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.

Stacking the Deck

We entrepreneurs are winners at heart. Every day is like the Super Bowl or the World Series for us. It kills us when we lose on a last second shot. We train like we’re going into battle. We sweat and bleed and play through the hurt if there’s a chance to score a touchdown. We endure winning streaks that we are convinced will never end and losing streaks that create the lowest of lows. Whenever possible we want the deck to be stacked in our favor. Here are some ideas for doing exactly that.

  1. Admit mistakes. I’ve always said that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. But this can be a trap for entrepreneurs. Why? Because false pride and arrogance can sometimes prevent us from quickly admitting our mistakes. We simply refuse to be wrong. And when it’s painfully obvious to others, we lose our credibility. The moral of the story is this. We admit our mistakes immediately, learn whatever there is to learn and move on. Doing so also garners more respect from our team when they see us take on this mantle of vulnerability.
  2. Always do the right thing. We always do the right thing – even when it’s to our disadvantage. This is all about integrity which is doing the right thing when no one is looking or will ever notice. This is all about looking in the mirror at the end of each day and knowing that we don’t have any regrets about how we treated other people.
  3. Show appreciation for others. Here’s another trap for us entrepreneurs to avoid. There are times when we can tend to believe that we are all important and single-handedly carry the day. In the process we may be seen by others as being arrogant. Very rarely is there a situation where the Lone Ranger-effect is a reality. Instead, our success is almost always the result of a team effort. As such, it is incumbent upon us to express gratitude and appreciation for the many things that others have done to contribute to our success.
  4. Be humble. I’ve always said that the bigger we become in terms of success and personal profile, the more humble we should be. While showing appreciation for others is part of this there is much more to it. We do our best to shine the spotlight on others. We are as gracious as we can possibly be. Rather than crashing around with our Type A personalities, we try and walk as softly as we can – almost to the point that others aren’t even aware we are there. We have enough self-confidence and self-awareness to know that we don’t have to be the center-of-attention to be highly successful.
  5. Always have a positive mindset. I have never encountered a situation where negativity produced a viable solution for anything. Positivity is contagious and is ours to model. When our team members see us remaining truly positive in the face of great adversity, they may be more inclined to do the same. Positive energy propels – negative energy repels. Who among us want to be around a negative person? When we can adopt the belief that what seems like failure in the moment is actually an opportunity for something bigger and better, we are well down the road to continued success.
  6. Persevere. The entrepreneurial game is a tough one. We get knocked down a lot. There are plenty of times that nothing seems to be going our way. But we always have a choice. We can throw in the towel or we can live by Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in to convictions of honor and good sense.” Endurance becomes our ability to outlast every challenge that comes our way.
  7. Laugh and have fun. We don’t always have to be so serious . . . and we don’t have to take ourselves seriously either. Entrepreneurship is not a life sentence to drudgery and misery. We should savor every breath we take as we walk this incredible planet. Laugh, laugh and laugh some more. And when we can laugh at ourselves that’s even better. The more our entrepreneurial journey can be fun, the more likely we are to be living our passion.

When put it altogether – admitting mistakes, integrity, appreciation, gratitude, humility, positivity, perseverance and laughter – we are clearly stacking the deck in our favor. This “extra edge” then sets us up for the success that is ours to claim.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 126 – Easy Lifting.

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 100,000-Foot Entrepreneur

Here’s the typical day for an entrepreneur I know. He arrives at the office and boots up his laptop. The first step is to check e-mail. There are a number to delete and a few that are read but left in the In-Box. Several responses are prepared and sent and one or two responses are started but saved and remain unsent. Then it’s time to check out the news at one of several news websites. This may be followed by a stop on Facebook and perhaps a scroll through a number of tweets on Twitter. Then, someone pops into his office for a conversation that lasts ten minutes or so. He then dives into a perplexing HR situation that seems to have taken a life of its own. Then there may be some time spent reviewing the previous month’s financial statement; a quick trip to the restroom; time in the hallway chatting with several members of his team; fielding a phone call and returning others, and preparing remarks that he is going to make at a lunch meeting. Before he knows it, half the morning is gone.

I’ll bet this sort of morning sounds familiar. I’ve had many just like it myself. But did you notice what’s missing? What high-yielding opportunity was identified by our entrepreneur for his urgent and immediate focus? I completely understand that we have a business to run on a day-to-day basis, and what was previously described accomplished just that. However, perhaps a closer look is needed to see how this entrepreneur could operate differently – and more effectively.

I used the term “high-yielding opportunity,” but exactly what does that mean? Here’s what I’ve learned over the years. I spent way too much time in the past with “busy” work. Sure, it needed to be done, but was I the best person to do it? Or maybe I should handle it, but it deserved to be less of a priority. While it may seem obvious, as entrepreneurs we should regularly ask the question, “What’s the best use of our time?” After all, the time we have is finite and we’ll never get it back when we squander it. So, our organization is best served when we start our day tackling the really big initiatives – initiatives that may generate significant revenues or profits; initiatives that are highly strategic in nature; initiatives that will have a major positive impact for our team or our customers, and initiatives for which we are best suited to prosecute.

Here’s another way to look at this question. At what altitude are you flying? Are you cruising along at 500-feet and down in the weeds all the time? Maybe you’re at 10,000-feet or even 30,000-feet. But wouldn’t it be amazing to stay at 100,000-feet most of the time? For me, 100,000-feet means identifying and working with large-dollar investors that will help fund our apartment acquisition program. It means collaborating with our acquisitions and development teams to refine their respective strategies that are creating the scale we wish to achieve. It means maintaining a constant awareness of the macroeconomic aspects of our industry and determining how our strategies are designed to exploit opportunities in the marketplace. It also means offering innovative ideas to our management team that will move the needle to better serve our customers. And it means developing a holistic view of our culture and spotting potential problem areas that can be addressed before they turn into raging fires.

Each entrepreneur needs to decide what flying at 100,000-feet means for him or her. A great place to start is with the organization’s vision. I like to test what I’m doing against our vision. If I have ten things on my plate, I’m going to pick the top three that are going to make the most difference in contributing to reaching this vision. And it could be a while before items #9 and #10 are addressed at which point I may eventually figure out who else might be in a better position to handle them in a more timely fashion. My goal is to work on high-yielding initiatives 60 – 75% of the time. I don’t always succeed – it’s easy to get drawn into major time-sucks that don’t add real value – but I’ve become more consistently aware of how I spend my time and now course-correct more easily.

We entrepreneurs can become adept at focusing on high-yielding initiatives if we understand our vision and choose what we do in terms of achieving that vision. Ultimately, understanding how to fly at 100,000-feet is one of the important aspects of leading our organizations.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 125 – Marauders.

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.

Opportunities to Fail

Some years back we developed an exercise that can be beneficial for every entrepreneur. We all want to manage risk – not take risk. I’ve said it before that taking risk is akin to rolling the dice. Managing risk is an intentional process to minimize or eliminate risk to the greatest extent possible. To this end we created a process called Opportunities to Fail.

Some might say that “Opportunities to Fail” sounds negative and ought to be called something else. But, it is named this way on purpose. Why? Because we believe that whether we succeed or fail is almost totally within our control. Thus, we have the opportunity to succeed or to fail – it’s up to us as entrepreneurs which we choose.

Let’s say that we are considering launching a new division, a new product or service, or embarking upon some other endeavor for which there are numerous risks. The Opportunities to Fail exercise begins with assembling all of the stakeholders from the team and beginning a series of brainstorming sessions. The first such session is that of identifying all of the different risks that are inherent surrounding whatever we are preparing to do. For this purpose we developed a simple Excel spreadsheet on which we log the risks. To each, we assign a numerical value on a scale of one to 10 – both in terms of Probability and Impact. We arbitrarily determined that we would weight Impact 25% higher. So, if a particular risk is assigned a 10 for Probability it means that there’s a high likelihood of this risk being realized. And if that same risk is also a 10 for Impact, it means that if the risk is realized, it could have a very detrimental effect. Thus, the Probability score is 10 and the Impact score is 12.5 (due to the 25% extra weighting) for a total score of 22.5.

Remember that during the first exercise we are only identifying the various risks and assigning Probability and Impact scores – we’re not solving anything yet. Usually this inventory process takes a couple of hours and there may be as many as 25, 30 or even more risks. When someone says, “An asteroid could drop out of the sky and destroy us,” it’s probably time to wrap it up. We then re-order the risks in the spreadsheet from the highest numerical value to the lowest, and circulate it to the stakeholders for a few days of contemplation. Everyone is empowered to offer additional risks during this time frame with their thoughts on scoring.

The second meeting of the group will take place within three or four days of the first, and is devoted to risk mitigation. We look at the highest scoring risks and discuss ways that we will prevent the risk from coming to fruition. In addition, wherever possible we also add a contingency plan in the event that somehow the risk “leaks through” our mitigation program. This way if a high-risk item bites us, it doesn’t kill us. We have found that there’s a natural breakpoint in the list. Perhaps there are 17 risks that rank at 14 or higher, and then there’s a gap with the next grouping of risks starting at a score of eight. We generally don’t worry too much about low-scoring risks as their Probability is usually low, and even if they happen, the Impact is minimal. Instead we spend our time ensuring that we have robust mitigation and contingency plans for the most dangerous risks.

At the end of the second meeting we ask this simple question – “Are we totally comfortable moving ahead with this endeavor?” If there is still fear and trepidation, then it means that we haven’t sufficiently mitigated one or more of the risks. Or it could mean that there is something nagging in the back of the minds of our team that still need to be put on the table. It’s at this point that we engage in additional discussion and mitigate further until we have total buy-in; we modify our endeavor to the point that everyone is comfortable, or we determine that should not move forward at all. The ultimate objective is to either move ahead knowing that we aren’t going to fail, or not to move forward at all.

A few days later a third meeting of stakeholders occurs. Each member of the group reaffirms his or her belief that we have adequately mitigated the risks and should proceed. Then we brainstorm for ways to Exploit the Opportunity. This is a lot of fun. We spend our time looking for ways that we can enhance the opportunity and make it even bigger and better than we initially envisioned – without adding new risks.

Utilizing the Opportunities to Fail exercise is a liberating experience. It puts us in a position to manage risk rather than take risk, and allows us to choose success.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 124 – Do the Hustle.

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.

This picture taken on October 18, 2015 shows a participant jumping off a platform for a wingsuit flight from Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, central China’s Hunan province. Some 16 participants from 12 countries are taking part in the extreme sport event. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Chronic Uh-Ohs

Have you ever had a chronic issue that simply couldn’t be resolved in a cost effective manner? In fact, maybe there isn’t any sort of solution at all. What do you do – especially if the situation has a negative impact on customer satisfaction? Here’s an example of what we encountered on one of our apartment communities. In this particular case, there is an issue with our water supply lines. Very simply – they break a lot. When this happens, apartments flood; sheetrock is damaged; carpet is destroyed, and residents are inconvenienced. We’ve spent huge sums of money to clean up the aftermath and have looked for every way possible to prevent the problem in the first place. Unfortunately, the piping material is flawed and short of re-piping the property, there isn’t another solution. And re-piping could run into the millions of dollars, so it’s just not an option.

The impact that this issue has had on our team and our residents has been profound. We’ve lost staff over this problem. A number of residents have moved out. Our team is weary of dealing with a challenge they cannot solve. Unfortunately there’s a lot of negativity on display among our team members. This negative energy feeds on itself and everyone holds their breath each day hoping that the phone doesn’t ring with more bad news.

But all is not lost because there is something we can do. We can (and must) take a chronic situation like our pipe-break dilemma and turn it into a positive. We accept the fact that we are going to have pipes break from time-to-time. Acceptance is the first step in this process. For far too long we’ve operated in a state of denial. But this doesn’t have to be. Knowing that this problem will persist, we next amass as much data as we can generate and continually pore over it, looking for patterns or any other key elements that might help us identify where the next break might happen. Is there a particular location in the piping runs where most breaks occur? Does temperature or water pressure play a role?  We obviously focus on higher level units first since breaks on those floors can wreak more havoc than a first floor apartment. Ultimately we take whatever proactive steps we can to prevent the breaks – even to the extent of making some repairs before a break occurs.

The next part of this turn-the-negative-into-a-positive process can actually be fun. We develop a comprehensive plan for how we are going to create a wonderful experience for our residents when a pipe breaks and their apartment floods. Sounds crazy – right? How could anyone think wet carpet and water coming through the ceiling is a “wonderful experience?” But here’s how we make it happen. We mobilize our clean-up and repair team that is highly trained to deal with issues like this. We communicate clearly and often. We do everything in our power to minimize the inconvenience to the resident. Knowing that we are going to have a certain vacancy factor built into our financial model, we take a few vacant apartments and fully furnish and equip them with all of the comforts of home. When a flood occurs, our team quickly moves clothing and other necessary items for the resident(s) affected, into one of the furnished units. We treat them to a nice dinner out and provide them with gift baskets. Perhaps we’ll even offer them movie tickets or send them to an amusement park. In other words, we try to create a positive experience for them that they might not otherwise enjoy. Meanwhile, our team is working fast and furiously to repair the leak, clean and sanitize the carpet, repair the sheetrock and put the apartment back the way it was before the flood. Then, as quickly as possible, we move the resident back into their original apartment. And I can’t emphasize enough the need for clear and constant communications.

Probably the most critical aspect of dealing with chronic problems like I’ve described is the mindset of the team. If the attitude is negative – we’re doomed from the start. When we look for creative ways to “wow” the customer, we can create goodwill AND it can be exciting and stimulating for our team. No, the problem doesn’t go away and coping with it may still be costly. But when our team finds a way to turn a negative into a positive for the customer – we will experience even greater levels of success than we might have otherwise.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 123 – Who Is This Murphy Guy?

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.

Flooded vintage interior. 3d concept

Never Let Up!

There’s an interesting aspect of human nature that can be a devilish problem for entrepreneurs. Unfortunately I have experienced this issue a multitude of times throughout the years. Let me offer an example that happens too often in our business. Let’s say we have a large apartment community that has been suffering with poor occupancy. We develop a creative and aggressive marketing program that produces results, and in a short period of time the property has reached 95% occupancy – in our industry this is considered to be stabilized occupancy. We pop the corks and celebrate this accomplishment in high style. So far, so good. But this is where the trouble begins.

Over the next few weeks we see an ever so slight downward trend in the occupancy. After two weeks, the occupancy stands at 94%; after three weeks it’s 93%, and after four weeks the occupancy stands at 92%. Now this may seem like no big deal – the occupancy still sounds strong. But a deeper dive shows something that really is disturbing. Our on-site leasing team is resting on their laurels. When we were pulling out the stops to push the occupancy up, the team was visiting major employers and area businesses on a daily basis to promote our complex. They were posting multiple times each day on social media and encouraging existing residents to refer their friends and family. But once the property reached 95% occupancy the on-site team dialed back their marketing efforts and started “coasting.” This resulted in the occupancy beginning to slip.

I have always advocated that our on-site teams should be aggressively marketing 365 days a year regardless of the occupancy level. If a property achieves high levels of occupancy, we can raise the rents and build waiting lists. There’s absolutely no downside to continuing to market as if we were suffering from low occupancy. In other words Never Let Up.

This concept can be seen in a high profile way with sports teams. A team in any sport gets a healthy lead and then there’s a letdown. The players don’t play with the same intensity as earlier in the game. They aren’t as sharp and aware. The other team chips away at the lead and eventually wins on a last second play. How many times have we seen this happen?

In the entrepreneurial world we see this all the time. Perhaps we let up on our marketing efforts much in the same manner as the apartment property example cited earlier. Recruiting can also be a problem area. We fill an open sales position and think we’re done. But six weeks later we find that another sales position is open. And guess what? We had shut down our recruiting effort and all of the quality candidates we considered for the last position have found new jobs. So, we have to gear up and begin recruiting again. The same thing can happen with product development and product improvement. We’ve had a great run with the creation of new products. The public has loved these products and our team has rightly been proud of its success. But . . . it’s been a while since we put any new products in the marketplace. And not much has been done to improve our existing product suite. Sales begin to slip and customer satisfaction has dipped as well.

What can we do to combat psychological let downs? Maintaining a constant focus on the basics and fundamentals of our business enables us to continue achieving the highest levels of success. As entrepreneurial leaders we must emphasize this every single day. Members of our team should be held accountable for practicing the basics and fundamentals. I know a commercial real estate broker who has specialized in office leasing for more than 30 years. He has made a ton of money and has been one of the top brokers in the business for his entire career. Nevertheless, he continues to make his cold calls every day and build new relationships – just like he did as a rookie. By continuing to focus on the basics and fundamentals, this real estate professional has Never Let Up.

The other thing that is critical for us to stress is a mindset that the game is never over. We may be winning at the end of the quarter or the half, but in the entrepreneurial game (unlike sports) the clock never runs out. We can’t get tired or lazy. We must maintain the same level of discipline at the end of the year that we had at the beginning.

We entrepreneurs cannot afford to rest on our laurels or we will surely lose in the end. Instead, we must have a Never Let Up mindset that occurs with a relentless and disciplined focus on the basics and fundamentals of our business.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 122 – A Dirty Word.

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 World’s Scariest Roller Coaster

I never have liked to ride on roller coasters. The feeling where my heart ends up in my stomach is not what I consider to be a pleasant experience. When I was learning to fly airplanes my flight instructor would tell me to close my eyes and put my head in my lap. He would then undertake some radical maneuvers – up and down at random – then he’d say, “You have the airplane.” It was my responsibility at that moment to figure out what was going on and take the necessary corrective action to get the airplane straight and level without crashing! This involved several hundred feet at over a hundred miles an hour. Talk about a roller coaster ride on steroids – yeow!

Entrepreneurial endeavors are much like a roller coaster ride and sometimes like my flight training. There is one difference with the flight training however – we practiced the wacky maneuvers at an altitude of 5,000 feet or more. As entrepreneurs we often fly metaphorically at 50 feet or even less providing little room for error. So, how does the roller coaster ride manifest? Here’s a typical set of scenarios.

We get up in the morning and work out at the gym then go for a run. Usually we feel pretty “up” afterwards – a great way to start the day. The roller coaster is flat and level and just picking up speed. We have breakfast with a client who tells us she is going to place a substantial order for our product. Woohoo! The roller coaster is on the first vertical climb. Then on to the office where the minute we hit the door we find out that one of our top product people has given two weeks-notice and is going to work for a competitor. Oops, the roller coaster is moving fast downhill now. A couple of hours later our breakfast client called to tell us that she has decided not to place the substantial order after all – the roller coaster now takes a couple of barrel rolls before heading into a terrifying dive. Then out-of-the-blue we get a call from our corporate counsel informing us that a class action suit for which we’ve been a part has been settled and we’ll be receiving a healthy check (after deducting legal fees, of course). Now the roller coaster is soaring up into the clear blue sky blue again. And so it goes for the rest of the day.

Does this sound familiar? If it does, welcome to the wonderful world of entrepreneurship. You are not alone. We all know this is going to be the life we live. It’s the life we’ve chosen. The challenge is how we successfully deal with the ups and downs without letting the roller coaster get the best of us. So what to do? Here’s something I learned a long time ago. We entrepreneurs can have a tendency to magnify whatever is in front of us. If it’s something positive we can see it as the greatest accomplishment for which we’ve ever been a part. And if it’s a negative experience, we can’t imagine that it could have been worse for anyone else. As a result, we can experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I have resolved that I’m not going to take any of this too seriously and you might take this approach too. Most of the time nothing is as good or as bad as it may seem to be at the moment. Once we realize this to be the case, we can go about our business with less emotion.

The NFL football players of today are into celebrations – big time. When they score touchdowns they “perform” in the end zone. Many of them do the same when they a part of a big play on offense or defense. I remember a player named Marcus Allen who scored a lot of touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders and later, the Kansas City Chiefs. When Allen scored, he handed the ball to the official. There was no display of emotion – no end zone antics. Instead, he showed true professionalism and acted like he had been there before (which he had, over and over and over). When we can focus on a professional approach to our entrepreneurial endeavors and avoid the emotion, we can avoid the roller coaster ride. No, this doesn’t mean we are void of emotion altogether. It’s fine to celebrate when truly major good fortune has been realized. But we don’t need to jump on the roller coaster for everything that happens during the day.

Realizing that nothing is really as great as it seems or as bad as it seems can help us moderate our emotions. We can then function like the professionals that we are and avoid the roller coaster ride.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 121 – Moats.

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.

Just Say No to Consensus

Here’s a common scenario that is played out every day in conference rooms across the country. Devin is an entrepreneur who has assembled an executive team that consists of the COO, CFO, CTO, VP of Sales and Marketing, and VP of Product Development. The group meets weekly and the discussions are relatively polite and collegial. Devin works hard to avoid conflict and encourages the group to reach a consensus for decisions that need to be made. He believes that this approach has helped build a strong and positive culture for his organization. Unfortunately Devin is totally wrong!

There is a time and a place for consensus building, but it’s not right in Devin’s scenario. Instead, what Devin should be seeking is a healthy and robust debate where different arguments are vigorously presented. Then, once everything is on the table and all of the questions have been answered, Devin needs to make a decision. It’s up to him to decide what course of action will be taken. Too often, entrepreneurs are overly concerned about “keeping the peace” among team members. They are allergic to anything that might be perceived as “conflict.”

The problem with encouraging consensus building is that it also encourages a tendency to go along to get along. Author and management consultant Patrick Lencioni calls this “artificial harmony.” A strong organization needs a wide and diverse range of ideas to move forward. The first step is to discard the notion that conflict and disagreement are bad things. I believe that conflict and disagreement can be uplifting and beneficial – IF handled properly. For this to happen, team members must trust each other completely. This means trusting that what is said will remain confidential when required. This means trusting that no one is going to engage in personal attacks. It means trusting that backstabbing and triangulation are out of the question. It’s important to understand that establishing trust won’t happen overnight. It can take weeks or even months for full trust to develop.

Once trust has eventually been established, the leader must set the ground rules for engagement. This likely means that a protocol will be created for exchanging ideas. It likely means that all members of the team will be expected to contribute and participate. It means that debate and disagreement will be encouraged. And it means that everyone agrees to buy-in to the process.

So how does productive debate and disagreement occur? Each member of the team should present his or her arguments based in fact. The entrepreneur should allow for a free-flowing discussion but be prepared to call foul if the discussion veers off course into the area of personal conflict. Strong-willed team members should be encouraged to make an impassioned case for their positions. All team members should listen without interruption. These discussions may be intense – that’s OK as long as participants do not feel as though they are being personally attacked or their ideas denigrated. The lack of intensity during this process could be a signal that “artificial harmony” exists.

When the conversation has concluded, the entrepreneur has to step up and show real leadership. This means processing the various facts that have been presented and making a decision accordingly. Sometimes these decisions are extremely difficult – and that’s a very good thing. It means that the debate was compelling and strong arguments were made all the way around. It’s possible that the discussion will result in the need for additional information. But eventually when all of the facts are in and all of the points have been made, a final decision must be made. Ceding such a decision to a “committee” for consensus is not a display of leadership. The entrepreneur must explain the rationale behind the final decision and make certain that everyone feels that what they offered was sufficiently considered. Ultimately, everyone on the team must get on board and fully support the final decision. That doesn’t mean they have to fully agree with it – but they must be totally supportive. If a team member is not supportive, considerable damage can be done to the culture and to the process for making future decisions.

Great entrepreneurial leaders know how to foster healthy debate among team members and then make the final decision. A great team does not need to function with consensus, but does need to respect and support the final decision.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 10 – Urgently Patient.

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.