding of what they are supposed to do. One of the most common mistakes that is made in the accountability process is firing someone for their failures that are really the result of their not clearly understanding how to perform their role.

So, let’s put it all together in a positive scenario. Mike and Susan are a two-person team employed by Newco, a tech start-up. For the first week after they are hired, they undergo intensive training that provides them with the knowledge and understanding they need to undertake the functions assigned to them. The second week they work with “buddies” that scrutinize their work and ensure the finished product meets quality standards.

At the beginning of the third week the company founder sits down with Mike and Susan and asks them several questions about the work they are doing. He inquires as to whether they are clear on what they are supposed to do and how to do it. When they answer affirmatively, the founder asks if they are fully committed to do their part as a team in delivering a flawless product to the customer. Mike and Susan now have understanding and commitment.

One day a customer complained that two of the units she had purchased were defective. Upon further investigation Mike realized that he had missed a step in the production process. He wrote a note to the customer offering his apology and made sure the founder knew that the error was totally his and not Susan’s fault. Thus, he took responsibility.

Over the course of a year, Mike and Susan performed in exemplary fashion. They were accountable to each other, to their company and to their customers. As a result, they were both promoted to supervisory positions and received generous raises. All in all, the consequences were positive.

When we have understanding, commitment, responsibility, and consequences we have full accountability. And that’s how we keep the bears out of the trash bins.

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 “Disneyland” Entrepreneur

We’ve explored the concept of Vision in this blog before. But I’d like to share a technique that has worked for me – perhaps you’ll find it valuable too. Simply put, vision is “what it looks like when we get there.” Remember when we were young and a family vacation to Disneyland was being planned? What was the focus? It wasn’t so much on the long journey to get there. Instead, we could see ourselves riding in the Tomorrowland Jets (long gone now) or in a Matterhorn Bobsled. We could taste the cotton candy and hear the whistle on the Mark Twain Riverboat. In other words, we had a vision in our minds-eye of what we were going to experience.

As entrepreneurs we have that same vision. The problem for most of us is that it remains trapped inside our heads. We struggle to articulate it to others. And so, our team members punch the clock every day with no clear idea of “what it looks like when we get there.” It seems clear to us, but they don’t have a clue.

I struggled to communicate my vision for many years. I often launched initiatives and undertook projects that all made sense within the framework of my vision – but to others it seemed like a helter-skelter approach to something that was undefined. At times, members of our team expressed frustration with the process and begged for a clearer picture. I had tried reducing my vision to writing, but a few bullet points later even I was uninspired.

At the urging of a friend and former colleague I took another stab at it a few years ago. But instead of trying to put it on paper in a concise one or two paragraph manner I went a different direction. I decided to tell a story. I mocked up a Wall Street Journal masthead and put myself in the shoes of a WSJ reporter writing a profile of my company – ten years in the future. I picked the name of a real reporter and the date on the masthead was really ten years out. And then I told the story in considerable detail. What unfolded were several aspirations; explanations of how the aspirations were to be achieved and ensuing measures of success. I quoted real people. I talked about how our customers were going to feel. Our culture was highlighted, and several strategies were outlined. One thousand seven hundred and seventy words later a clear picture emerged representing “what it looks like when we get there.”

For the past two years I’ve been explaining the vision story to everyone in the company. My vision needs to become a shared vision and I’m eager and willing to tweak it so that it is inspiring to as many members of the team as possible. We’re beginning to work backwards from what it looks like ten years in the future, to identify the various strategies that will be needed to reach the vision. Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done – but finally; for the first time in 50 years, everyone has a clear picture of where we’re going.

If you’ve been having a tough time articulating your vision, I encourage you to write your own story. And if writing isn’t really your thing, sit down with someone who has the gift of prose and tell him or her the story from your heart. This person can serve as your translator and put on paper the story that you will share with your team. You’ll have several re-writes. You’ll add, delete, clarify, expand, and fine tune. Just remember that the final product should be inspirational. It should be as big and bold as you desire. And anyone reading it should come away without any doubt about “what it looks like when we get there.”

We all have a Disneyland image of some sort for the organization to which we have committed so much of our lives. We can share it with others through a storytelling process that creates clarity and a call to action.

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 Respect-Earning Entrepreneur

Successful entrepreneurs display many different leadership traits. But there’s at least one aspect of leadership that an entrepreneur cannot just automatically possess – instead it must be earned. Of course, I’m talking about Respect. Many believe that respect should be granted simply due to a station in life or perhaps a position that is held. Certainly, there may be some truth to this, but true respect is not something that is simply bestowed. Yes, the Queen of England, the President of the United States, and other heads of state command respect. But it’s for the office and not necessarily the individual.

Rodney Dangerfield made a living as a comedian with his trademark phrase, “I don’t get no respect.” With apologies to Rodney, respect is no laughing matter. It should be viewed with the utmost of seriousness because it can be a life-or-death factor for businesses and organizations of all sizes. When CEOs misbehave not only is the individual disgraced but the company he or she represents is shamed as well. On September 28, 2015, the EPA announced an order to recall Volkswagen cars built from 2009 – 2015 due to software that was programmed to cheat on emissions testing. Two days later the company admitted to this malfeasance and on September 23 the CEO resigned. Volkswagen has since paid well over $20 billion in financial penalties and legal settlements – not to mention the long-lasting reputational damage that would bankrupt smaller firms. Rebuilding the respect of the public for the VW brand will be a long and arduous process. And who knows if the former CEO will ever again be truly respected.

Earning respect doesn’t just happen. There is an intentional process that is required, and it consists of multiple facets. From my perspective it all starts with integrity. Do we always do the right thing even if it’s seemingly detrimental to our best interests? And do we always do the right thing even when no one is watching? Integrity cannot be turned on and off on a whim. Either it’s there or it’s not. Our team members, customers, suppliers – everyone is watching. If we keep our moral compass centered, we will have taken a giant step toward the pinnacle of respect.

Together with integrity is authenticity. It’s impossible to be authentic and genuine without integrity. Are we comfortable enough in our own skin to be ourselves? We’ve all seen others who are struggling with inner demons and insecurities. They “put on airs” and engage in bragging and blowhard behavior. It’s hard to respect someone who is living in disguise and can’t deal productively with his or her personal issues.

Entrepreneurs who have empathy and genuinely care about others are more likely to earn respect than an insensitive tyrant. Think about this. An individual is completely honest; does everything in an above board and straight forward manner; is totally authentic – but he’s also a flaming a-hole. How much respect do you suppose those people with whom he interacts have for him? Treating people poorly is a fast way to lose the respect of others. The leader who is courteous and thoughtful is earning respect. The leader who shows a real interest in others and their welfare is earning respect. The leader who subordinates his needs or desires to the wishes of another, is earning respect. When a leader enjoys success but publicly gives the credit to members of his team, he is earning respect.

Consistency is the final ingredient in this recipe for respect. We can’t be hit or miss with our integrity, authenticity or in the way we treat people. Inconsistency sows seeds of doubt about our real motives. In a worst-case scenario others see us as being manipulative and conniving. Clearly when we stay true to our principles, we have no problem remaining consistent.

Earning respect takes time, and once achieved the quest to maintain it should be sacred. Earning and keeping respect is best accomplished through integrity, authenticity, empathy, and consistency.

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 Personal SWOT

Almost every entrepreneur has heard about the acronym, SWOT. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Typically, the SWOT analysis is used as a corporate assessment. We gauge each of these areas relative to our own businesses and then create strategies to respond accordingly. But there is another application of the SWOT analysis that I have rarely (maybe never) heard utilized. And that is to perform a personal SWOT analysis. As the entrepreneur, it is a good practice to self-perform the SWOT. But it would also be enlightening to have a peer or trusted colleague do the same to gain an additional perspective.

We start this process by analyzing our personal Strengths. Are we strong leaders – if so, how is this demonstrated? Are we persevering? Do we have exemplary resilience in the face of adversity? Perhaps we have a strong innovative flair. Could we safely say that we are calm, patient, kind or generous? We should identify and assess the strengths that matter most.

Seeing our Weaknesses may not be so easy especially if we aren’t an introspective type. This may require help from that trusted colleague or a peer who is not afraid to tell it like it is. Do we have a temper? Does our ego ever get in the way? Do we always treat others with respect? Are we perceived to be of high integrity? Do we give up too easily? Maybe we tend to lose focus.

Analyzing our Opportunities is an exercise in determining whether our glass is half empty or half full. Think about what we personally have the potential to do. Could we become more philanthropic? Is there a mentoring or coaching opportunity in our future? Do we begin speaking at industry conferences? Perhaps we could develop a new product or service. Ultimately this is about how we can become more fulfilled as human beings as well as becoming even more valuable to our enterprise.

Finally, we must look at our Threats. Could our lifestyle be a threat to our health? Is there a lurking situation that could degrade our financial security? Does our mindset work for or against us? When we evaluate Threats in a corporate sense, we generally are contemplating external pressures that we may think are beyond our control. As we consider Threats from a personal standpoint, we find that most will be of an internal nature. We can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

Once we complete an honest and realistic personal SWOT assessment, we need to take the next step of creating strategies that bolster our Strengths; resolve our Weaknesses; take full advantage of our Opportunities and eliminate our Threats. The ensuing plan can become the centerpiece for leading a balanced work and personal life. And revisiting it often will ensure its implementation.

A personal SWOT analysis can be an invigorating and exhilarating process. When done in concert with a SWOT for a company, the results can be a powerful catalyst for positive change in both the entrepreneur and his or her enterprise.

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 Social Media Savvy Entrepreneur

In the old days if a product was lousy, it was hard to get the word out to the public. Short of taking out a full-page ad in the newspaper or standing in front of a store handing out flyers, there really wasn’t an effective way to inform unsuspecting customers about a flawed product or terrible service. Social media has changed all of that in a good way for the most part.

Do you ever read online product reviews? Smart companies give customers the chance to rate a product or service and write a short statement about their experience. And smart companies constantly monitor the ratings and reviews and take immediate action to resolve issues as they arise. I don’t know about you, but I have been paying more attention to ratings and reviews when I make purchases on Amazon and in other internet stores. Social media provides entrepreneurs with a terrific opportunity to “up their game” so to speak. Failure to deliver top quality or resolve customer problems can have severe consequences. In an instant the whole world can learn about a bad experience. And when too many bad experiences are chronicled online, an entrepreneur can lose business in a big way.

I purchased a battery-operated handheld drink mixer for use in mixing a supplement I take daily. The device worked quite well for a few weeks. And then it became temperamental and would only work intermittently. Eventually it stopped working altogether. I had tossed the packaging, so I wasn’t sure how to contact the manufacturer. The easiest thing was to simply post a review on the website from which I had purchased the item. I stated that the product was flawed and presented the facts about my experience.

Within 20 minutes of the post, I received an e-mail from the owner of the manufacturer. He expressed genuine concern that I wasn’t satisfied and said he would send me a full refund, send a replacement item, or provide tips on how I could get the unit to work properly. Apparently, my issue was fairly common, and the fix was relatively simple. I liked the mixer and told him I’d take him up on his tips which he quickly sent to me. He also reminded me that his product had a lifetime warranty. I was able to use his tips to get the mixer working properly and have been able to keep it running ever since. I quickly wrote an updated review congratulating this gentleman on his customer focus and endorsed his product.

This entrepreneur did it right. He smartly monitored his reviews. When he saw a negative one, he quickly reached out to his customer with the singular objective of doing whatever it took to make the customer (me) happy. There was never any hint of defensiveness in his responses. His lifetime guarantee is impressive. What he did was turn a potential disaster (bad review) into a stroke of brilliance by getting a positive re-write of my review – by the way, he never suggested that I do this. Better yet, the way I re-wrote the review recounted my initial dissatisfaction and all that the owner did to resolve my issue. Potential customers reading my review should take comfort in knowing that this entrepreneur stands behind his product and only wants his customers to be totally satisfied.

No matter how hard we try, things can go wrong. Stuff breaks. Customers can be cranky. Social media has created an environment where we are very vulnerable as entrepreneurs. Committing to move with lightning speed and doing whatever it takes to ensure total customer satisfaction will help keep us out of the ditch. The Pony Express days of customer service are over. This is as it should be.

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 Golden Rule Entrepreneur

A lot has been made in recent times over insensitivity, hurt feelings and words that are seemingly offensive. There are many sociological factors in play – I’m going to refrain from debating them. Our culture is shifting in seismic fashion and where it will end is anyone’s guess. It’s easy for the modern entrepreneur to get caught up in this brouhaha which I can assure you is a losing proposition. Staying out of the fray is relatively easy but requires discipline.

There are two sides to this coin. Let’s start with our reaction as an entrepreneur to things that are said to us, and actions directed our way. We are going to take slings and arrows from a multitude of constituencies. Customers may say horrible things about us and our product or service. Team members may accuse us of a wide range of transgressions. What our competitors say may be even worse. Regulators, bureaucrats, politicians, and members of the public in general may be generous in taking their shots at us. At times it may seem that we’re a punching bag and a pin cushion all rolled into one.

So, here’s where the discipline enters the picture. It’s 100% our choice whether we let ourselves be hurt or otherwise impacted by what others say and do. This isn’t just a matter of having thick skin and amazing resilience. When someone says or does something to us that is negative, we must be able to dispassionately analyze the words or deeds and look for the truth. For example, suppose we are slammed by a customer for a defective product. A product review is posted online that says among other things, “the ABC Company produces a substandard product, and their CEO is a crook for taking my money.” Actually, this is a pretty mild review but will work for illustrative purposes.

What is the truth here? Does our company really produce a substandard product? We must be able to objectively evaluate this claim. Have there been other complaints? If so, how many? Is there a chronic problem with the product or do we truly have a Six Sigma level of success? Assume for a moment that our extremely low error rate is exceptional which allows us to know the truth . . . we do not produce a substandard product. And the personal statement about the CEO is easily dismissed as an ad hominem attack. Personal attacks like this can generally be completely ignored because they are inherently dishonest. Of course, we want to try and solve the problem encountered by our customer, but we choose not to be hurt by what has been said. Boiled down to its simplest form, this is a case of, “if the shoe fits, wear it.” And if it doesn’t, then don’t.

Now to the other side of the coin. How is what we say and do impacting others? This also requires discipline on our part. But again, it’s really very simple. We practice the Golden Rule whereby we treat others as we would want to be treated. Do we make it a practice to denigrate or berate others? Are we guilty of making ad hominem attacks of our own? Before we say something potentially contentious to someone else, do we stop for a moment and measure it against the Golden Rule? While it’s true that we all make a choice as to whether we will be hurt or offended, it’s important that we as entrepreneurs try and avoid putting others in the position of having to make such a choice. This doesn’t mean we have to walk on eggshells or adopt political correctness. Instead, we must understand our audience and try and be sensitive to how they might react to us. I’ve always found that focusing on the Golden Rule in such situations is usually sufficient to avoid trampling on the feelings of others.

The interpersonal functioning of society today is fascinating but can also be bewildering. We choose not to be hurt by what others say and do, and we practice the Golden Rule when communicating or acting. Taking this approach will help us skirt around the current cultural minefield.

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 Leap Entrepreneur

It’s Leap Year! When you check on this statement you may be confused because it might not be officially true – at least according to the calendar. But from an entrepreneur’s perspective, it IS Leap Year. OK – some additional set-up is in order. Let us think about where we are in our lives and in our careers. What have we achieved? Does it seem like we may be putting one foot in front of the other and carefully walking down the street? Is something holding us back from bursting into a full sprint? Do we have a gnawing feeling that we are behind the curve and maybe even falling short?

I would like to tell you a story about a friend of mine. I have his permission to share this, so I am not talking out-of-school. More than 20 years ago he asked me if I could mentor him in a life-coaching sense. He had a great job with a well-known and highly respected company and was climbing the ladder. He had the opportunity to move to another city with the same company and eagerly did so. He continued to excel in the corporate world and was financially secure. But he was yearning for something more.

This individual had a passion for the outdoors and loved to go rock climbing and whitewater rafting. It was his release from the stress of his daily routine. Eventually this passion became a part-time business. My friend began guiding trips for other entrepreneurs that had a similar passion for the outdoors. He became a master at juggling his day job with his new hobby-business. Ultimately, his yearning overtook the conservative, safe side of him and he quit his very lucrative corporate job to work for himself. Today, I am proud of the fact that he has built a successful company providing a wide range of guided outdoor excursions to a variety of destinations.

Of course, the path taken by my friend was neither direct nor smooth. He struggled mightily to make the final decision to take the Big Leap. But in the end, he did, and it has paid off mightily for him. He is a happy man who is in charge of his own destiny and blessed to be able to provide a good life for his family. So, how did he do it?  

The Big Leap is undoubtedly different for each of us. But it requires some of the same basic elements. First, is the element of Strong Desire. Do we really want it? The Big Leap can happen when Strong Desire becomes overwhelming. We really, really want something to happen. It is stuck in our consciousness every day. It’s a craving. All we can think about is that which we envision becoming a reality for us.

The second element is that of Knowledge. My friend amassed considerable Knowledge by experimenting with his business ideas while still working his full-time corporate job. He did this for a period of years – not weeks or months – and was able to learn what worked and what did not. He achieved a deep understanding of the market opportunities as well as the pitfalls to avoid. And the more Knowledge he gained, the more his Strong Desire became even stronger.

The third element is that of Confidence. I watched with admiration as my friend’s Confidence soared over time. His Strong Desire supported by Knowledge had become a quest. We worked through an Opportunities-to-Fail exercise where we inventoried all the risks we could think of and how he would mitigate those risks. This all unfolded in a measured way. We did not rush but we also didn’t tarry. His Confidence grew as the result of a process.

Finally, the last element of the Big Leap is that of Faith. I am not referring to Faith in a religious sense. Instead, it is a belief that goes beyond the empirical nature of Confidence. In this case, my friend had reached the point where his Strong Desire, Knowledge and Confidence coalesced to produce a belief that he would absolutely succeed. Oh sure, there were still moments of doubt. But they did not shake his Faith that he would be able to make his new venture work.  

We can make every year Leap Year. When we are ready to shake out of the same-old, same-old and take that next big step, we can do so when the four elements of Strong Desire, Knowledge, Confidence and Faith are combined to buttress the big idea that we have.

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.