An Entrepreneur’s Primer

Here are 13 concepts by which I live. They are my guideposts and serve as an Entrepreneur’s Primer. They’ve worked well for me and I’d like to share them with you.

  1. Live today like you’re going to die tomorrow. It’s impossible to know when our “number” will be called. Why waste a single moment on that which is unproductive? And make sure to appreciate those whom you love – you will have regrets after they are gone if you take them for granted.
  2. What you think, will become reality. People who always have a positive mindset produce positive results and live a happy life. We can stack the deck in our favor if we train ourselves to reject negativity. Just as importantly, we don’t allow negative people to be a part of our lives. Our mind is more powerful than we can imagine and we can use it to shape an amazing present and future.
  3. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. These are the famous words of Winston Churchill and they ring true as much today as they did in the darkest hours of World War II. The key to perseverance is to make constant tweaks and pivots until what we are striving to accomplish actually manifests.
  4. Don’t take risk . . . manage risk. Taking risk is like gambling. Our businesses and our lives are too valuable to be betting the farm on Red 32. Instead, we identify the risks and create strategies to contain and mitigate them. Then we can proceed to launch new initiatives without fear.
  5. Laugh every chance you get . . . especially at yourself. It has been proven scientifically that laughter is healthy. Laughing many times every day is good for establishing a positive mindset. When we laugh at ourselves and can be self-deprecating, we show others that we are comfortable in our own skin.
  6. What you give will come back to you in amazing ways. We give because it makes others feel good and us too. And when we give without quid pro quo for the simple joy of giving, our life is fuller and richer. We also remember that gratitude is part of this equation and express our thanks to many people as often as we can.
  7. March to your own tune, but do so with purpose. We avoid the herd mentality and are proud of our individuality. But we don’t do so simply to be different. We do so because we have a strong set of core values and a clear vision for our future. We aren’t worried about what others think so long as we aren’t stepping on their toes.
  8. Mistakes are simply the unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. I love this one! There’s no way to know if we are on the right track unless mistakes are made. If everything is too perfect, then it’s likely we aren’t stretching ourselves to be better. Rather than obsess over our mistakes, we figure out what there is to learn from them and then start a new experiment.
  9. Creativity is a way to express your passion. And passion allows you to see in color. Each of us has a creative streak – it may be buried deeper in some of us, but we all have the ability to innovate in some way. Amazing and wonderful things can come about as a result of the creative process and it’s likely that our passion will be stoked. Life is full of sunshine and light when our creativity is off-the-charts.
  10. The success of a career can be measured in the number of lasting relationships that have been collected and nurtured. I see relationship building as an opportunity to serve. When we are always looking to help others in a genuine manner without the thought of receiving anything in return, we move beyond the transactional aspects of an acquaintance into a true relationship. Putting Good out into the world through service is the Law of Attraction – and in turn, we will attract Good into our lives.
  11. Balance your life – emotionally, intellectually, financially, physically, spiritually and with your family. This one can be tough, especially if we really, really love our entrepreneurial adventure. Here’s a secret. Having this sort of balance has a giant payday. It helps us to avoid burnout and sets the foundation for greater stimulation of our creativity. Besides, who wants to be around a one-dimensional person anyway?
  12. Help others buy your ideas. Do we sell our products and services, or do we help others buy them? There is a massive distinction between the two. Helping someone buy is “customer-centric” and selling to someone is “product-centric.” We will have much more success if we focus on the customer and his or her needs. It’s quite possible our product or service isn’t right for him/her – and that’s just fine. We can then move on to help someone else with the buying decision.
  13. You can’t do this all by yourself. Develop a support network of colleagues, friends and family. Being an entrepreneur can be a pretty lonely proposition. Being able to share success and failure with others is important to our mental and emotional health. Our friends and family provide safe refuge to which we can turn whenever needed. There is nothing gained by being the macho Lone Ranger . . . except loneliness.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 90 – The Few, the Proud.

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.

Entrepreneur concept with young woman reaching and looking upwards

The Mob

Entrepreneurs should do everything possible to avoid the Mob. If you are thinking the Mafia or La Cosa Nostra, that’s not what this is about. Our society is currently experiencing a phenomenon that I call the Mob Mentality. And there’s nothing good in it for us. If you are wondering, there are examples abound. The #MeToo movement certainly raises legitimate concerns about sexual harassment, but there are many people who are being convicted by the Mob without any opportunity to offer a defense. The same is happening with Mob convictions for racism, homophobia and a score of other real or perceived slights. And more recently, the Mob has become focused on guns and is convicting companies that might have some association with the National Rifle Association.

I don’t get into political discussions in this blog. This is about entrepreneurship and what we can do to become better entrepreneurs. But it’s hard to avoid becoming ensnared by the Mob when its fevered pitch ratchets out of control and overwhelms us with political correctness and hyperbole. I listened to a podcast recently about start-ups and angel investing. The host, who makes his political proclivities known every chance he gets, asked a founder he was interviewing, whether he would accept funding from a certain well-known venture capitalist that has political leanings that are out of favor with the Silicon Valley crowd. And the host and his guest pondered this question and it became apparent that there is actually a Mob Mentality that would prevent some founders from accepting funding from this VC. Incredible!

Successful entrepreneurships are built on diversity of thought and culture. The Mob advocates monolithic thought. Rather than engaging in civil discourse, the Mob will attempt to intimidate an entrepreneur through boycotts, adverse posts on social media and via other means. This is dangerous territory for us to be in. Facts be damned, the Mob is always in search of an enemy to destroy. If we are anywhere close by, we run the risk of being swept up in the hysteria of the moment.

So, how are we supposed to avoid the Mob? If we don’t have well-thought Core Values and a healthy, positive Culture, the Mob may be waiting for us right around the corner. Why is this important? Because focusing on Core Values and Culture will help our organization and its team members, move down the right path. Entrepreneurial endeavors that are drifting along without an intentional culture are more prone to make the kind of mistakes on which the Mob will pounce. Why? Because the guideposts provided by Core Values are missing. One of the five Core Values for our firm is that of Team Member Fulfillment. We work hard to evaluate decisions that we make as a company and as individual team members, and align them with the concept of a positive workplace experience. In so doing, it’s clear to everyone that there’s no place in Team Member Fulfillment for sexual harassment. Obviously someone who feels harassed or threatened, can’t be feeling fulfilled. Does this guarantee that it won’t happen – of course not. But we believe we’ve decreased the chances as a result of our cultural development.

Another way to avoid the Mob is to decline to participate. The Mob Mentality is mostly fueled by emotion. Entrepreneurs who choose to enter this arena are playing with fire. Remember as kids when we wanted to do something and used the emotional (and fact-less) argument, “everybody is doing it?” I certainly did, but fortunately my parents weren’t buying. There were several things that had I been allowed to participate, would have turned out badly for me. Just keep in mind that if you decide to jump on the Mob bandwagon, your team members and your customers may be watching. And the consequences could be detrimental to your business.

Finally, avoiding the Mob requires active leadership. Not only must we model our Core Values, but we should take the opportunity to lead our team away from or around the crowd. We should not make decisions simply to please or placate the Mob. Instead, we do the right thing for our enterprise and the team members that support it. In this day and age we can’t hide from our leadership responsibilities or the Mob will fill the void. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a number of business leaders that think they are protecting their companies from the Mob by siding with it. In most cases, this has simply caused more controversy and chaos. Strong, active leaders will chart a proper and measured course that avoids being trampled by the herd.

The Mob Mentality in our society is a dangerous thing. Entrepreneurs can avoid the Mob by adopting well-defined Core Values, creating a strong, positive Culture, declining to participate in Mob initiatives and demonstrating positive, active leadership.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 89 – Up and to the Right.

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 NPS and You

Every entrepreneur understands how critical it is to take care of the customer – that’s old hat. We know that unhappy customers will cause our businesses to suffer. This fact has been magnified by social media and how a few damaging reviews can really cause severe and long-term problems. If your organization is like ours, you are regularly sending out customer satisfaction surveys. Much time is spent parsing the verbiage and trying to determine exactly the right questions to ask. All this is fine and good – we need to ask a number of questions to better understand who our customers really are and what they prefer. But how do we get an overall handle on exactly what our customers think about us and our product(s)? Enter the NPS.

OK, you are probably wondering what NPS means. It stands for Net Promoter Score and is a tool that measures customer loyalty. The Net Promoter Score was developed in 2003 by Fred Reichheld, the private equity firm Bain and Company and Satmetrix (and is also a registered trademark of these individuals and companies). It is based upon the theory that our customers are either detractors or promoters. A detractor is someone who is unhappy to the point that they can drive away other customers. Promoters do just the opposite. The NPS is calculated based upon the response of a single question, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this company’s product or service to a friend or a colleague?” The numerical answers to this question become an index ranging from -100 to +100. A raw score of six or less puts the respondent in the Detractor category. Passives are those who give a score of seven or eight. And Promoters give a score of nine or ten. The NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of Detractor respondents from the percentage of Promoter respondents (Passives are disregarded). Generally, an NPS of +50 or greater is considered outstanding. 

In January 2018, our companies implemented the NPS. It’s fascinating how focused we have become on trying to move the number. Incentive compensation plans can be tailored to include the NPS – especially for team members who are in a position to greatly influence customer satisfaction. What we’ve learned is how very important it is to have as large a survey response as possible. Sending out 500 surveys and generating 15 responses that lead to an NPS of +60 may be very misleading. Smart companies have figured out techniques to boost the number of responses including drawings for prizes and continuous follow-up with the customer until a response is rendered.

For the NPS to be most effective, customers need to be identified when responding to a survey. This does present a bit of a dilemma as some customers are reluctant to share their true feelings when a survey is not anonymous. But the value of being able to follow-up and resolve issues that may have been encountered by the customer is well worth the extra effort to solicit responses for non-anonymous surveys. The goal is to ultimately convert Detractors and Passives into Promoters.

Hundreds of large companies including Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Citigroup, Best Buy, Sony, GE, Apple, American Express, Four Seasons Hotels and AT&T are using the NPS. A large percentage of entrepreneurs with whom I’ve spoken are unfamiliar with NPS. Having a universal methodology to measure customer satisfaction and enable “closing the loop” with the customer does not have to be limited to the big boys in the business world. And, software is available that can help take the NPS question from survey results and calculate a running score.

This is a new journey for us and we’re still working to get “buy-in” from all of our team members. One of the advantages of NPS implementation is that everyone can see the difference they make – positive or negative – with customer satisfaction. If the product is defective; the bathroom in the store is dirty, or the service is sloppy – all can show up in the survey results. The “weak link” in the chain may drag down the score from nine or ten to a six. We expect accountability from peer pressure will improve over the next few months and years.

Our customers are the lifeblood of our businesses. We can become more precise at measuring their satisfaction with our products and services by utilizing the Net Promoter Score.

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

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.

Tunnel Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 87 – Ted’s Song.

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 Art of Self-Discipline

I have my parents to thank for my level of discipline. I think perhaps I’m naturally wired for discipline, but there’s no doubt that the conscripted nature of their approach was very influential. As a young boy, every morning for nine years, I would get up and practice the piano at 5:30 AM on weekdays. I practiced the clarinet every weekday as well. I (dutifully) mowed the lawn, shoveled the snow, cleaned up the dog poop in the backyard, did my homework and practiced basketball. There was no choice. It was either get with the program or I’m sure there would have been even more horrific chores for me to do around the house. So I complied – I didn’t want to find out what the consequences would have been otherwise. So, today, whether it’s diet, exercise, investments or daily routines, I’m blessed with more than enough discipline. But I’m well aware that I may not be normal in this respect.

Discipline is a critical ingredient to an entrepreneur’s recipe for success. Without it we lose the “stick-to-itness” that is needed to follow through on a project or focus on a long-term strategy. The beneficial implementation of various systems and processes is dependent upon a level of discipline. It’s obvious to every adult that adopting a disciplined approach to multiple facets of our lives is essential.

So what do we do if we are less inclined in the discipline department? First, we decide where to pick our battles. I’m a neat freak – my wife, not so much. My shoes are organized in cubbies in my closet and every time I take off a pair they go directly into the cubby in which they belong. My wife’s shoes may be on the floor in front of the love seat where she sits in our den. In fact there may be more than one pair there. She has cubbies in her closet too, but they are packed full and she has dozens of pairs strewn about haphazardly on the closet floor. Naturally this used to bug me being the ultra-disciplined obsessive compulsive individual that I am. But I’ve learned that it’s not that big of a deal. And I’ve actually taken a page from her playbook and decided that there are some things on which I can lighten up in my daily routine. The point is that we don’t have to be disciplined about everything. Thus, we give ourselves permission to be less so with the things that don’t really matter.

Next, we identify those areas where we definitely need to be more disciplined. This applies to both our personal and professional lives. This starts with envisioning what it looks like when we get there. In other words, we paint the grand picture of success for whatever endeavor we are pursuing. Let’s take an easy example – weight loss. We see in our mind’s eye what we look like when we are 25 pounds lighter. We visualize a new wardrobe, how much easier it is to climb stairs, how wonderful the compliments are from our friends and overall how much healthier and vibrant we are. This visualization exercise needs to be performed daily until we have the desire to fulfill it. This process is necessary to build commitment. Without commitment discipline may be fleeting – look at gym attendance in February (or even half way through January).

Once we visualize our outcome and become fully committed, we next determine the steps that must be taken to achieve our outcome. Perhaps we want to become more disciplined about being aware of current affairs in our industry. Just jumping in and starting to read more trade publications, doesn’t ensure that we’ll have the discipline to continue this on a long-term basis. Instead we decide which information channels will be most productive. We determine a specific time of day we want to set aside for this initiative, and we also pick the environment most conducive to making this happen. In my case, it would be the easy chair in my den at home between the hours of 7:00 and 8:00 PM. I may read a couple of print and numerous online publications that are proven to have the content I’m seeking. There are some endeavors requiring discipline that need to be broken into bite-sized pieces or require a build-up of some sort. I walk about 10 to 12 miles each day but I didn’t start out that way. My initial Fitbit goal was 10,000 steps. Then it became 20,000 and now it’s 30,000.

Developing self-discipline is a process that starts with identifying what actually requires such discipline, followed by a visualization of the outcome we desire which builds to a commitment to follow-through. Then we map out the steps we’ll be taking – but always, always we keep visualizing our end goal.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 86 – Alligator Food

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.

FOMO

We live in an age of acronyms. I guess they are a form of shorthand. LOL, YOLO, DIY, IMHO, SMH, MTFBWY, FUTAB and ROTFL. If you guessed them all correctly you are in the mainstream of cool. And for those of us who are a bit more advanced in years, here’s the translation in order – Laughing Out Loud (LOL); You Only Live Once (YOLO); Do It Yourself (DIY); In My Humble Opinion (IMHO); Shaking My Head (SMH); May the Force Be With You (MTFBWY); Feet Up, Take a Break (FUTAB), and Rolling On the Floor Laughing (ROTFL).

There’s another acronym I’d like to explore today – FOMO. Give up? It’s the Fear of Missing Out and it can be deadly for entrepreneurs. One of the best examples of the FOMO concept is the crypto currency craze and more specifically, Bitcoin. It’s not important to understand the basics of Bitcoin. What’s more instructive is to understand what has happened in the marketplace. On August 15, 2010, the value of one Bitcoin was $.07. By August 1, 2015, the value of one Bitcoin had risen to $283.04. On November 9, 2016, right after the Presidential election, the value of one Bitcoin had increased to $726.36. On August 1, 2017, a single Bitcoin was worth $2,787.85. By December 20, 2017, the “value” had jumped to $18,486.51, and by February 4, 2018, the value had plummeted back to $8,922.61. Riding a roller coaster at Cedar Point would be considered like a leisurely stroll in the park compared to the volatility of Bitcoin.

Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of individuals who have jumped into Bitcoin worldwide. Some have used their life savings to buy a stake. Many think they are investing. Most hear the siren song of making a quick buck without truly understanding the risk profile or even the basics of how a crypto currency functions. What drove some people to plunk down $18,486.51 for a single Bitcoin on December 20, 2017, and within 46 days, see their position shrink to $8,922.61? When examining the case studies, it’s apparent that many people were motivated by the Fear of Missing Out.

FOMO is dangerous because it’s an emotional reaction. We work hard to build our businesses, and much of our success comes from analyzing data and making decisions based upon fact – even when it comes to understanding consumer sentiment (which may be emotional in itself). FOMO is impulsive in nature and flies in the face of logical decision making. We face this dilemma every day in one of our business units that is focused on acquiring market-rate apartments across the country. Apartment investments have been hot for the past few years and the fundamentals have been strong. As a result, prices have been driven higher and returns are lower. Press releases abound announcing acquisition after acquisition. It’s easy to feel the pressure to adjust our investment thesis to keep up the pace of our own acquisition initiative. But experience has taught us to resist this temptation.

The first step in avoiding the pitfalls of FOMO is recognizing our susceptibility to it in the first place. This can happen if we have a clear set of standards that guide our approach to the manner in which we operate. Without these standards we are very vulnerable to being tugged or pulled to follow whatever hot trend happens to emerge at the moment. With standards, we can test against that trend to see if there is alignment. If there’s not, we must have the discipline to resist pursuing it.

The second step is to carefully analyze the risks associated with pursuing the trend. This should be a rigorous exercise that identifies all the possible ways things could go wrong and what sort of impact would be felt. Take Bitcoin for example. I’m positive that many Bitcoin buyers have done no risk analysis and really believe they are “investing.” In reality they are just gambling. It’s one thing to speculate with money that one can afford to lose. It’s another thing to put half your life savings on Red 32.

Finally, FOMO can be avoided when we eliminate the emotion of envy. I doubt many Bitcoin investors believe they have been driven by envy. But when they see others “making” huge amounts of money on their Bitcoin “investments” they want to get in on the action. When I was 10 and another kid had ice cream, I wanted ice cream too. I secretly envied the other kid with the cone. FOMO to some extent is the same thing. When others are doing well, let’s rejoice in their good fortune without having any feelings that we are somewhat inferior if we don’t experience the same good fortune.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 85 – Liars.

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.

Cheat to Compete

I’m not writing this blog to be judgmental. I’m really not. However, there are some subjects that cannot be discussed without sounding judgmental. So here goes. Let’s look at the topic of (gasp!) cheating. I can’t say whether cheating is more prevalent in the business world today than 10, 25 or even 50 years ago. Needless to say, it still is an issue that takes many forms.

Presumably we all started learning about cheating as small children. As a youngster, I remember many a board game that devolved into accusations of cheating. Our teachers and parents admonished us to never look at someone else’s paper when taking a test. Playground games were fertile grounds for cheating – remember four-square? “The ball hit the line and is out.” “No it didn’t!” “You’re a big fat cheater!” Roll the tape forward and as adults we might see team members clocking in or out for colleagues; money being borrowed from the petty cash box; résumés containing college degrees that weren’t actually earned or military service that didn’t actually happen; padded expense reports, and exaggerated (and sometimes untruthful) claims about all sorts of things.

This all may sound like a collection of relatively minor transgressions. So let me tell you a story. A number of years ago we had an apartment manager who used a corporate account at a local store to make some personal purchases totaling less than $100 – and she actually reimbursed the property without being asked. When questioned by her supervisor, she admitted her mistake. Following company protocol, the supervisor wrote a memo that ended up in her file advising her that she had violated policy with a dishonest act. In our system of progressive discipline, another such incident could be grounds for termination. This probably seems like a pretty innocuous situation – right? But the story gets worse.

A few years later it was discovered that this individual had concocted a very intricate, elaborate and almost impossible-to-discover embezzlement scheme – to the tune of $160,000. Her property received federal rent subsidies, and while we never had any money missing – her property was always 100% occupied and all rents collected every month – she figured out how to defraud the federal government. As her employer, we had to immediately re-pay the $160,000 to the government and then filed a claim under our crime insurance policy. Of course she was prosecuted but had spent all the money, so there was no way to recover the stolen funds from her. The biggest surprise came when our insurance carrier denied the claim. Why? There was a fine-print clause in the policy that denied coverage if we knowingly hired or retained an employee who was dishonest. And the damning piece of evidence was that memo in her file that contained the words “dishonest act” involving her use of a company credit account for personal purposes. I’ll spare you the ugly details of litigation against the crime insurance carrier as well as the errors and omissions insurance carrier. Needless to say we lost and ate the $160,000 (plus legal fees).

The moral of the story is three-fold. First, understand the fine details of your insurance coverage and modify your policies and procedures accordingly. Second, be careful at shrugging off small acts of cheating or dishonesty. They are a window into the overall character of an individual. What may appear to be a seemingly simple “mistake” could be the tip of a very expensive iceberg. Finally, everyone needs to see us as the paragon of virtue. We entrepreneurs need to model “squeaky clean” for our team, our customers and for the public at large. As hard as it may be, we need to demand complete and total integrity from ourselves and everyone else in our organizations. We start by always doing the right thing – especially when no one else is looking. And we hold our colleagues and associates to the same standard. The temptation may be great to cheat to compete, especially if we are struggling to gain traction. But if we do, it’s hard to expect others not to follow suit.

Integrity is not a puritanical concept. Great leaders always do the right thing and show others that it is the only standard by which to operate.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 84 – D or D?

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.