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 Tunnel Vision Entrepreneur

During the days when I was flying an airplane, I learned a very important entrepreneurial lesson. I’d be approaching a large airport and the situation became very busy. I had Approach Control giving me vectors and altitudes which required regular attention to the instrument panel. I had a landing checklist to review. If there were passengers, I needed to make sure they were buckled in, and loose objects were secure in the cockpit. I also had to dial in the radio frequency for the airport tower to be ready for the hand-off from Air Traffic control. Whew! With all this activity it was easy to forget to do one very critical thing – and that was to get my head up and look outside the airplane. Pretty obvious, right? You have no idea how even the most experienced pilots can make this mistake. We’re focused on everything else – and yes, we are looking straight out in front of us to line up with the runway. But there are other objects in the sky – aircraft that might be unaware of our presence, radio towers, drones, birds, etc. I quickly came to understand (under the penalty of death) that I needed to avoid Tunnel Vision at all costs.

What does Tunnel Vision look like in the entrepreneurial world? Here’s a hypothetical example. Jeff owns a three-year old company that provides IT services to small and medium-sized businesses. He has 27 members on his team and his top line has been growing at 60% annually. Jeff is crazy busy right now. He’s up at the crack of dawn and after a quick workout he heads to the office. Many nights he’s not home until after 9:00. At work he’s consumed with an endless stream of team members who catch him for a wide variety of reasons. He attends meeting after meeting. E-mails pile up and phone messages go unanswered. During the few moments Jeff has to breathe he wonders why time is flying by so fast and why it seems that he has accomplished so little.

You probably already know the rest of the story. Jeff and his team are so consumed with trying to keep up with their meteoric growth that a competitor sneaks in and steals some of their best clients. Instead of focusing on the customer, Jeff and his company have fallen victim to Tunnel Vision – and what they are seeing are systems, processes, recruiting, hiring, training, HR issues, accounts receivable, accounts payable – everything except the customer.

There are several ways we can be vigilant about keeping Tunnel Vision at bay. First, we need to make certain that every member of the organization has well defined written Roles and Accountabilities – let’s call them R&As. The R&As need to be of sufficient detail to identify all the areas on which each of us should be focused. It’s kind of like a position description on steroids. Next, we should regularly review our R&A. I recommend that this be done at least once each week. Perhaps we have an “accountability buddy” with whom we review our respective R&As. I have gotten into the habit of doing this at least weekly and can see how easy it is to fall into a rut by just paying attention to one or two specific roles, sometimes to the exclusion of others. Part of this review is determining what I’m going to do during the coming week that involves each of my R&As. This helps keep me from falling into the ruts in the road.

As leaders, we must model how to avoid Tunnel Vision. After doing this for ourselves, we then need to encourage others to follow the same process. Often when Tunnel Vision is prevalent, I hear the same refrain – “there’s just not enough time in the day!” What this means is that we have lost control of our schedule and are allowing ourselves to be pushed and pulled by others. Tunnel Vision is inevitable when this is happening. Regaining control of our schedules is paramount and can be accomplished by planning what we are going to do rather than reacting. Ultimately, this planning initiates the R&A review and subsequent determination of our actions to be juggled in all areas.

Tunnel Vision can have fatal consequences for an organization. It can be avoided by reviewing Roles and Accountabilities at least once a week, and planning action steps that impact all areas for which we are accountable.

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 Up and to the Right Entrepreneur

Damon is an entrepreneur. He runs a small but growing company that recycles old computer equipment. Damon is very frustrated right now. Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom. She has two small children under the age of five and produces marketing materials for three companies, working from a spare bedroom. Stephanie is very frustrated right now. Why are Damon and Stephanie so frustrated?

Damon’s company has been growing at a rate of 25% a year for the past three years. He’s doubled the size of his team and his margins are increasing. If you looked at a graph depicting his business, the line would be up and to the right.

Stephanie has two beautiful and healthy children. Her husband is a physician, and the family is financially secure. Her marketing venture is flourishing. She’s landed a new client each of the last three years and the type of work has become much more substantive. By all measures, Stephanie’s graph looks the same as Damon’s – up and to the right.

Why in the world would these two individuals be so frustrated? Damon has chosen to reinvest a major portion of his profits back into his company. As a result, he hasn’t seen his personal cash flow increase in any meaningful way. Intellectually he knows he’s doing fine, but it still rankles him that his bank balance has remained fairly static.

Stephanie loves her marketing business, and she is ecstatic over motherhood. She worries that her two primary roles may someday collide (at times they already do) and she feels guilty that she may fail to do justice with either. Stephanie wonders how she can possibly achieve her personal and professional goals with the juggling act that she is managing. 

Here’s a simple but powerful truth. Damon and Stephanie have not yet learned how to celebrate their success. To those of us looking in from the outside these two are ideally situated. Everything seems “up and to the right” for them and yet they are frustrated. Damon and Stephanie are trapped in the tunnel of limited thinking. They have set lofty expectations for themselves – both in terms of what they want to achieve and how quickly this will happen. How many entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs do you know who are suffering the same plight? What can be done to break this negative-mind cycle?

If we were coaching Damon and Stephanie, we would tell them to become quiet for a few minutes and clear their minds. Then we would suggest that they “go to gratitude.” That would involve creating an inventory of all that in their lives for which they are grateful. Going to gratitude helps them get out of themselves and see beyond the tunnel walls of their frustration. And it’s a way to re-set the mind in a positive manner. In fact, we would advise Damon and Stephanie to use the gratitude exercise in the future whenever they feel frustration welling up.

As armchair coaches we would next encourage Tyler and Stephanie to discover how to celebrate their successes – no matter how large or small. Sometimes we tend to singularly focus only on the BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals – that we have set, and we fail to see the progress we are making along the way. Damon and Stephanie need to re-pattern their thinking to be able to see the smaller achievements that occur every day and intentionally celebrate them. One of Damon’s team members earned a difficult industry certification. Damon celebrated this success with a pizza party and some congratulatory remarks. When his company recycled its 10,000th CPU, he walked into the middle of the warehouse and rang a big brass bell. He left the bell there to be used as future milestones are realized.

When Stephanie’s four-year-old daughter read her first book Stephanie took her out for a special lunch and lavished her daughter with praise and encouragement. One of Stephanie’s clients entered her brochure in a regional marketing contest, and it won first place. Stephanie celebrated her accomplishment by laminating the brochure cover onto a plaque along with her award. She hung it in her home office to remind her that she does really fine work.

We all need to learn to celebrate our successes no matter the size. And going to gratitude helps us to break out of the tunnel of limited thinking. This puts us on the path to appreciate each and every day as one filled with joy and promise.

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 Remote Entrepreneur

OK – this is an interesting and somewhat touchy subject. I’m going to tackle it anyway. There is a lot of buzz right now about remote work. During COVID-19, we learned that it’s possible for many people to work from home (or elsewhere) and be reasonably productive. In some instances, employees were more productive than when they were at their place of employment – and there are other examples of where this was not the case. Now that society is gradually returning to a state of normalcy there is much discussion about employees who want to continue working remotely. Many large companies are reducing their office footprint and even offering remote work as a perk. I have some concerns about this trend.

We have had a rather unique experience with remote work over the past 50+ years. Our organization has multiple business units that are engaged in the development, acquisition, and management of apartment communities – an operation that now spans 20 states and growing. Development Directors and Development Managers are scattered across different locations by design. They need to be on the ground in the regions where they are researching and identifying development sites. Ditto for Regional Managers in our property management unit. Our headquarters team works from our corporate office though there are a handful of team members who work in a hybrid fashion due to the nature of their positions. Now, here’s where it gets more challenging. At any given time, we have 90 to 100 apartment communities that we manage throughout the country. These properties could be small with only two team members, or they could be very large with as many as 12 to 14 team members. They are all “remote” relative to our headquarters operations.

Several years ago, we became much more intentional about our culture and have worked tirelessly to build an environment where we empower people to thrive. This entails a set of core values, collaboration, celebrating success, and holding each other accountable. The corporate office culture is very strong and is usually hitting on all cylinders. Getting a two-person team in Kentucky or Wisconsin to integrate with our overall corporate culture has been a tougher mountain to climb. Our properties typically have developed their own cultures which we support and attempt to mirror with the overall culture. Video conferencing is helpful but not the end all – and we have been video conferencing for many years – long before COVID. We do everything we can to weave our culture throughout the various business units and properties, but some days it’s two steps forward and three steps back.

This brings me to the issue at hand and my biggest concern about remote work. How do companies maintain their culture (assuming they have an intentional and positive culture in the first place) when many if not all their employees are working remotely? I fully understand the desire by many who wish to work from home. There are childcare issues, skyrocketing gas prices, the prohibitive cost of living in some parts of the country, long commutes, etc. And yet, the question still remains – how does a company build a strong culture when a team is not physically together?

We have recently had a few members of our team depart because they went to companies that offered remote work (and a significant boost in pay). I am very concerned for them. They met each other in the first place because they physically were together in our corporate office. Working remotely, how are they going to differentiate themselves going forward? How will they fare over the long haul without the kind of social interaction they would experience in an office? When the day comes that their company needs to layoff employees will they be more vulnerable because they are essentially faceless cogs in the corporate wheel? And how will they stand out to gain future promotions in this faceless environment they have chosen?

Remote work is not a panacea from the perspective of both employer and employee. A company that chooses to go in this direction needs to have a serious plan in place to maintain and strengthen its culture in this new dimension. Most companies are simply reacting to the marketplace rather than adapting in a thoughtful way that will have long-term benefits for all parties. Entrepreneurs will be well served to be very cautious and strategic as they create remote-work policies.

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 Celebrating Entrepreneur

What and when do you celebrate? An odd question you think? Here’s the backdrop. Humans and their organizations like to celebrate. It’s positive, it’s fun and it’s great for morale. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs don’t do enough of it. We are so focused on problems to solve, people to hire and products (or services) to create that there may be long periods of time where we don’t even realize that we’ve enjoyed some success along the way. And no, this isn’t a blog about stopping to smell the roses. Sure, that’s important too, but this is about something more intentional.

I’ve been with the same company for almost five decades. I can tell you that we have been pretty successful over that time frame, but until recently, we really haven’t practiced what I’m about to preach – though we are starting to do so now. In the past, we might have closed a big deal at some point and slapped each other on the back, but we really didn’t stop and truly celebrate a major accomplishment. And it would be pretty safe to say that we never celebrated minor successes. Why? Because that’s just the go-go nature of entrepreneurial endeavors. But I’ve come to realize that we’ve been missing a golden opportunity and I’m pleased to say that we are now celebrating in ways that are meaningful to our whole team. Maybe you’ll step back and come to the same conclusion.

When we stop to celebrate it’s more than just party time. It can also be a great time for reflection. We look for the elements that created our success which reinforces the need to continue to implement those same elements in the future. Think about it. Let’s suppose that our company just landed a major contract to sell our product to a very large buyer. Before we pop the cork on the champagne, we gather the team and map-out the steps that led to the signing of the contract. We also identify what didn’t work so well and what we might have done differently. By undertaking this exercise, everyone is reminded of what we did to win.

The accolades, praise and expressions of gratitude all help to build and strengthen our culture. Our team members – especially those who were directly linked to the success – want to feel valued and appreciated. I realize that there may be financial incentives that have helped drive the success, but there’s no question that formal recognition is almost always a strong motivator as well.

So, if we are inclined to celebrate major successes, why not do so for minor achievements too? I’m sure someone is thinking, “If we celebrate everything, doesn’t it cheapen the process and lessen the impact?” This can certainly happen if we’re not careful. But most leaders can figure out what is worthy of celebration and what is not. Perhaps a team member completed the coursework to receive a professional designation. Or maybe the accounting team had a perfect quarter in terms of accomplishing all tasks on time and with 100% accuracy – paying bills, processing receipts, producing financial statements, etc. Finally, imagine each member of the sales team making 25 new cold calls a week for a month. These may be occurrences that in the past were viewed as routine or something that was expected. “Finally, this person or that team actually did their job(s)! Why do we want to celebrate that?” But remember that the celebration process begins with analyzing what worked and what didn’t work. Don’t we want to take advantage of the opportunity to understand what we want to replicate in the future?

Finally, the “party” piece of celebration may take many forms. Certainly, gathering everyone for a toast may be one of the more common methods. Trophies, medals, commendations, certificates, plaques, and other memorabilia are great forms of recognition. All-company e-mails, newsletters, websites, and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can be effective tools for celebrating. I like to hand write notes to members of our team for large and small achievements. In one of our business units, they ring a bell and make an announcement when something happens that is worthy of a celebration.

The intentional celebration of achievements and success is an opportunity to reinforce what worked and improve on what didn’t. It’s also a chance to recognize members of the team for their commitment and ingenuity to deliver the positive results.

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 A-hole Entrepreneur

We entrepreneurs have some interesting personality traits. Many of us are particularly hard charging. We are generally assertive and often have aggressive tendencies as well. Other descriptors might include a high sense of urgency, a less than accommodating nature and low empathy. We’re on a mission and we have no time to waste. We don’t have time for nonsense, and no patience for incompetence or perceived laziness. Here’s the danger with this combination of behaviors. We can sometimes become total, unadulterated a-holes.

Some entrepreneurs wear this moniker as a badge of honor. I don’t and I’ll bet you don’t want too either. Unfortunately, we may be in a position where our colleagues aren’t comfortable pointing out our “a-holeness.” So, here’s an A-hole Self-Test that we can perform to make certain we aren’t becoming one.

  1. Do I berate people – especially in front of others? This is an easy one. A-holes in this category can be screamers. They have a hair trigger and are easily infuriated. Rather than calmly having a conversation to solve the problem, they become loud and personalize their displeasure. Everyone who witnesses an incident like this wants to sink through the floor – whether they are the focus of the a-hole’s ire or not.
  2. Do I ignore people and fail to show sufficient appreciation? A-holes are ingrates. People do things for them without as much as a please or a thank-you. They have an entitlement mentality and can totally ignore those around them. Other accurate terms are self-centered and self-absorbed.
  3. Am I overly demanding and unreasonable with my expectations? There’s nothing wrong with pushing our team to excel. Stretch goals are fine and can be quite healthy. A-holes go above and beyond in this category – way beyond. Think about the boss that demands that his team work late on Friday night and all weekend to complete a project – but he goes home early and is nowhere to be found all weekend.
  4. Am I a backstabber? Backstabbers are sweet to our faces and then say and do terrible things behind our backs. Joe says to Tony, “I think you did a great job landing the Acme contract!” Then later he says to Isabel, “Tony got all the credit for the Acme contract, but he really didn’t have to work very hard to land it.” Why can’t Joe be gracious and have praise for Tony when he’s talking to Isabel and others?
  5. Am I insulting? A-holes seem to enjoy being mean and insulting. They make snide and cutting remarks. They run people down and tend to be cynical, taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others. I used to watch Don Imus on television. He had a morning show that could be funny. But he was one of the most insulting characters I’ve ever seen. He had no filter whatsoever and didn’t seem to care whether he hurt someone’s feelings with his comments.
  6. Do I take credit for the accomplishments of others? The best entrepreneurial leaders are quick to celebrate the accomplishments of their team members. They are gracious and acknowledge the contributions of others. A-holes will take credit for every positive result that occurs and point fingers at others when something less than positive happens.
  7. Am I condescending, rude and arrogant? The late Leona Helmsley was a wealthy real estate magnate in New York. She was known as the Queen of Mean and her infamous statement has become the national anthem for a-holes, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Do I think I’m better than everyone else and do I let others know?
  8. Am I conniving and constantly on the lookout for ways to screw other people? Yeah, you know the type. This person is always scheming and not in a nice way. A common statement might be, “You’ll never believe what I pulled off! I spoke with an ex-employee of our closest competitor and found out that the CEO has cancer. I dropped the hint to one of their customers that the company might be in trouble if the CEO must step down. I think they are going to move their business to us!” There’s going to be a special seat at the table for this guy in a very warm place one of these days!

Well, how did you do? Thankfully a-holes are few and far between and they are easy to spot. As we strive to build our organizations it’s always smart to beware of a-hole tendencies that can creep into our behavior. When this begins to occur, we need to immediately come to a screeching halt, turn around and run as fast as we can in the other direction.  

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 “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.