The Entrepreneur Saboteur

We’ve all seen the World War II movies where U.S. soldiers crept behind enemy lines and blew up bridges, tunnels, and other elements of infrastructure. We hold our breath as our boys used cunning and guile to defeat the Germans at every turn. This was classic sabotage at its finest.

Would you believe that entrepreneurial leaders can sometimes be saboteurs too? Are you wondering how? Consider this. Nathan owns an internet marketing company with 24 employees. He has a couple of up-and-comers on the team. Nathan is a strong, hard-charging Type-A personality and is quite a taskmaster. He seldom expresses his gratitude to his rising stars. Instead, he can be hypercritical at times. Nathan claims that he is simply trying to push his best and brightest to excel. Because of his sense of urgency, he tends to issue instructions in a rapid-fire manner. When mistakes are made, Nathan becomes impatient and can even unleash a tirade that is directed in a very personal manner. His colleagues do not want to bring him bad news – it’s not that they don’t want to let him down, but because they fear his wrath and tantrums. On the other hand, he can be witty and charming. And his company has achieved enormous success.

By contrast, Amanda started a consumer products research firm while she was in college and has watched it grow over the past five years to 35 employees. Amanda is also a high-achiever and a similar Type-A personality. She sets lofty expectations for her team, and they respond by meeting or beating their goals every quarter. While it’s clear that she’s the boss, team members love Amanda’s collaborative style. Even when a mistake is made, she remains positive and upbeat while counseling the errant employee. Amanda never berates anyone and is always supportive. She’s no pushover either – if certain employees continue to underperform, she will show them the door. During a 360 review, the most common statement made about Amanda is, “I always feel that she values my contribution.”

The difference in leadership styles between Nathan and Amanda is very stark. They are both generating eye-popping results, but their paths are totally divergent. Nathan is a saboteur and is succeeding despite his approach . . . for now. But like a Roman candle that pierces the night sky, eventually it flames out and disintegrates. Nathan’s company is always in a state of upheaval. Drama is occurring at every turn. Employee turnover is high and if it weren’t for his two blossoming lieutenants keeping everything together, the whole enterprise would blow up. When the boss constantly undermines his team the implosion clock is ticking.

Strong leadership – the kind demonstrated by Amanda – begins and ends with positive encouragement. A calm sense of urgency replaces the chaos, and team members do not fear for their sanity (or safety!) when a failure is experienced. The basic premise is easy to understand. Are people more motivated to succeed in an upbeat and encouraging environment, or one that is negative and subjects people to personal embarrassment?

The legendary Steve Jobs of Apple fame was an awful boss. Ramon Henson, an instructor of Management and Global Business at Rutgers Business School wrote this about Jobs in 2011. “It is well-known that Steve Jobs could be arrogant, dictatorial, and mean-spirited.  Despite the observations of some about Mr. Jobs’ arrogant style, I believe that he had at least three qualities that great executive leaders have: a clear vision, a passion for the company and its people, and an ability to inspire trust.  This is what I would consider his leadership character. In fact, Mr. Jobs not only had a vision, but he also made sure that everyone in the company bought into that vision, and this created a ‘higher purpose’ for the company that really excited Apple employees. Of course, his passion for the company and its products is legendary. And employees trusted Mr. Jobs – not because he founded the company but because he showed time and again his competence in many areas, especially product design and marketing.  And because employees saw – through his behavior – that Mr. Jobs was not driven by his own ego or by some self-interested needs (like the outrageous pay packages of some executives), they trusted him. So, if Mr. Jobs was at times arrogant, even nasty, employees viewed these behaviors in the context of these underlying qualities.”

I believe Steve Jobs was an anomaly as a leader. That Apple achieved great results while enduring his leadership style is a testament to this outlier notion. In other words, “don’t try this at home.” The probability of success is exponentially higher when creating an environment of positive encouragement than one of daily sabotage.

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 Failed and Defeated Entrepreneur

What two words in the English language couldn’t be further apart in their meaning, but are often intertwined for entrepreneurs? The first word by itself is part of the everyday life of an entrepreneur – and every other person in the world as well. This word is relatively innocuous. But when connected with the second word it’s like adding the primer to dynamite. The resulting explosion can have all sorts of detrimental effects on our lives.

That first word is “failure.” Many entrepreneurs (and others) fear failure. But successful entrepreneurs have almost always experienced failure in different ways and multiple times. They use their failure to recalibrate or pivot and find a new way to make something work. David H. McConnell was a door-to-door book salesman who offered a little gift of perfume to female customers. Selling the books didn’t work out so well, but there was great demand for the perfume. So, McConnell ditched the books and turned the perfume concept into what is now known as Avon. Ever heard of Traf-O-Data? It was a partnership between Bill Gates and Paul Allen for the purpose of developing reports from traffic counters for traffic engineers. The business was not a success. But Gates went on to launch another venture called . . . Microsoft. And then there’s the famous story about a man named Fred Smith who wrote a paper for his Yale University economics class involving overnight parcel deliveries. The professor wasn’t impressed and gave him what Smith recalls was a C. Undaunted, Smith pursued the idea which today is known as Federal Express.

This brings us to the second word. The word is toxic to entrepreneurs for it can easily become a mindset. The word . . . “defeat.” Failure is part of a process of experimentation and discovery. Defeat is the end. Once defeat is admitted, there’s nothing more to be done. I knew a man who worked for someone else for several decades. Then he decided to spread his entrepreneurial wings and bought a business. He labored mightily but eventually had to close his doors. But rather than lean into the experience and use it as a steppingstone to success, he withdrew. His confidence was shaken, and he began making unhealthy choices. He tried working for someone else again but eventually ended up driving a taxi. Now there’s nothing wrong with driving a taxi if it’s for the right reason. But in this case, it was his way of curling up in the fetal position and saying, “I can’t.”

I think that it boils down to whether we have a “die trying” mentality. It boils down to whether we have a positive image of ourselves. It boils down to moving as fast as we can to kill our own bad ideas so we can make room for the good ones! When we are afraid to fail, we are setting ourselves up for defeat. One of the most important things about failure is making certain that it’s not so monumental that we can’t right our ship. A mindset of defeat occurs when we are convinced, we’ve lost it all – forever.

Here’s what I’ve learned. I don’t set out to fail at anything but accept the fact that I will, and I must, if only to find the good ideas that work. I always make sure there’s enough of a margin of safety that my failures aren’t going to “kill” me. This leaves room for a pivot or a more significant shift. Regardless of my failures I will always remain positive and optimistic. Sometimes this can be very hard but it’s fundamental to avoiding defeat. When I do fail, I look for what can be salvaged from the experience to bolt onto the next iteration of whatever I’m doing. And finally, I know that I’m a step closer to success by eliminating a step in the process that didn’t work.

Failure and defeat are not connected in any way, shape, or form. Great opportunity and great success can rise from failure. Nothing good comes from defeat.

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 Self-Defeating Entrepreneur

My beloved Kansas City Chiefs NFL football team did not go to the Super Bowl on February 13, 2022. They were maddening to watch during the season and through the playoffs. The talent on the team is off-the-charts incredible. For four straight seasons, they played in the AFC Championship Game, two Super Bowls, winning one. Why didn’t they advance to the Big Game in 2022? Very simply – they beat themselves. They lost several games during the regular season by beating themselves. But the AFC Championship Game versus the Cincinnati Bengals was the ultimate demonstration of this self-defeating notion.

The Chiefs were ahead 21-3 well into the first half and clearly were stronger and faster than the Bengals. The game should have been a blowout for the Chiefs playing in front of their home crowd in the loudest stadium in the world. And yet, they lost by a field goal in overtime. How did this happen? At the end of the first half, it was first and goal on the one-yard line. Rather than bulldoze the ball into the end zone, they misfired a couple times and used their last timeout. On third down, the quarterback swung a pass to a receiver who was well-covered and tackled behind the line of scrimmage as the clock ran out. All the QB had to do was throw the ball away and bring on the kicker for a last second field goal. Instead, the momentum swung away, and the team was shell-shocked coming out of the locker room at halftime. In the second half, the Bengals dropped eight men in coverage and rushed three defenders. Rather than take advantage of this situation by running the ball, the Chiefs proceeded to continue passing – unsuccessfully – resulting in multiple punts and interceptions. Cincinnati grabbed the momentum and ended up winning the game and going to the Super Bowl. Had Kansas City made slight adjustments and played its game, there is no question that they would have won in decisive fashion.

What transpired at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on January 30, 2022, was a classic case of Self Defeat. And this is something that some entrepreneurs tend to do every day. We go on a winning streak for a while and think we have it all figured out. Then we get cute and cocky one day, or we shortcut the basics and fundamentals, and voilà – we hit the wall. This may be followed by “locker kicking” or rants about how the deck was stacked against us, or a competitor played dirty pool. But in the end, we beat ourselves. Had we followed our game plan and made the adjustments necessary we would likely have continued to win.

How do we avoid the Self Defeat Trap? We must never take our success for granted. We work hard to succeed and just when we believe that it is going to be easy, we stub our toe. Perhaps we made it a practice to regularly write notes of gratitude to our key customers and check in with them by phone periodically. Then things seem to be going well and we stop sending the notes and making the calls. The next thing we know, a major customer has walked out the door – not necessarily because we stopped with the notes and the calls, but because we stopped paying attention and missed signs of dissatisfaction. We must reinforce the basics and fundamentals that led to our success and always keep them front and center.

Then, we must look for how and when we need to adjust our approach. If we simply continue to power along the way every day, we may beat ourselves because we missed subtle signals that would have told us an adjustment was in order if only we had watched for them. Back to the previous example. Maybe the notes of gratitude and the check-in calls worked just fine for several years. But on one such call the customer mentioned that he’d love to see us in person someday. The smart entrepreneur gets on an airplane and goes to visit the customer in-person. The Self-Defeating entrepreneur doesn’t pay attention to what the customer said and continues sending notes and making phone calls. Then a competitor waltzes in to see the customer in-person and the rest is history.

We entrepreneurs can stop beating ourselves if we avoid taking our success for granted, maintaining a disciplined approach to the basics and fundamentals that have enabled us to win, and paying attention to the signals that tell when to adjust our strategy and tactics. If we do this, our chances of winning our own Super Bowl will increase exponentially.

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 Difference-Making Entrepreneur

Here’s an obvious statement – entrepreneurs want to build successful businesses. But there’s something more that drives many of us. In some cases, this objective is just as important as building the business itself. It’s a notion that invokes strong emotions and can be a driving force. Yes, many entrepreneurs want to make a difference in the world. They want to help change lives in a positive way. This is especially true of the millennial generation but also strikes a multi-generational chord for many.

While making a difference sounds great, how do we go about creating a company that does good work? A strong set of core values and a vision that embraces changing the world are critical factors. But to truly move forward to effectively and sustainably implement this concept we must start . . . with ourselves. Making a difference must become a mindset and a lifestyle. Think about it this way. If we want to lose weight permanently, we don’t go on a diet, we change our lifestyle. It works the same way when we want to make a difference – we must change our lifestyle.

There is a simple yet powerful method that will help us move in the direction we desire. It revolves around a daily journal that we keep in which we record each attempt we make to do something that positively impacts one or more people. Here’s something else to think about. Making a difference doesn’t have to involve massive sweeping changes in the world. It starts with a lot of little steps that eventually have a cumulative effect. One of the mistakes that lead to frustration for entrepreneurs is believing that they can be the catalyst for major transformations overnight. Sure, once in a while this can happen. But shooting for the stars without enough fuel is certainly going to end up in a fizzling disappointment.

What sort of baby steps should we be taking to develop a difference-making lifestyle and mindset? Look at all the opportunities we have to make a positive impact on the lives of others every single day. In the restaurant where we are having breakfast or lunch, we can compliment our waitperson on providing excellent service. We can hold the door open so that another person can enter or exit. Perhaps we even anonymously pay for someone else’s meal in that restaurant from time-to-time. Maybe we handwrite a thank-you note to someone who has done something nice for us. Or we call a person with best wishes for their birthday. Do we always remember to acknowledge others with a smile and a warm greeting when we see them? Are our “please” and “thank you” manners always on display?

The little every-day habits we develop to brighten the day of another individual are foundational toward taking bigger steps. Suppose one of our team members is apparently in distress. We can lend a sympathetic ear. Volunteering is a terrific way to make a positive difference in the lives we touch and can run the gamut of activities. Helping at a homeless shelter, mentoring other entrepreneurs, reading to sick kids in a children’s hospital and providing assistance to scouting organizations are examples of such bigger steps.

To keep ourselves on track, we utilize the Daily Difference Journal to record what we have done each day toward our lifestyle change. While it may seem trite to make an entry like, “told Olivia that her smile brightened the day,” the act of keeping such a tally reinforces the intentionality of our desire to do good things for our world. Repeating this process day-in and day-out helps set the pattern that we desire. Initially it pushes us to remember to look for opportunities to say and do things that create a positive experience for others. Eventually it becomes second nature, and we don’t have to remember anything. We simply live each day looking for ways to make others happy and live better lives.

Making a difference in the world is a terrific benefit of being an entrepreneur. A Daily Difference Journal puts us on the path to accomplishing this with gusto!

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 Customer-Obsessed Entrepreneur

Calvin Klein has a women’s fragrance called Obsession Perfume. It’s relatively inexpensive – around 25 bucks or so for a 3.4-ounce spray bottle. This blog is not about the perfume, but it is about a particular type of “obsession;” one that is worth far more than 25 bucks.

What dominates our thoughts as entrepreneurs? Is it cash flow? How about the competition? Maybe it’s growth or perhaps it’s market share. Most of these aspects aren’t worth becoming obsessions. In fact, there is very little that rises to the level of importance to be worthy of obsession. Yet, there is one element that is so fundamental to the success of our businesses that it should be front and center as a focal point. You might say it’s the “Obsession on a Pedestal.” Everyone throughout the organization starting with the CEO should be obsessed about . . . the Customer.

Well of course, you say, it’s obvious that the Customer is important. No, I’m talking about something more intense than “important.” Customer Obsession takes many forms. There are certain business establishments – stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc., where I enter the restroom and am amazed at how sparkling clean they are. And they even smell good! That’s Customer Obsession. There are certain business establishments where I am called by name when I walk in the door. That’s Customer Obsession. Or take the case of a regular customer of a resort who developed a fondness for a particular type of clock radio. She looked high and low trying to purchase one but to no avail. She messaged the resort staff to see if they could point her in the right direction but was told that the clock was not commercially available. She was pleasantly surprised on her next visit to find a clock radio waiting for her as a gift upon her arrival. That’s Customer Obsession.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could create a culture where everyone is equally obsessive about the Customer? This utopia would have every member of the team smile and greet a Customer in a friendly manner when in his or her presence. This utopia would be a flurry of random thank-you notes, thank-you calls and other forms of true expressions of gratitude to our Customers. When a mistake occurs involving a Customer, our culture encourages a quick, heartfelt apology and a genuine attempt to make amends.

When I think about Customer Obsession, I want to know exactly what the Customer needs and wants. This requires a deep dive into data and other methods to understand what makes the Customer tick. And I want to go way beyond understanding what the Customer currently needs and wants. I must determine what his/her future needs and wants are going to be. I want my Customers to seek me out and tell me that they aren’t just satisfied. No, I want them to tell me that they are fulfilled beyond their wildest dreams.

I want to know when a Customer quits and why; and then I want to make a supreme effort to save that Customer and regain his or her trust. I want to talk directly to our Customers on a regular basis to understand as much as I can about the experience we have provided them. I realize that the cash flow, the competition, the growth, and the market share are all secondary to Customer Obsession. Those aspects of our business will be fine if we have an ever-expanding base of Customers for whom we are fanatical about making ecstatically happy. Finally, I want to constantly innovate with an eye on how to better serve the Customer. Running in place is not an option. We can and must always do better for the Customer’s sake.

Many obsessions aren’t necessarily healthy. However, obsessing about our Customers will help ensure that our business is healthy and prosperous for years to come.

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 Entrepreneurial Gold Miner

Have you ever watched the TV series Gold Rush? It’s a lot of fun to see different miners interact with each other; spend a lot of money and fight amazing odds to discover GOLD! They are grizzled guys and gals who brave the harsh Alaskan elements to find the elusive precious metal . . . and of course, smile (or snarl) at the TV camera.

If you watch very many episodes you will be led to believe that it is very, very difficult to succeed in finding gold. I disagree. In fact, I believe that every one of us already owns a gold mine. You may think this is a metaphorical reference and that’s partly true. But there is a literal aspect to this concept that I will explain in a moment. So, what is this gold mine that each of us owns and where do we find it?

If you’ve read my blogs over the years and listened to my podcasts, you already know that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool advocate of maintaining a positive mindset. I believe that there’s a positive energy flow in the world into which we all can tap. When we worry; when we think negative thoughts, and when we act in ways that are hurtful to others, we block that positive energy flow. Then we wallow in our fears, our hurt, our frustrations, and our misery – a process that feeds upon itself. And at the end of the day where are we?

Eliminating negativity is critical to discovering our gold mine. Being in a positive place all day, every day, allows us to harness the amazing power of passion and creativity. Do you ever feel stuck in place, spinning your wheels and not moving forward? You may be stuck right on top of your gold mine, and you don’t even know it! So, what to do? First, start with developing a meditative practice. Meditation is simply the act of dumping the wastebasket of stuff that collects in our minds. When we become quiet and discard the noise and negativity, we create a vacuum. But nature abhors a vacuum and what comes next is the exciting part. For me, a torrent of creative ideas begins to flow.

I want to support those creative ideas in every way possible. I do this with positive affirmations. If you want to become an expert at this, develop a positive affirmation that rings true for you. Then say it 100 times each day in blocks of ten. “Wonderful things are happening in my life right now!” is an example of a positive affirmation. Say it with gusto and different voice inflections. If you do this for a week, your conscious and subconscious mind will believe it.

When negative thoughts creep in, we recognize them and release them. One way to do this is to keep a journal in which we record our negative thoughts. We transfer them out of our minds and onto paper (electronically works too) – and we leave them there. At some point we might revisit them to determine what prompted the thoughts in the first place. But most importantly we get them out of our heads as fast as possible.

So, where’s the gold? Here’s an example of how I found my gold mine. Several years ago, I was speaking with a broker about listing for sale a property that we own. The property was purchased a few years earlier and we knew it was going to have an excellent valuation – we just didn’t know how valuable it was going to be. In the process, I remembered that many years ago, we sold an apartment property and completed a tax-deferred exchange for a couple of drug stores. Frankly, I figured that this was simply a process of protecting the tax positions for our investor limited partners. I never thought that we’d realize any value as general partners. While speaking with the broker, I mentioned that we owned the drug store properties as well. He responded by telling me that the market for this type of property has changed dramatically over the years. On a whim, I had him analyze the properties and he came back with an eye-popping valuation. We listed those two properties as well and cashed significant checks from the resulting sale.

I truly believe that by maintaining a positive mindset, a creative spark stimulated me to mention these properties to this broker. Up until that point I had completely written them off as having any value for my partner and me. By tapping into the flow of positive energy we discovered another vein of gold in our mine. I can tell you that this is not an isolated incident. It happens all the time.

The calculus is simple. An enduring positive mindset allows for the flow of creative ideas that in turn helps us find the gold mines that are ours to claim.

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 Apologetic Entrepreneur

There’s something we all need to do from time-to-time, but many of us find it to be quite difficult. To become great leaders, entrepreneurs need to be able to perform this act in a genuine and authentic way. And yes, there’s a right way and a wrong way. Before I give away the punchline, let me share an example that will illustrate the concept.

Our company has a set of core values that includes Integrity. One of the individual actions prescribed in this core value is, “I speak directly with people to resolve issues as they arise.” This translates into the notion that rather than triangulate with other people about a problem we are having with someone, we go directly to that person to resolve the matter. Seems simple enough, right? Now, suppose a member of the team is in a meeting with senior leaders including the CEO and this team member makes a comment that makes other uncomfortable. Some might believe the comment to be slightly disrespectful to the CEO. After the meeting, the CEO and a couple of the senior leaders are debriefing, and the CEO mentions that the comment that was made was probably inappropriate. The team member’s supervisor then goes to the team member and advises her that she should refrain from making similar comments in the future. The team member becomes upset that the CEO didn’t address this directly with her. What should the CEO do?

This situation actually occurred in our company and the CEO was me. It was brought to my attention by the supervisor that I may not have been keeping with our core value of Integrity because I triangulated with that supervisor rather than bringing the issue directly to the attention of the team member. What did I do? I picked up the phone and called the team member (who is based in another city). I told her that I had in fact mishandled the matter and should have come to her to discuss it. And I apologized for screwing up. In no way was this individual trying to deflect away any focus on her comment – she admitted that the remark was inappropriate, and she apologized to me. But she was absolutely right in her observation that a fundamental core value had not been observed.

Earlier in my career I might have been defensive about the feedback I received. I might have been indignant that somehow, I was wrong when it was another person who made the inappropriate comment to me in the first place. But I’ve learned a lot over the years and particularly how important it is to expunge false pride and an unhealthy ego to become a humble leader. Learning the Art of the Apology has been of great value to me.

Telling someone we’re sorry and admitting a mistake is important. But the way it’s done and what we say is equally critical. We’ve all heard this kind of an apology. “I want to apologize if what I did offended you.” This isn’t an admission that the perpetrator did anything wrong. He is simply apologizing if you are offended. The correct apology would have been, “I am sorry and want to apologize to you because what I did was wrong.” Another mistake is that of trying to rationalize the offense and then apologizing for it. In a way we’re still trying to defend what we did – although somewhat weakly. And it can come across in a condescending sort of way with the message that the aggrieved party is overly sensitive.

Smart entrepreneurs admit their mistakes and move on. Not making the same mistakes over and over is also a factor here. When a team member sees the leader of the organization easily and genuinely apologizing for his or her toe stubs, it goes a long way toward making it easier for others to follow suit.

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 Assertive vs. Aggressive Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur Jason and Entrepreneur Jessica are similar in a lot of ways. They have built successful businesses from the ground up; are creators of innovative products and are considered by their peers as visionaries. But there is a major difference between them. Probably the best way to explain this difference is to observe them in action.

One morning, Jason’s production manager enters his office at which point Jason launches into an inquisition. Apparently, there is an issue on the assembly line and Jason wants to get to the bottom of it. The production manager begins to explain the problem, but Jason interrupts and cuts him off. He raises his voice, and his face turns red – it’s obvious that he’s agitated. Eventually he stands up, paces and gestures frequently.

Across town, Jessica is meeting with her sales manager who is explaining issues involving a downturn in sales. Jessica sits calmly and listens to the entire presentation. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments and then asks several very direct questions. Her expression never changes as her clear blue eyes focus like lasers on her associate. Jessica is the picture of composure and finally offers her opinion in a steady and measured voice.

How would we characterize the behavior of Jason? And how about that of Jessica? The word that describes Jason is “aggressive” and the word that describes Jessica is “assertive.” There’s no question that Jason was heavy handed in his approach with the production manager. It’s almost like he was trying to overpower the guy. By contrast Jessica was able to demonstrate her leadership forcefully without showing anger.

Assertiveness or aggressiveness – which is the more effective leadership style? While it may depend upon the circumstances, assertiveness has a higher probability to successfully influence others. Think about it. Are we more receptive to someone who is positive or someone who is negative? An assertive leader may be straightforward and even direct, but never belittles or resorts to intimidation.

Why are some leaders too aggressive? I believe that one explanation could be a lack of confidence, some sort of insecurity, or a combination of both. People who are concerned about being “found out” may use aggressiveness as a smokescreen. Leaders who are overly aggressive may cause morale problems. When negative energy is created it is difficult to maintain a productive environment. Aggressive people may be prone to mercurial outbursts and unnerving stares which further contribute to the unhealthy atmosphere that has been created.

For entrepreneurs building a business (and anyone else for that matter), a gut check is necessary to determine one’s position on the aggression meter. Aggressive tendencies can be tempered when we learn how to become more assertive. And the first step is to recognize when our aggressive behavior is about to go on display. It’s important to identify a trigger that alerts us that we need to shift gears. This will require some real introspection to make this discovery. Then we must emulate the behavior of an assertive person. We become impassive with our facial features. We project calm. We lower the volume of our voice, and we show respect for those with whom we interact. Changing one’s reputation as an aggressive personality is a tall order. But with awareness and effort such a change can be accomplished.

Assertiveness is a positive quality that can enhance our leadership style. And through awareness and commitment it’s possible to eliminate aggressive tendencies and replace them with the assertive traits that are desirable.

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 Rabbit Trail Entrepreneur

I’ve had many conversations over the years with bright energetic entrepreneurs. In each instance, they had a burning desire to build their business. And in all cases, they were filled with ideas, but implementation was a challenge – after all, the day-to-day aspects of running their businesses needed constant attention. It’s easy to see what often happens next. I call it rabbit trails. We become enamored with one idea and rush to put it into action. Then another idea emerges and yet another. Meanwhile every time a “rabbit” pops up we are ready to chase it down its hole. This is an exhausting process! And we never seem to get where we want to go.

There is a cure for rabbit trails. Very simply, we need to know what it looks like when we get there. In other words – what’s our vision? Think about it this way. The weather is miserable outside – we want to relax in the warm sunshine. We know that it’s sunny and warm in Florida, so that’s where we head. Our vision is relaxing in the warm sunshine. We plot a course via air or car to get there. Now, here’s the rabbit trail approach. The weather outside is miserable. We jump in the car and start driving to get away. On off ramp appears ahead and we take it thinking maybe the weather will be better where it leads. As we drive along the frontage road, we see a sign directing us to yet another destination and we make the turn. Eventually after multiple detours . . . we run out of gas. The analogy is similar to what it’s like when we run our business without a vision.

My advice to my entrepreneur friends was the same in every case. Start with the end in sight. Spend the time necessary to truly understand what it looks like when you get there. Think big and even bigger. Decide upon a timeframe. Are you looking out three years, five years or even longer? Avoiding rabbit trails is critical. Having clarity about where we’re going is the solution.

Now it’s time to work backwards. By understanding where we’re going, we can identify the course that we’ll need to take to get there in the prescribed timeframe. This course may appear to be precise, but we all know that there may be a need for corrections along the way. By “reverse engineering” our vision we can determine our strategy for achieving it as well as the individual tactics that will support the strategy. A big vision may require big resources and this process will help us identify the level of human and capital resources. All of this will help us assess how realistic our vision is and guide us to make the necessary adjustments.

There is another aspect to avoiding rabbit trails. I’ve written several times before about the notion of “why” we do what we do. Our organizations also need a “why.” In Corporate America today a CEO can tell us what his company does. He can tell us how it’s done. But when asked “why” his company does what it does, he may struggle with this question. Often the answer may be, “we do what we do to produce a return on investment for our shareholders.” But that’s not really a “why.” There are nine “whys” that include: 1) Doing things the right way; 2) Doing things a better way (innovation); 3) Making sense of complexity; 4) Making a difference; 5) Creating trust and building relationships; 6) Simplifying things; 7) Mastering things; 8) Challenging the status quo and thinking differently, and 9) Creating clarity. Often the “why” of an organization mirrors the “why” of its founder/leader.

Understanding our personal “why” and the “why” of our organization will enable us to develop a vision that is congruent with that “why.” Thus, it is critical that the “why” and a vision be developed in concert. We will struggle to implement a vision that isn’t aligned with our “why.”

Rabbit trails can be all consuming. Determining our “why” and defining a clear picture of what it looks like when we get there will help keep us on the path to 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 Undaunted Entrepreneur

Have you ever felt like your back was against the wall? And I’m not talking about a looming deadline to renew a driver’s license. No, I’m referring to a true-life Indiana Jones sort of experience. You’ve stepped into a room and activated some sort of an ancient counterweight that causes the floor, ceiling, and walls to shift and begin to close in on you. There’s seemingly no way out and you can either await your doom or “MacGyver it” and improvise a solution. I apologize – sometimes my metaphors can really become convoluted. Indiana, meet MacGyver. Perhaps you’re running low on cash – in your business or personal life. Maybe your top three team members have just announced they are setting up shop across the street and will become your competitor. Or your top three customers have determined that they will be purchasing 75% to 90% less of your product.

Human nature might say that a panic attack is in order, followed by a bottle or two of something at least 100-proof. We’re at a loss in terms of how to react. Some might call this a state of shock. While all we may want to do is run and hide, that’s simply not an option. And we really aren’t receptive to the notion espoused by a parent (or a coach) at some point in the past – “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Instead, we look at the wall that seemingly has no way over, under or around, and completely shut down. Except there’s one thing . . . we cannot shut down. Period. Ultimately, we develop a special kind of spirit. I call it “undaunted spirit.” In our hearts we truly believe that nothing is insurmountable. This isn’t just a conscious state of mind – it’s a knowing at the very core of our being.

So exactly how do we achieve this undaunted spirit? We can’t just snap our fingers and manifest it. It requires daily preparation and practice every chance we get. Undaunted spirit isn’t something that flips on and off like a light switch. Once we have it, we always want to maintain it.

Step one is to make a game out of solving problems creatively. Entrepreneurs are often quick to solve a problem and move on without giving much thought to all the different solutions that might be available. We usually go for the most intuitive, expeditious and least costly. But doing this deprives us of the opportunity to look at a whole host of other ideas. The entire point in doing this is to help us realize that there are usually many different options from which we can choose. It may be obvious that if kids are tracking a path through our yard after school, we plant a couple of thorn bushes to dissuade this behavior. If we slow down and think about it, there may be other solutions that are equally workable or even better. Maybe we could have the lawn sprinkler system set to come on as school is dismissing. Using everyday issues like this to practice creatively identifying multiple solutions prepares us for the Tuesday when we learn that there’s not enough money to make payroll on Friday.

Step two is to do whatever it takes to stay positive every minute of every day. I’ve said it before – negative thoughts and negative energy never solved anything. Worse, they block the flow of positive energy that delivers creative solutions. Practicing maintaining a positive mindset in our everyday life prepares us for the day when the “you-know-what” hits the fan.

Step three is simple – stay calm. I remember years ago I was flying my airplane and practicing approaches in unstable weather. I was instrument rated and wanted to get some real-life experience in more difficult conditions. A storm was moving in, and I was near the airport when suddenly I was caught in a strong downdraft. I was going straight down, and I mean STRAIGHT DOWN. Charts and pencils were flying around the cabin – and just as quickly I was caught in an updraft and going straight up, and I mean STRAIGHT UP! I will confess that there was moment of “pucker factor,” but I had practiced staying calm and the practice took over. I knew I just had to fly the airplane and not worry about anything else, and by remaining calm I was able to make it through a scary situation unscathed.

Creatively identifying multiple options; fiercely maintaining a positive frame of mind and keeping calm helps us develop undaunted spirit. Then like a magician, we are able to pull the rabbit out of a hat whenever the need arises because we know that no challenge is insurmountable.

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.