The Entrepreneur “Gut Whisperer”

Entrepreneurs make decisions every day. Some are large and many are small. Have you ever stopped to determine how it is that you go about making your decisions? Some entrepreneurs are deliberate and others tentative. Some are procrastinators and some use a consensus approach. I’d like to focus on two methodologies that present quite a conundrum for entrepreneurs – gut vs. data.

How many times have you heard the expression, “go with your gut?” We all know what this means. When presented with a choice or several choices, we use our intuition to select the one that “feels” right. Gut level decisions typically require no cognition or rational thought. To a great extent they are based simply on a feeling that we have. But . . . that feeling is generally developed over time based on a wide range of experiences. The word “experience” is the key here. I’ll grant that there may be times when a gut decision can be successful without foundational experience. But I do not believe that gut-driven decision making can consistently be accurate in the absence of incrementally derived experience.

Decisions that are made utilizing factual data and logic may seem like a safe bet. But . . . there are a couple of caveats. First, we can sometimes be too analytical. We ponder the data and agonize over it. Do we have every last fact that might make a difference? What if one or more of the facts aren’t correct? Ultimately, we can end up in an analysis paralysis situation that turns into a first-class muddle. Second, even with data we still must interpret it. Assume that all the facts are correct and that we have everything we need. The wrong conclusion can be reached if the information is improperly interpreted.

Early in our careers we should make decisions much more based on facts and logic. As much as we might want to “trust our gut,” we just don’t have the experience necessary to do so and consistently make the right decisions. As we gain age and experience there’s a possibility that we also become a bit wiser. Wisdom is the magical ingredient that allows us to listen to our gut and make the right call. This doesn’t mean that we ignore fact-based decision making. But there will be situations where we’ve seen this rodeo several times. And as a result, we can pretty much predict what is going to transpire.

We all have intuition at the earliest stages of our adult lives. The big question is whether to trust it. Steve Jobs famously said, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become.” This is all fine and good. However, lofty and soaring statements like this aren’t necessarily helpful. The point I’m trying to make is that we can sharpen our intuitive skills by validating the patterns we observe over time. Here’s an analogy that will put this in a better perspective. Suppose we have a 26-year-old airline pilot. He’s very good at executing the mechanics of flying a jet aircraft. He’s been flying since he was 16 and has logged nearly 5,000 hours in the cockpit including 400 in his current aircraft type. Suppose you are one of 120 passengers aboard his aircraft. How comfortable are you placing your life in his hands if he tends to be more “intuitive” about the way he flies? Compare this to a 60-year-old airline captain who has been flying for more than 40 years. He has over 35,000 hours of flight time including 10,000 hours in the Boeing 757 that he currently drives around the sky. Which pilot’s “intuition” are you more likely to trust?

The veteran pilot has developed a sixth sense – aka intuition – for his aircraft and for flight in general. He’s seen it all over the course of his career. While he flies by the book and always checks the facts on all things weather, mechanical and aeronautical, he just “knows” when he needs to act on something that may not be factual in nature. Perhaps a little voice is telling him that there’s a problem with an engine even though the gauges are in the green. That little voice might be a subtle tone or vibration that only he can feel. Why? Because he knows his airplane so well that he has almost become one with it.

When we combine age, experience, and wisdom, we sharpen our intuitive skills. Laying such a foundation enables us to rely more and more on our gut as we move down our career path.

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 Shark Entrepreneur

Solving problems is a hallmark of entrepreneurship. Challenges are presented every single day of our existence – some small, some large and some that are the size of a 41,000-pound Whale Shark. Regardless of their size, we know that we must persevere and work through the many issues we face. Let’s stop for a moment and think about our problem-solving encounters. Are they particularly stressful or do we handle them on an even-keeled basis?

There have been periods in my career where problem-solving was extremely hard. Why? Because I made it so. There were times when nothing seemed to go right. It was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle and there was a piece that I absolutely, positively knew belonged in a specific location, but it wouldn’t quite fit. It was a maddening experience until I eventually figured out that I had jammed the correct piece in another spot – and that was also wrong. How did I feel? Frustrated is an understatement. At other times I’d be cruising along fixing little nits and nats along the way, only to find that other minor issues would keep cropping up. I remember putting together model airplanes as a kid. I might get a little too much glue on one part that would leak out through the seam. Or my hand wasn’t as steady as necessary, and I’d get some paint in the wrong place. How did I feel? Irritated is the proper term.

Frustration, irritation, anger, and anxiety are all emotions that we can feel when we are dealing with our challenges du jour. Then when a Whale Shark-sized problem swims by, it can push us over the edge into a full-blown meltdown. I’ve been there with all of this and I’m betting that you’ve been there too. Eliminating the drama in my life has been a priority in recent years. I decided to try and become more like a robot in this regard  . . . a robot named Zen! As time has passed, I’ve become much friendlier with Zen. I’m much less inclined to major in drama where problem-solving is concerned.

Here’s how I’m succeeding at experiencing less in the way of negative emotions when dealing with business and personal obstacles alike. I’m not a poker player but have watched enough poker to understand what a “poker face” is all about. So, I try and emulate a poker player when I’m working a problem. It’s become a game for me to see if I can reach a solution without anyone (including myself) detecting frustration, irritation, or any other unfavorable emotion. This works most of the time for small issues.

For larger problems I take a deep breath, smile, and gulp in a healthy dose of positivity and optimism. Starting from a positive place is critical. Recently I heard someone reject optimism in favor of hope. To me, optimism is more of an action-oriented belief system. Hope is like keeping my fingers crossed. I’d rather place my trust in visualizing a positive outcome than keeping a rabbit’s foot in my pocket. Each step of the way I remind myself to stay positive and avoid the negative emotions. I look for the small victories along the way. And guess what – there are small victories during solving large challenges if we look for them. They are like steppingstones that take us from one side of the stream to the other without getting our feet wet.

Finally, here’s my approach to the Whale Shark problems. I get into a clinical state of mind. I map out a process from A to Z. My business colleagues know that I work a lot with spreadsheets and diagrams. I use these tools quite often to figure out the really big, hairy, tough stuff. This is where my robot, Zen, enters the picture. I love the story about Captain Sully Sullenberger who landed his US Airways aircraft on the Hudson River when both engines flamed out after ingesting a flock of geese. This man became a robot. In his mind he mapped out a solution to the problem. He remained calm and didn’t panic. Sully didn’t agonize over the decisions he made because there wasn’t time to do so. Embracing a process-driven approach and maintaining focus is the best way to avoid destructive negative emotions when solving the Whale Shark-sized problems.

We will succeed to a much greater degree when we learn how to control or eliminate negative emotions when solving problems. Then it doesn’t matter if the issue is small, large or of a Whale Shark scale – we’re well prepared.

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 “Old Tapes Playing” Entrepreneur

Consider the following conversation that an entrepreneur named George is having with himself. “I really would like to accept the invitation to speak to the Downtown Civic Club. But I’m afraid I’ll be too nervous.” Here’s similar conversation being held in the head of Megan, another budding entrepreneur. “I just don’t know. Maybe I should apply for that fellowship – but the odds aren’t in my favor to win.” And finally, Entrepreneur Don is thinking, “I’m reluctant to invest in a new product line because I’m not convinced it can succeed.”

But there’s more of a story behind each of these “conversations.” For George, he remembers the time several years ago when he made a presentation at a conference and was unprepared – he bombed. Megan recalls once applying for a highly coveted membership in a leadership organization. The process was very competitive, and Megan’s application was rejected. Finally, Don previously invested in a product line that failed and he lost a chunk of change on the idea. I’m going to use a descriptive phrase for what is happening that will probably demonstrate a generation gap. What George, Megan and Don are doing is “playing old tapes.” Some younger members of the audience who may not know what “tapes” are. In the old days, some of us “old people” listened to music and dialogue on a thin magnetized strip of plastic film. There were reel-to-reel tapes, eight track tapes and cassette tapes to name a few “tape” formats.

To “play old tapes” is to recall negative experiences from the past and make decisions today based upon those experiences. Playing old tapes generally embraces the notion of lack and limitation. It’s based in fear – often an irrational fear – that shakes our confidence. Over time, these old tapes can have a paralyzing effect for an entrepreneur. Eventually we can fall into a rut with narrow guardrails that are reflective of our past failures. What we really want to do is to venture off this rutted road to nowhere and get back on the freeway that will take us to our dreams.

Getting rid of old tapes is harder than it sounds, but it can (and must) be done. First, we embrace who we are right now. We cannot change the past. There’s not a single person alive today who hasn’t made mistakes. And I think it’s safe to say that all of us have made many. We should use the past for its instructive elements while discarding the emotional aspects of how it felt to be embarrassed, hurt or even shamed. The instructive element for George is to always be sufficiently prepared for future presentations. It’s in his best interest to release the humiliation that he carries for it serves no purpose. In a sense, it’s time to get rid of the rearview mirror.

Once we have determined the instructive elements from our past mistakes and thrown out the emotional rearview mirror, we move on to the next step. What exactly does our success look like? For Megan, she holds an image in her mind’s eye. She sees herself attending a luncheon with hundreds of other people. And at the appointed time, she hears her name being called and watches as she walks to the stage to receive congratulations for winning the fellowship. This visualization is powerful and is a “tape” worth playing over and over. In so doing, we pattern our brain to be receptive to the success that awaits us.

Finally, we celebrate by making new “tapes.” This is accomplished by rejoicing in the small victories that we constantly encounter. We entrepreneurs think big. We set lofty goals and we are always pushing for the big wins. But we tend to overlook the small wins we experience every single day. Entrepreneur Don realizes that his sales are growing at a respectable pace. His team has been 100% intact for four years. His defective product returns are zero. All these factors are wins and Don should take pride in their achievement. He now sees that he’s on the right track and is perfectly capable of making the right decisions.

We stop the process of playing old tapes by discerning the instructive elements from our past mistakes and eliminating the negative emotions that we remember. Then we repeatedly visualize our success and celebrate the wins we are experiencing each day. The result is a completely new set of positive tapes that are free of lack and limitation. 

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 Appreciative Entrepreneur

Robin goes to work every day at the consumer products company where she has been employed for the past two years. She faithfully performs her roles and accountabilities and has received relatively high marks from her supervisor. In fact, she has never taken a sick day and is proud of the fact that she’s never missed a day of work other than scheduled holidays and vacations. But recently, Robin has begun to feel more and more like she’s on a hamster wheel. She believes her compensation is relatively fair and she likes what she does. However, she often wonders about what she might be missing at another firm.

Robin is feeling unappreciated and undervalued. No one has been disrespectful or mean to her, so that’s not the problem. More than anything no one outside of her operating unit seems to really care whether she’s part of the team or not. It’s this level of apathy that’s eating at her. She sees the “big boss” almost every day, but he’s never once spoken to her. She rationalizes this by acknowledging that there are over 1,000 employees in the company and it’s impossible for him to know everyone. Still, her accomplishments are seemingly unnoticed and taken for granted.

The scenario just described is repeated countless times every single day across a wide spectrum of companies – large and small. There are multiple studies showing that feeling valued is more important to many people than what they are paid. And this is not a problem that is easily solved with a large company event, a cruise or other significant activity. No, our team members need to feel valued on a regular and ongoing basis.

Leaders need to understand that helping others to feel appreciated and valued is one of the most important functions we can perform. It requires a genuine and authentic mindset that we are here to serve. Yes, you read that correctly. We are servant-leaders. The objective is to look for every way we can to make others feel important and fulfilled. It’s not a mindset that we can turn on and off depending upon who we encounter. We can start creating this mindset by trying to find something good and positive about every situation and everyone. When we are served in a restaurant, we can call the server by name and tell him or her what great service was provided. In public spaces there are always people cleaning the floors or polishing the glass. We can compliment them on how they are creating a sparkling appearance.

We continue to practice our appreciative mindset at our workplace. We make certain to greet everyone we walk by and call them by name. We go out of our way to acknowledge the efforts of others and thank them for their contribution. As leaders, it’s our job to encourage other leaders to create a culture of gratitude.   

An initiative we launched several years ago involves sending a letter to each of our team members on their work anniversary. It’s form letter that changes annually and is signed by me as the CEO. But we’ve taken it a step further. A spreadsheet is created onto which is recorded comments about each team member’s accomplishments provided by his or her supervisor. Toward the bottom of the letter, I handwrite a personal note – several sentences – citing these individual accomplishments and thanking the team member for being a part of the team. I write several hundred of these each year and can tell you that it’s one of the high points of my month. I also call team members when I hear about exceptional performance and express my appreciation for their service.

It’s equally important for our team to feel as though their input is needed. Mandates from on high are sometimes necessary, but soliciting feedback from team members and involving them in the decision-making process whenever possible promotes buy-in. And we need to make sure when people speak that we listen and act accordingly. There are many great ideas and practical solutions that can be accessed from such a collaborative approach.

Acknowledging value and showing respect starts at the top of an organization. If the executive leadership doesn’t incorporate this as part of the cultural fabric, it’s not likely that it will be a priority for others either. If the “big boss” would simply say hello to Robin and show a little interest in her and what she does, it’s unlikely that she would feel the way she does.

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 Marauding Capitalist Entrepreneur

There have been some interesting developments in recent times on the subject of capitalism. An angry anti-capitalism movement is in full bloom in the U.S. and around the world. The classic definition of capitalism from Merriam-Webster is, “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” And what do the anti-capitalists want? They are pursuing a moneyless society or some other economic system such as socialism or communism. How have we arrived at this point?

There has always been a certain element of society that voices opposition to capitalism. Lately the voices seem to have grown louder and perhaps greater in number. I believe that this may be due in part to some bad behavior on the part of a few marauding capitalists. What is a “marauding capitalist?” Here are some examples. The financial services company, Wells Fargo, fraudulently created more than two million phony bank accounts which generated fees for the bank and helped push sales figures for thousands of employees (along with their bonuses). Then there was the scandal involving the EpiPen. The cost to Mylan, the pharmaceutical company producing the EpiPen is $30, and yet the consumer was being charged $600. And finally, there’s the case of Martin Shkreli, formerly CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who jacked up the price of the HIV drug Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to over $700.

Some of these actions were illegal. In all cases they were immoral. When this sort of behavior is perpetrated, it gives capitalism a bad reputation. It’s not hard to see how the term “marauding capitalists” came about. Society generally disapproves of those who scheme and those who take unfair advantage of others. Is it any surprise that resentment has built to the point that the anti-capitalists are coming out of the woodwork?

What can we do to inoculate ourselves from becoming a “marauding capitalist?” It all starts with a foundation of Core Values. For a good part of my career, I heard about companies with Core Values, but in most cases, they were “lip serviced.” They were only for window dressing and no one paid any attention to them. Several years ago, we decided to become serious about developing our culture and did so by developing meaningful Core Values. Since then, we’ve focused on them relentlessly and celebrated the way they are lived by members of our team. Our Core Values include Commitment, Integrity, Customer Fulfillment, Team Member Fulfillment and Community Impact. By maintaining focus on delivering on our Core Values, we have avoided the kind of actions that might be regarded as unacceptable or offensive.

With well-thought Core Values and a commitment to living them every day, we entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about doing things that are immoral or illegal. But we’re not done yet. The “living them every day” part is critical and the most difficult. This is where Culture comes into play. Every organization has a Culture – intentional or unintentional. When the Culture is positive and aligned with the Core Values, it reduces the likelihood for moving off the straight and narrow. If someone on the team proposes an initiative that is contradictory to the Core Values, someone else will call this into accountability. A healthy Culture can become a self-policing mechanism that stops “marauding capitalism” in its tracks. Most importantly, the top leaders of an organization must embrace the Core Values and model them every single day. This sends the message that the company has not simply adopted Core Values to be politically correct.

There are plenty of companies that are doing it right. Panera Bread, Atmos Energy, Kohl’s, Western Union, Marathon Petroleum, Quest Diagnostics, Union Pacific and Sempra Energy, are just a few that are admired for their trustworthiness. Unfortunately, only takes a few bad actors to poison the well for capitalism overall.

We can all do our part to prevent marauding capitalism from becoming mainstream, for it invites more government regulation and gives a platform to those who want to destroy capitalism outright. When our operating principles are congruent with our Core Values, we will be successful in this effort.

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 Hustling Entrepreneur

The legendary Sir Richard Branson was 16 when he launched his first business venture in 1967 – a magazine called Student. He followed this with a business selling records through the mail. Thus, was born Virgin Records and ultimately a multitude of companies under the Virgin brand.

Mark Cuban was 25-years old when he started software company, MicroSolutions. Seven years later he sold it at a price that put $6 million in his pocket. He reinvested his winnings into another of his start-ups, Broadcast.com which netted $5.7 billion when sold.

John Paul DeJoria bounced around in the foster system as a boy. He was involved with crime and spent time in the military before he borrowed $700 to start John Paul Mitchell Systems. His humble beginnings included door-to-door sales and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Later he founded Patron tequila, another killer brand. Today he’s worth more than $3 billion.

What did all three of these entrepreneurs have in common? They were all “hustlers.” I know that when many of us hear that term, it doesn’t have positive connotations. We have images of a smarmy, greasy, fast-talking character who is constantly trying to run a con. But this isn’t the kind of hustle to which I refer. Instead, this kind of hustle is all about a desire to win.

Entrepreneurs who have hustle are resilient. They are creative and they are fearless. The easiest way to describe an entrepreneurial hustler is to look at the parallel of a hard-fought basketball game. We’ve all seen players scrambling after loose balls, flying into the stands, and throwing themselves onto the floor. They are willing to sacrifice their bodies with reckless abandon in their quest to achieve victory.

When we hustle we have a warrior’s mindset. Our initial focus is on survival. How many successful entrepreneurs started from deep and dark places? Remember how J. K. Rowling faced tremendous adversity in the early days before her celebrity as the author of the Harry Potter books? Her mother passed away; she gave birth to a child and went through a divorce; was clinically depressed and lived on welfare for a time. But her only choice was to write to survive. When we are ready to curl up and hide from the world, we should remember how others were able to make it through the tough times and come out the other side stronger and ready to whip the world. Resilience is a major key to survival.

Perhaps our business isn’t growing like we planned. Maybe we’ve even seen it slide backward. Now is the time to get into “hustle mode.” This can take many forms but the most important is a mindset of renewed determination. We examine our strategy and tactics so that we can make the necessary adjustments . . . with renewed determination. We push to new levels of innovation . . . with renewed determination. And we may even do things we’ve never done before . . . with renewed determination, so that we can survive.

Eventually we begin to achieve momentum. We begin to win. And we continue to hustle. Our mindset shifts away from simple survival, and the focus is now on how to thrive. We are relentless in discovering ways to become even more creative. We absolutely, positively know that we are going to succeed. Our “hustle” now involves an even greater sense of urgency along with commitment and dedication to setting our goals even higher. We ignore our critics and all the naysayers. We work hard and we endure the pain. There is no question we’ll make many sacrifices along the way. I can remember in the early years of my career when we were building our business. We had passed the point of survival and were beginning to thrive. I would sometimes arrive at work very early – 3:00 AM. And I would meet another colleague who was leaving to go home for a few hours of sleep. We were hustling and we were winning.

The entrepreneurial hustle often begins with survival and eventually results in a breakthrough where we thrive. Resilience, hard work, creativity, a fanatically positive mindset, and laser like focus are some of the more important factors to this equation.

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 Frozen Hostage Entrepreneur

Damon has a problem. His staffing company is four years old and growing like crazy. Bottom line profits have doubled year-over-year since he launched the firm and several members of his team have been with him from the very beginning. Sounds like a dream story so far, right? But as I said, Damon has a problem. A key member of his organization, Mason, has become increasingly disruptive. Mason is in a position of leadership and works tirelessly – the business would not be where it is today without him. Unfortunately, the way he treats others is unacceptable. His approach is command and control. He bullies. He yells. And he threatens. Other members of the team go out of their way to avoid dealing with this individual and everyone walks on eggshells when they are forced to interact with him.

Damon isn’t blind to the problem. He has counseled Mason on many occasions. The result is always the same – an apology and a promise to change. But change is either short-lived or never happens at all. Within days he’s back to his old ways. Damon has offered to pay for therapy but is met with a benign sort of resistance. Mason agrees that he will consider professional help but never follows through to begin receiving it.

Recently Damon began thinking about making a change and terminating Mason. He considered all the chaos and hurt feelings caused by this person. But he also recognized that Mason has some unique skills not to mention important client relationships. On the one hand Damon knows that Mason has already caused the departure of several team members over the past 18 months. Yet, he worries that letting Mason go might cause the loss of certain clients. And who would be able to step in and have the domain expertise to function as effectively as does Mason? Damon doesn’t know what to do and as the days and weeks go by, the problems with Mason persist. This is a classic case of The Frozen Hostage.

In effect, Damon is allowing himself to be held hostage by Mason. And he’s frozen into a do-nothing position. Does any of this sound familiar? Many of us undoubtedly have similar situations that exist in our own organizations. We want to try and make things work to everyone’s satisfaction. We all want our “Masons” to turn over a new leaf and start treating others with the respect they deserve – then everyone will be happy. Not one of us wants to take that deep breath and plunge into the icy waters of our “Mason’s” exit. We are convinced it will be messy and painful. So, we procrastinate. And our inaction causes more suffering within our organizations.

I will be the first to concede that dealing with an issue like this is not pleasant. We develop loyalties, especially where we know someone has busted their rear to help us build our business. But eventually we cannot tolerate the behavior any longer and realize that we need to put an end to the madness – especially if our “Mason” isn’t interested in truly modifying his behavior.

The path toward “thawing out” the Frozen Hostage is straightforward. We need a plan. It starts with determining whether we can abide our “Mason” until we find a replacement for him. In either case, we must identify the process for finding the replacement. The plan includes developing a clear understanding of Mason’s role and accountabilities and looking for vulnerabilities. Then we tackle the vulnerabilities including technical skills and processes, as well as internal and external relationships. What is the timetable for implementing this plan? What is going to be announced and when? Who is going to cover the different roles and accountabilities on an interim basis after Mason departs? If we are lucky enough to surreptitiously hire his replacement, how are we going to ensure that our new team member hits the ground running without stumbling?

When we are the Frozen Hostage, we aren’t inclined to create this plan of attack. We just keep hoping that things get better, and we don’t have to take drastic action . . . except it never seems to work out that way. By forcing ourselves into the planning mode we begin the thawing process.

As leaders, becoming a Frozen Hostage causes serious morale problems within our organizations. Knowing that we eventually must take an unpleasant action, a logical planning process for replacing a key team member can make the path a bit smoother.

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 “Do You Know Who I Am?” Entrepreneur

The actor, Alec Baldwin, purportedly was riding his bike the wrong way near Union Square in New York and was stopped by police officers. After uttering some profanities, he produced this gem, “Don’t you know who I am?” We’ve all heard this before. Someone isn’t getting his or her way and so they play the “Don’t you know who I am” card. This statement is reflective of the ultimate entitlement mentality. Entrepreneurs are often on the road to success – sometimes in a big way. This success may lead to wealth, fame, and power. What it doesn’t produce is entitlement.

Let’s define entitlement a bit more clearly. There are certain circumstances where entitlement is perfectly legitimate. For example, suppose we pay through the nose to fly first class on an airline. There are perks that inure to our benefit when we pay extra for them. Similarly, if we pay a premium for a luxury automobile, there will likely be some special treatment that we receive at the dealership when we arrive for service. Again, we are entitled to this special treatment because we paid for it.

Now, contrast this with the guy who always parks his luxury car in a “no parking” zone. Or the woman in an expensive mink coat who cuts in line at the grocery store or the theater. Or in 2009 when a young woman ordered a hamburger in a fast-food restaurant and upon asking her name for the order, she replied to the server, “You don’t recognize me? I’m Miley Cyrus!” I don’t know about you, but I cringe when I witness this kind of behavior. This type of entitlement mentality is not the legitimate kind.

As leaders we’re role models whether we like it or not. Our team members are watching every move we make. If we happen to be in the public eye, there are many more eyeballs and ears that are taking notice of everything we are doing and saying. Oh, and they are judging us AND our organization at the same time. It’s one thing to have a great deal of self-confidence and assertiveness – this is entirely necessary to succeed in today’s rough and tumble world of commerce. But the line is crossed when that self-confidence and assertiveness becomes boorish, arrogant, and aggressive.

The whole issue is one of self-esteem. The way we see ourselves comes from within and not from the outer. It’s probably no secret that people who are shoving their fame, fortune, or power in the face of others, are acting from a feeling of low self-esteem. Sometimes the resulting sense of misplaced entitlement leads to destructive actions such as heaving drinking, drug use, gambling, extramarital affairs, and other sorts of outrageous behaviors.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with driving a luxury automobile, wearing expensive jewelry, and clothing, or being on a magazine cover. It’s how we feel about ourselves and how we treat others that matters most. Country singer Dolly Parton is one of the nicest and most humble mega-stars on the planet. Soccer star David Beckham is super polite, and actress Jennifer Lawrence is known for being very down-to-earth and easy to work with. There’s no doubt that all three are members of the rich and famous class. And yet they aren’t overcompensating for their insecurities (and they may not have any) by displaying an attitude of entitlement. They, and many others like them are gracious and put others first.

Our station in life is not a rung on a ladder. Instead, it’s simply a steppingstone that is part of a long and winding journey. Each of us is on a similar journey. When we offer a helping hand to others our lives are enriched.

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 Work-Life Balance Entrepreneur

We’ve all heard the constant drumbeat over the last several years about work-life balance. It’s the notion that we must find a healthy equilibrium between our work and everything else that is occurring outside of work. It’s an admirable and noble goal and certainly achievable . . . to a point. I don’t mean to burst the proverbial bubble, but there are situations where it just isn’t going to happen. Let me explain.

When I joined my company in 1975, we were a fledgling organization founded just five years earlier by an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. We were scrapping and clawing our way to success. The competition was fierce, and we were in a “take no prisoners” industry. Back then you did whatever it took to win and keep business. I worked 100+ hours a week. I remember arriving at the office at 3:00 AM to get a head start on the day and would routinely see one of my partners leaving at the same time to go home and get a few hours of sleep before tackling it again later that morning. I still recall being at the office on New Year’s Eve at 11:30 PM working on an important proposal that had to be in the hands of a prospective client at 8:00 AM on January 2. We didn’t complain; we didn’t whine; we weren’t even aware of the term “work-life balance.” When our children were born, the juggling act became even more acute. I’m proud to say that I never missed any of my daughters’ school or sporting events though I know there were mad dashes at times to be present.

What would have happened if we had not worked the crazy hours and made the sacrifices along the way? There’s no way to know for sure, but I suspect that we would have missed opportunities and our company would not have grown and succeeded the way it has. Early on, I skipped vacations. I loved what I was doing, and my wife was immersed in her career. Did I feel like we were deprived of a more satisfying life at that point? No. I had a long-term view that if we invested heavily at the beginning of our lives, we eventually would be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor later in life. And this was not about “paying my dues” as a young whippersnapper. I never saw it as a climb up the corporate ladder. It was 100% about building a profitable business that was sustainable for the long haul.

Which brings us to the environment today. I’m thrilled that members of our team do not have to work 100+ hours a week. I’m ecstatic that members of our team can spend more time with their families and friends and have healthy interests outside of the business. But I can guarantee that if we were starting from scratch, someone would find it necessary to do exactly what we were doing in the 1970s and 1980s, and that is work long hours with a singular focus on long-term success.   

The bottom line is that in start-up situations, it’s going to be very difficult to experience today’s definition of “work-life balance.” If you are an entrepreneur and thinking about starting a business, I encourage you to not do so if you are unwilling or unable to make significant sacrifices to establish your enterprise successfully in the marketplace. You would be better off working for a company where someone else has already made those sacrifices that have led to a high level of achievement. Fortunately, my story is a happy one. I have been able to integrate multiple facets of work and personal interests into a wonderful and fulfilling life. I don’t compartmentalize work, philanthropy, family, friends, civic, etc. Everything blends together. But it would not have been possible had I (and others in the organization) not invested my time and talent in an extremely focused manner many years ago.

Work-life balance is possible in the right situation. For an entrepreneur desiring to launch a new endeavor there must be a recognition that there will be large sacrifices regardless of how smart one is able to function.

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 Warren Buffet-Listening Entrepreneur

We all know that life is full of risks. Some are more serious than others. I hold the view that I’d rather “manage” risk than “take” risk. I’ve said before that taking a risk seems a bit arbitrary. “Gee, I think I’ll try to run across this eight-lane expressway right now!” Sounds silly, right? But in a way, that’s what taking a risk seems like to me. While it may not be as spontaneous as this overdramatized example, taking a risk feels like gambling. Meanwhile, managing a risk is calculated. It is studied and planned. Risk mitigation strategies are developed. If I’m to run across the eight-lane expressway, I’m going to figure out every possible way to do so as safely as possible. That’s risk management.

One very important element of risk management is a concept that was espoused by one of the most revered investors of all time, Benjamin Graham (1894 – 1976). And this concept is practiced today by his acolyte, Warren Buffet. The concept is that of margin of safety. Entrepreneurs absolutely must understand margin of safety – but every member of society would benefit from practicing it as well. Graham and Buffet narrowly defined margin of safety as the difference between the intrinsic value of a stock and its market price. I look at margin of safety on a broader basis and define it as the difference between success and failure. In some cases, this difference can be razor thin, and in others, it can be as wide as the Pacific Ocean. The key is to take the steps necessary to push the margin as wide as possible.

In our businesses, organizations, and lives in general, we have an opportunity to become expert at creating margins of safety. One of our companies purchases apartment properties. Because we tend to hold these assets for five to seven years or longer, there can be a great deal of uncertainty about the future. What can we do to stack the deck in our favor and create a healthy margin of safety when we’re looking so far down the road? Obviously, we make year-by-year financial projections that are based upon a set of assumptions. Those assumptions include rent levels, rent increases, operating expense levels, expense increases, occupancy percentages, rates of return on which a sale price can be calculated and various aspects surrounding debt financing. The Excel spreadsheet is quite comprehensive with all these assumptions and projections – but how do we overlay a margin of safety on the process?

With one of our properties, we obtained a certified appraisal as a part of the due diligence process that indicated a value $3 million higher than we paid for the property. That’s a margin of safety right there. Perhaps we budgeted an initial increase in rents of $110 after making several physical improvements but were able to achieve $200. Our assumptions might have anticipated a stabilized economic occupancy of 91%; but we were able to operate at 93%. Operating expenses may have been right on the money, but rent increases averaged 3.25% each year rather than the 3% that we had forecasted. And remember our baseline started $90 higher than the $110 initial increase that was projected. In summary, we pushed several levers to create several different margins of safety that when combined, produced a much better bottom line throughout the holding period than expected. In so doing, we are better protected from market factors that could degrade the future value of our asset.

The principal takeaway here is to find as many margins of safety as possible. If we make decisions based upon 100% optimal results, there’s no room for error. Then a blip in the market or a miss with operations could mean failure. I have learned the hard way that if there’s no way to create sufficient margins of safety, the risk I am contemplating may be too difficult to manage. So, I move on to something else.

Developing the concept of margin of safety is an exercise in positive thinking. We are looking for ways to increase the probability for success – and that’s always a good thing.

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.