The Bus Driving Entrepreneur

Here is a scenario. Sales are flat. The product development team is feuding with the marketing folks. Production is lagging and customer complaints are trending in the wrong direction. Sounds like a nightmare situation – right? It’s at a time like this that makes us wonder why we became entrepreneurs in the first place! As we try to sort out this mess, something becomes quickly apparent. We have the wrong people on the bus.

The whole problem would not even exist if we had selected the right people in the first place. But for most of us, we are where we are and must deal with an unwise hire here and a hopeful hire there. Rarely do we make the right hiring decisions from the get-go and find smooth sailing forevermore. Something I have grappled with for decades is when to change out the people on the bus – and sometimes the bus driver to boot! The mistake I have made over and over has been to give people too many chances and believe that if I just find the “right slot” for someone, that I can “save” him or her. In recent times I’ve come to realize that we’re not in the business of doing social work and it does no favor to someone who is miscast to continue to try and salvage them.

Most of us have a level of empathy that prevents us from being Donald Trump . . . that is to simply say, “You’re fired!” But there is undoubtedly a middle ground. We do not have to have a hair trigger and instantly terminate someone who is beginning to struggle. And we also do not need to continue to enable someone for months or even years who cannot get the job done.

As with much about entrepreneurship, there is a process that can make the decision to invite someone off the bus both humanely and timely. We start with clear written roles and accountabilities. It’s imperative that our team members truly understand what is expected of them. Roles and accountabilities should be quite comprehensive, and they must be measurable. We also must make sure that our team members understand how to perform their roles and accountabilities and that they have the proper resources to succeed. If I tell a non-pilot that he is responsible for flying a passenger jet from New York to LA I can be very clear about this. But if he is not trained to fly the plane, then it will either fail to get off the ground or if it does, well, what happens might not be pretty. I realize that this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it illustrates the point.

Hand in hand come key performance indicators. These are the metrics by which we determine if the roles and accountabilities are being sufficiently executed. Ongoing performance reviews are also an important element of ensuring that the right people are on the bus. Some companies do an annual performance review. This may be fine in a formal sense, but team members need a continual feedback loop. Then there will be no surprises when the annual review is performed. It is also helpful (and often judicious) to offer a written assessment as part of the continual feedback process. It’s not so much to build the file as it is to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding where improvement is needed.

Often when things are going poorly, it’s the result of a lack of roles and accountabilities; or a lack of training; or a lack of proper resources to get the job done; or a lack of measuring results; or a lack of providing team member feedback, or all of the above. When this happens and we must make a change in personnel, we dread having to act. Why? Because we know deep inside that we probably did not do everything necessary to be completely fair with our team member.

Ensuring that we have the right people on the bus is a strong step toward building a successful culture and producing the results we desire. And following a well-designed process to invite people off the bus who are not the right fit will allow us to act objectively and at the right pace.

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 Joyful Entrepreneur

Vreugde and more Gioia! Yeah, I had to look them up too. The first word is Dutch, and the second word is Italian. But they mean the same thing. In Spanish, the word is alegría and in Swedish it is glädje. So enough with the mystery. The word is JOY. Unfortunately, this is a word that is foreign to many entrepreneurs.

You see, we entrepreneurs are a pretty serious and driven bunch. We have important stuff to do and companies to build. We are always moving at the speed of light and struggle to find enough hours in the day. Joy? Let’s see, maybe we can squeeze it on the calendar three weeks from Thursday at 2:00 PM . . . for 20 minutes. Is the picture coming into focus yet? The point is that many of us do not allow joy to get within two miles, much less become an integral part of our lives. After all, feeling and celebrating joy is not very macho and we don’t want someone to get the wrong idea.

Why do we persist in having such an allergic reaction to joy? Can we become one of the next captains of industry and still allow for a modicum of joy? Of course, we can answer in the affirmative and we must. Joy and success are tied inextricably by definition. If you do not believe me – look it up! Merriam-Webster clearly states that “joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” But here is something else that I have learned. We can feel great joy when we celebrate the success and good fortune of others.

I believe that joy should become a part of our daily lives. It is one of the healthiest emotions we can have. And here is something I have learned that become your secret weapon. Do you know what it feels like to get stuck in the downward spiral of negative thinking? We lost a deal to a competitor that we were sure we had in the bag. Or one of our key team members just quit. And maybe the bank would not make the loan we needed. When faced with these kinds of issues our thoughts can turn dark very quickly. But we can just as quickly turn the tables by “jumping into joy” and with both feet. I started practicing this concept years ago. Every time I would start to feel down, I would intentionally find someone who was in a good place – a friend, family, or team member. Then I would applaud their success or good fortune. It is amazing what a lift this provided for me, not to mention how it made the other person feel.

Joy is uplifting. It is shout-it-from-the-rooftops passion. It is at least one level above happiness if not more. Joy kicks the endorphin rush into high gear and does all sorts of positive things to our bodies. We can experience joy through all five of our senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. If we do not practice it or if we wait for it to come to us, then in effect we are suppressing it. But if we go looking for joy it is incredibly easy to find. And don’t we like to be around people who are joyful? They are easy to spot. Their facial features are etched with a permanent smile and a twinkle in their eye. They radiate warmth and bubble with personality.

We can continue to be Mr. or Ms. Seriously No Nonsense, or we can lighten up and have some fun at work. For many summers, we had an Ice Cream Day. I dressed up in a ridiculous looking ice cream cone suit and pushed an ice cream cart around the office passing out Nestlé drumsticks, Fudgesicles and other delectable delights. I had a blast, and everyone had a good chuckle. This truly was a joyful moment for all.

Life is boring without joy – and so are we. Joy tramples negativity and helps balance our emotions. There is no downside whatsoever to reveling in joy.

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 Lucky Entrepreneur

I am sure you have heard the saying that even blind pigs find a truffle once in a while. Sometimes people will say that their luck has run out. Author Josephine Hart once wrote, “Lucky people should hide. Pray the days of wrath do not visit their home.” Theodore Roosevelt said, “As regards the extraordinary prizes, the element of luck is the determining factor.” Bill Watterson, creator of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes once quoted Calvin as saying, “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.” That one is my favorite.

So, how often do we chalk things that happen up to luck? There has always been a lot of talk about coincidence, destiny and fate. It is as if there are certain influences in our lives that are out of our control. And it is pretty hard not to believe that this is totally true. But as the years have gone by, I have come to believe that we do control pretty much everything that happens, just not always at a conscious level. Once, I was talking with a friend who had been struggling with his job performance. He wasn’t hitting the sales goals his company had set and was on the firing line to improve. He had a breakthrough month and said this about it, “Basically, my team was down three points, and I got fouled shooting a half-court shot at the buzzer that happened to go in. I worked hard to get there, but it was purely coincidence that it all came together at one time for me.” But the reality of what transpired for him had nothing to do with coincidence or the serendipity that he describes.

What my friend did not realize is that he set an intention and then persevered to make it so. In the process, he created an energy that opened the door for him to win. We are such a tangible society. If we can’t touch it or see it, we often don’t believe it. Ah, ye of little faith, as the saying goes . . . right? But I have said many times how powerful our minds can be. Think about it. When we are in a negative frame of mind, how productive are we? How often do good things happen? Likewise, when we have a positive mindset how productive are we? How often do good things happen? I can’t think of a single time when I was in a sour mood and wallowing in negativity that anything really good came of it. And I do know that everything good that has transpired occurred when I was in a positive place. Thus, I have reached a pretty simplistic conclusion that if I stay positive, I will create the energy necessary to draw good things into my life.

Do you believe that NBA star LeBron James is the luckiest man alive because he can shoot the lights out and dominate the game? Or, do you believe that LeBron James maintains a positive mindset that propels him to work hard to take advantage of an opportunity given to him by his innate skills? He does a combination of stretching and yoga throughout the day. He works out in the gym and on the basketball court. He is fanatical about his nutrition and water. James has a tireless work ethic, preparing himself mentally and physically to be the best basketball player in the world. Is that luck?

We do not stumble into our success but will it to be so with our preparation and mindset. Keeping negativity at bay opens the door to the positive energy that is anything but luck.

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 “Nice” Entrepreneur

In 1972 an American soft rock band called Gallery recorded the song, “Nice to Be with You.” I have always liked that song and believe it could reflect the personality of successful entrepreneurs. Think about all the people in your life and who you like most to be around. Is that person always complaining and negative? Or, is he/she upbeat and positive? A Harris Poll reported in 2013 that only one in three Americans were very happy. Obviously, there is a lot of progress to be made. We entrepreneurs can lead the way.

Entrepreneurs often get a bad rap. They are portrayed in the media and the movies as cold, heartless, ruthless and conniving. Certain politicians may characterize entrepreneurs as money-hungry and corrupt. We need to change this narrative and can do so every time we interact with someone else. How? I submit that when we are nice to be around, we can easily dispel the myths and stereotypes about entrepreneurs.

Now if you are rolling your eyes right now think about a single word . . . trust. Who do you trust more – a genuinely happy and friendly person, or someone who is sour and inconsiderate? I have not done a scientific survey on this question but informally asked a number of my friends and colleagues. It was nearly unanimous in favor of trusting someone who is nice. Our success is built on others trusting us, our team, our products and our services. Why wouldn’t we want to stack the deck in our favor?

Let’s take stock and see what we can do to ensure that others see us as nice to be around. I used a word in the last paragraph that is of critical importance, and that word is genuine. If we contrive our niceness it will be apparent and will cause others to think we are slick and manipulative. We must be real about who we are and develop the traits and tendencies of a happy person.

Here are some ideas that can endear us to others:

  1. We think of others first. When we can make someone else feel valued and appreciated, their happiness quotient increases exponentially. In a restaurant when the service is great, I like to look the server in the eye, call them by name, smile and tell them what a great job they are doing. And the enormous grin (and sometimes tears) I get in return absolutely makes my day. Taking a servant’s attitude – where I am here to help and serve you – helps me avoid the feelings of entitlement that afflict some successful entrepreneurs.
  2. Be an optimist and positive. No matter what happens I see no point in wallowing around in despair and negativity. It’s like being in quicksand – no one wants to get in it with us! We want to attract people with whom we can build trust and relationships. That is much easier to do when we are giving off good vibes rather than being a Gloomy Gus.
  3. Avoid the limelight. Have you ever known someone who does nothing but talk about herself/himself? I have been to more than a few cocktail parties where I’ve been cornered by these individuals. And I am reminded how much I do not want to be like them. In fact, I prefer to ask questions about other people and what they do more than I care to talk about myself. It is not that I have anything to hide. I guess it’s just that I was taught as a child that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

When we are genuinely a nice person the odds increase for building a trusting relationship. We can make this happen by thinking of others first; being optimistic and positive, and avoiding the limelight.

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 “We Can” Entrepreneur

The space shuttle had approximately 2.5 million moving parts. There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in the human brain. There are approximately 2,300,000 stone blocks weighing from two to 30 tons each in the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Chinese Tianhe-2 supercomputer is purportedly the fastest in the world with 33.86 quadrillion of FLOPS (floating-point operations per second).

“That’s really going to be hard.” “I don’t know if we can do that.” Ever heard someone utter these phrases? Sometimes we struggle to get our head around a difficult project or initiative and our default thinking goes to seeing the obstacles rather than the opportunity. This may be especially true for those who are linear thinkers. The obvious cliché here is that of “staying inside the box.” We are stuck in traditional thought patterns and are unable to immediately see the multiple options that exist with nearly every decision that must be made. It does not have to be this way – witness the amazing feats described in building the space shuttle, performing complicated brain surgery, constructing the Great Pyramid and creating the supercomputer.

Every organization needs a combination of linear and abstract thinkers to provide a healthy balance of ideas. Those of us who are extremely creative and can dream in a big way need down-to-earth team members with whom we test our ideas. That said, I am an advocate for the notion that the organizational mindset should be “how we can” as opposed to “why we can’t.”

Here is an example of the “how we can” philosophy. Let’s say that Company A manufactures a particular type of fastener. Business has been growing and then the CEO receives a call from a prospective customer, Company B, indicating that it would like to place an order for fasteners that represents 35% of the company’s production. Company A is operating at full capacity and cannot divert any product away from its steady customers. But the CEO in typical entrepreneurial fashion, isn’t about to tell Company B that he can’t supply the fasteners. When he pulls his team together he could hear a lot of “why we can’t,” or he can challenge his team members to tell him how Company A can meet the current production requirements and also increase production by 35%.

Instilling the “how we can” mindset is not a walk down Pollyanna lane. Instead it involves convincing a team to develop a default perspective of looking around, over and under the obstacles and figuring out what steps can be taken to achieve the goal. We start by creating the path to success. Then we work backwards and look at the risks involved and how to manage them. Perhaps Company A cannot add a second shift to produce the extra fasteners because it does not want to risk having excess labor capacity after the order is filled. But as an alternative, maybe Company C that is not a direct competitor, could “white label” the fasteners and produce them under the watchful eye of Company A. While the profitability may be less by using Company C, Company A may be able to win a new customer in Company B, whose repeat business results in a permanent expansion of production capacity.

It is also important that the entrepreneur not send the signal to his team that “we’re going to make this work come hell or high water.” The danger with plowing ahead is that the more skeptical and cautious members of the team may simply acquiesce rather than express their true opinions. And those who are the natural risk takers may run toward the cliff at full speed without realizing that there’s real pain 400 feet down!

We want to inspire team members to build a “how we can” enterprise. And simultaneously we thoughtfully measure risk and return on investment. The endgame is a dynamic organization that always pushes the boundaries to grow in a healthy fashion.

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 “Skin”

How’s your skin? Does it fit comfortably? How thick is it? There are a couple of things to know about the skin of successful entrepreneurs. They are usually very comfortable in it and it’s thick as rhinoceros hide. Let’s explore what all of this means.

Our behavior, especially the way we treat other people, is a pretty good indicator of how comfortable we are in our own skin. We’ve all seen the caricature of a hard-driving take-no-prisoners Type A boss. He berates others and makes unreasonable demands. He is completely insensitive to the feelings of those around him and is often loud and boorish. I’m painting a pretty negative picture of this individual to dramatize my point. Such people are often deeply insecure. I’ve gotten to know several people like this. Every one of them has been a good person at heart, but they live in constant fear which adversely impacts their personality. They are afraid of being “found out” – they think that maybe they aren’t as qualified or “together” as the image they are trying to project. They are afraid that at any given moment they might fail at whatever endeavor they are tackling. The tough guy act overcompensates for these insecurities.

We all experience varying degrees of insecurity, but it’s how we deal with it that truly counts. I’ve had many friends and mentees over time that confided that they may be nervous about a particular situation and want my advice on how to handle it. As a seasoned pro when it comes to anxiety, I am able to boost their confidence by saying three simple words . . . “just be yourself.” And what I really mean is just be your true self. Not the mask that is worn and shown to others. Now you might say that this seems like overly simplistic advice. I agree. Just being ourselves is pretty simple. We try to overcomplicate things but it all boils down to this simple premise. I’ve learned how to overcome my anxiety and just be myself by pondering the following question. “Is this a life or death situation?” Fortunately, I’ve always been able to answer “no.” Putting things in this perspective allows me to melt away the insecurity and just be who I am. As long as I’m being myself and maintaining my core values, I really don’t care what others may think. And then the pressure is off.

This brings me to my second “skin” point. Our insecurities mirror the manner in which we are affected by our interactions with others. When we allow ourselves to be hurt, feel slighted or victimized by someone else, it’s a reflection of how secure we are in our own skin. We take a lot of body blows as entrepreneurs. We may or may not get the credit when things go right, but we’re definitely the focal point when things go wrong – our fault or not. The business world is ultra-competitive and not everyone plays fairly. Conflict may erupt within our own organization and it’s up to us to resolve it. Bottom line – there’s a lot of opportunity to personalize the constant hammering to which we are subjected. We develop that suit of armor that gets us through the wars when we are totally comfortable with whom we are. I suppose in a way it’s more like a suit of Teflon™ that deflects the attacks. And perhaps they aren’t really attacking at all if we don’t perceive them as such . . . right?

Being comfortable in our own skin accomplishes two objectives. It enables us to treat others with dignity and respect and it inoculates us from allowing ourselves to be hurt by others. This is a pretty good twofer in my book.

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 Doubting Entrepreneur

There’s one thing of which I’m certain . . . I think. Have you ever had this kind of feeling? We entrepreneurs are a pretty confident lot. We are scrappy and tough. There’s nothing we can’t do including leaping over tall buildings in a single bound. Throw us a challenge and we’ll whip it with one hand tied behind our back and blindfolded to boot. Right? Well, maybe. And most of the time.

Entrepreneurs have several “thought enemies,” one of them being gnawing and nagging doubts. Here’s a not-so-fictional example. Let’s say that things have been going pretty well in our business and we’ve had some nice wins along the way. Then we hit a little speed bump – perhaps a contract doesn’t get signed that we thought we had in the bag. Or an important customer stops doing business with us. In other words, we get knocked off our game a bit. That part we can handle with aplomb as we go on to sign another contract or we fix the problem with our important customer. It’s what happens next that can be perplexing.

After we’ve been bucked off the horse so to speak, we begin to have feelings of doubt. For example, we are ready to introduce a new product or service, but we wonder if it might flop. In the past, we would have launched without any trepidation, but now it feels different. Could something else go wrong that that might cause everything to come unraveled? We know that these gnawing and nagging doubts aren’t healthy and could become self-fulfilling prophecies. Yet still they are there and hard to push out of our mind.

Why is our confidence shaken, and doubts have entered the picture? I’ve thought about all of the times this has happened in my life and believe it centers on a rather recent failure in the past. The earlier example that I gave where the contract or customer was lost illustrates this notion. Coming off of a failure makes us wary and more sensitive. As entrepreneurs we have winning in our DNA. Failure is for losers. And yet we do fail, and we do lose. Sure, we’re resilient, but we can’t ignore what it felt like to fail and lose, and we don’t want to experience it again. And so, we’re vulnerable to doubt and uncertainty. Subconsciously we’re thinking, “I’m sure what I’m doing now is going to work, but if it doesn’t, I don’t want to be hurt again.” We find ourselves moving forward but wondering . . . always wondering when the other shoe will drop.

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself when these insidious doubts start creeping into my consciousness. I step back and take inventory of all of the positive successes that I know lay in front of me. I may have just lost a deal, but there are ten more that I believe with all my heart will succeed. Now here’s the key – even if only half of the ten deals actually succeed, I’m still way, way ahead. In other words, I’m not looking at the glass half full, but I’m looking at multiple glasses and every one of them is overflowing. Immediately my mindset changes and all is right with my world again. I’ve accepted the fact that I had a prior setback. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll have more setbacks in the future. But I know that the pluses will always far outweigh the minuses and the winning score will be in my favor – overwhelmingly!

Gnawing and nagging doubts are usually a product of a recent failure. We get past such feelings by looking at the scoreboard and realizing that we are way ahead in the game. Ultimately this makes us unbeatable.

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 Whale-Chasing Entrepreneur

I recently was at the beach and watched seagulls flying across the water with large objects hanging from their mouths. Upon closer examination I realized that they had plucked seahorses from the waves. But they were struggling to eat them. To begin with, the seahorses were way too large to swallow. And there was no way for the gulls to tear them apart because seahorses have a tough armor-like skin. A few weeks later I watched another seagull flying with a large fish in its mouth while being chased by two more seagulls. Finally, one of them stole the fish from the first (in mid-air!) but ended up dropping it in the water. The third retrieved it, landed on the beach and tried to swallow it – but the fish was too big.

All this seagull activity got me thinking about an interesting issue that we entrepreneurs face from time to time. We often chase a piece of business that we very much want to win. Sometimes it’s a really, really big piece of business and we think to ourselves, “This may be way out of our league but why not give it a whirl? Maybe we actually could win!” Our pursuit of this business may be somewhat fanciful, but stranger things have happened and lo and behold we do win. OK, now what?

A number of years ago our apartment management business unit was pursuing a very large property management assignment. We had not previously done business with the prospective client, but the firm was well-respected in the industry. Months and months of relationship-building culminated in a “mystery” dinner with the client representative where we were told we were going to be awarded a large management contract. The client explained that a portfolio of apartments was going to be assigned to us, but we couldn’t be told where the properties were located until right before we assumed management. The reason – the client was self-managing the properties and didn’t want the on-site or corporate office teams to know about the management change until the day the company-wide announcement was to be made. We had also been told that the property assumptions would occur over a phased period of time – two or three months. When all was revealed we ended up with more than 3,000 units in 52 apartment properties scattered across the country. Oh, and they were dumped in our lap all at once with no phase-in. We were literally the dog that chased and caught the bus!

Needless to say, this assignment did not work well for us. It turns out that this client gave us all the “dogs and cats” (tough properties) in its portfolio – so we were behind the eight ball from the beginning. Client expectations were unrealistic; our compensation did not begin to cover our costs, and our team was running ragged. After 18 frustrating months, we resigned the account at a loss of approximately $250,000.

What did I learn from watching the seagulls and my own experience? It’s very simple. It’s great to plan to catch a whale, but we must have a plan for what to do with the whale once it’s caught. There’s no question that the property management assignment I described overtaxed our resources. Unfortunately, we had no idea how large the portfolio was going to be in the first place – we never should have put ourselves in that position. But as a quintessential entrepreneur I’ve often had the attitude, “Let’s just get the business and then we’ll figure out how to deal with it.” I’ve found that this approach is a great way to crash and burn. Pulling together the entire team for a series of planning sessions is paramount. Understanding how to scale our human and capital resources is vital. And sometimes we just have to say “no.” That’s pretty tough for an entrepreneur to do but saying “yes” to the wrong opportunity could be extraordinarily costly.

Thinking big and pursuing big opportunities are part of our DNA as entrepreneurs. Comprehensive precision planning for the big wins paves the way for long-term success.

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

The Big and Bold Entrepreneur

I saw a video clip the other day of the Haohan Qiao Bridge that stretches 980 feet between two cliffs in China’s Shiniuizhai National Geological Park. It’s a suspension footbridge that is extremely unique in one particular sense . . . it’s made of glass. As you walk (or crawl) across, you see through the glass floor and look straight down 600 feet to the canyon below. We’re told that the glass is 25 times stronger than ordinary glass and if it breaks it is so dense that a person won’t fall through.

What’s interesting about this bridge is the fact that it’s bold, it’s big AND it’s safe (we’ll assume for the moment that what we’re being told about the bridge’s safety is correct). This bridge is the perfect metaphor for what we’re trying to accomplish as entrepreneurs. There’s nothing wrong with small ball, but after playing this way for many years we sometimes yearn to take that big leap across the canyon. Doing so requires that we push beyond our comfort zone and summon a fearlessness that we may not have previously experienced.

What prevents us from taking big and bold action? Often, it’s a question of safety. We’ve invested much in the way of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today and we don’t want to risk our bank account, our 401(k), our home, our health, our reputation and yes, the possibility of failure. The risk of failure is likely the Number One reason we don’t take those big and bold steps. The rest of the risks can be successfully managed. We use them as “why not” reasons, but ultimately it all boils down to the chance that we might fail.

What does failure look like to you? Many of us are programmed to abhor failure. In school, getting an F was something to dread. Our parents were disappointed. We thought we looked stupid in the eyes of our classmates. There was real shame associated with this letter grade. Throughout our lives we have been conditioned to avoid failure at all costs. And so, we say things like, “I don’t want to go all-in on my business idea because I can’t afford to put my family at risk.” But at the root of it, we are afraid to get that paper back from the teacher with a red F in the upper right-hand corner.

I’ve said many times that failure is simply an unfinished experiment in the laboratory of life. Failed experiments can sometimes be the only way we eventually get it right. I’ve started numerous business ventures that failed. In one case we raised investor money to fund a particular concept but could not get the traction we were looking for. Within a few months we realized that we were going to fail and so we gave everyone’s money back and shut down the venture. The goodwill from the early recognition of our failure and the act of returning the investment capital enabled us to build even stronger relationships with those investors who have invested in subsequent ventures. Long ago I realized that there is nothing to be ashamed about when we fail and maintain our integrity in doing so. I just haven’t figured out how to go big and bold without the risk of failure somewhere in the equation.

Here’s the bottom line. Step One – think big and then think bigger. Step Two – focus on how to mitigate the risks that could be associated with failing when launching that big (bigger) idea. Step Three – release the ego and realize that failure doesn’t diminish us as individuals. Step Four – create a solid implementation plan. Step Five – GO FOR IT!

Going big and bold is a process to be managed. But it also means that we must get out of our own way to deny the insecurities and perceptions of failure that prevent us from moving forward.

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 “Loyal-to-a-Fault” Entrepreneur

Think about how much loyalty is a part of your life. How loyal are you to others? And how loyal are they to you? Do you have loyal customers; loyal partners; loyal employees, loyal friends and loyal family members? Loyalty is a strong and positive quality. It’s a key element in building and maintaining relationships. So, everything must be peaches and cream, right? Ah, but there’s a bit of a dark side to loyalty.

You probably have heard the term, “loyal to a fault.” This is when we may be too loyal to someone else and that loyalty clouds our judgment and may even be damaging to our business. Whether or not we’re being too loyal can be a tough call. It requires us to be very objective about a particular person and their performance. This can be exceptionally difficult for anyone and nearly impossible for someone who places a very high value on the loyalty trait.

Here’s a scenario that may be familiar. Perhaps it’s even happened in your own organization. A high-level executive has been with a firm for 30-years and reports to the founder and CEO. This executive is part of the CEO’s inner circle and his advice and counsel are often sought by the CEO. Unfortunately, this executive is also a flaming jerk. He’s very nice and thoughtful to other senior level executives, but when it comes to those who don’t have as prominent a position in the organization, he can be unreasonably demanding and thoughtless. Because of his tenure with the CEO, his behavior is tolerated. The employees of the firm have learned to steer clear of him and know that he is “protected” by the CEO. Complaints were lodged about him in years past but it’s well-known by everyone working for this company that he will always get away with whatever he wants.

If asked about this high-level executive, the CEO would undoubtedly say, “I know that he can sometimes be a bit abrasive, but overall he’s done a great job for this company.” The CEO might also say something like this, “He and I were fraternity brothers and he’s always had my back.” Sound like something you might have heard before? In this situation, many of the employees of this company have lost respect for the CEO because he won’t fix the problem. If this was a family business, it could very well be that the CEO and high-level executive are related – brothers perhaps. The bottom line is that the organization cannot function effectively because the CEO has misplaced loyalty to a problem individual.

As entrepreneurs we must learn how to maintain our objectivity, especially when it comes to employees and team members who are key to us. We have to be able to separate our feelings of loyalty from what is best for our organization. Loyalty can easily become a blind spot for us unless we have a method to deal with it. In a larger organization this can be done through a human resources department. The HR director must be given permission by the CEO to lay the facts on the table about each and every employee. In a smaller firm, it may be helpful to hire a consultant who can facilitate the performance of a 360-degree review of senior executives or even all members of the firm. In both cases, the HR director or the consultant should provide an honest perspective to the CEO that one of his or her reports needs to be coached, disciplined or even dismissed.

Loyalty is generally a good thing. But when there’s loyalty to a fault, we need to be willing to listen to someone tell us when we have a problem. And then we must deal with it accordingly.

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.