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 “We” Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Successful organizations are built on the collective effort of many talented and dedicated people. As leaders, we need to look for every opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of others. I’ve seen study after study that tells us that recognition and appreciation is very important to the culture that we are building – in some cases it is valued as highly as compensation and benefits. And yet there are countless instances where leaders shine the spotlight on themselves and take the credit for a successful endeavor. How does this manifest?

A business leader has been asked by a reporter how his company competed for and won a very large piece of business. Listen to how this statement sounds. “I have had a long-term relationship with the client and have worked for years to get to this point. I developed an innovative strategy that worked just as I thought it would. It’s all queued up so that all my employees have to do is execute.” A more thoughtful leader might have said it this way. “We have had a long-term relationship with the client, and our team worked hard to develop and implement an innovative strategy that was spot-on. Our entire organization had a hand in this success, and we are grateful to each and every team member for their contribution. We especially want to thank Alice Doe and John Smith who led the effort.” Notice the second statements did not contain the word “I” a single time? It was filled with the words “we” and “our.” It acknowledged the entire team and focused the spotlight on those team members who were at the forefront of the initiative.

What does it take to become a “We” Entrepreneur? First and foremost, we must have a genuine and authentic attitude about who gets the credit. If we are secure enough in our own skin, we check our ego at the door and do whatever we can to shine the spotlight on the good work provided by members of our team. This means that we must reverse some of the patterning we received as children. When I was young and attending school, we were praised for properly answering a question posed by the teacher. While there was nothing wrong with this, it did create an attention-craving atmosphere for some students. We wanted to receive the approval from an adult which was our proof that we were worthy of their accolades. Parents, teachers, coaches and a host of other adults were a party to this endless cycle.

Breaking out of the childhood approval-and-acceptance-seeking mode to become an authentic “We” Entrepreneur requires a couple of steps. First, we need to come to a deep understanding within ourselves that we are worthy. In the early years of my career this was a difficult concept because I had little to no experience. I felt a compelling need to prove to the world that I belonged in the big leagues. Eventually I found that when I excelled, my actions spoke louder than chest-beating. In other words, we develop the understanding of worthiness by challenging ourselves and steadily performing at high levels.

Once we have developed a strong sense of self-worth, we look for ways to focus on the accomplishments of others and celebrate when they occur. In other words, we fix the “inner” (me) first and then move to the “outer” (others). This will take practice. We won’t become adept at the “We” concept overnight as I, me, my and mine will creep in to our consciousness periodically. Here’s something that helped me and I still do to this day. When I write an e-mail, a text message, a letter or any other form of written communications, I review it before sending and remove any I, me, my and mine references and replace them with we, our and us, wherever that it makes sense. This approach helps keep me mindful of my mission to be a “We” Entrepreneur and spills over into my verbal communications as well. And after doing this for an extended period of time, it will be more than just a communications tool – you’ll really believe it! We will see the value in the contribution of others and be truly grateful. At that point our acknowledgement will become a genuine part of our persona.

The “We” Entrepreneur is gracious and unassuming. He or she is always appreciative of what others contribute to the success of the team and makes a special effort to shine the spotlight accordingly.

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

Star Power

Question: I am part of a team working within my company. One of the members of this team is always getting the credit when we succeed. I don’t know what to do about this frustrating situation.

Answer: The most successful teams are those where no one is seeking the glory and each team member supports the others in every way possible. No one ever says, “That’s not my job.” When the team wins everyone wins. And conversely, a team loss is everyone’s loss. It’s not a single team member who is the hero or the goat.

I love going to restaurants where members of the wait staff cover for each other. One server may take my order but another re-fills my water glass when it’s empty. I always am hopeful that they share their gratuities because I feel as though I’m tipping the whole server team and not just one person. Contrast that with a restaurant where servers ignore all guests except those who they are serving directly. Southwest Airlines is also on my most-admired list. How many times have we seen flight attendants and pilots cleaning up the airplane as we deplane?

Unselfishness is an important element to the success of an entrepreneur. Hats off to those who make certain that members of their team are recognized and given credit for a successful outcome. An entrepreneur who can step back out of the limelight and heap accolades on his or her team is both wise and self-assured. When we crave attention and receive for the efforts of others, team morale can be severely damaged.

The question we must answer is, “what are we in it for?” Is it personal glory or gain? Or is it long-term, sustainable overall success that benefits an entire team or company? I submit that when our egos cry for personal attention and pats on the back, someday our team may not have our back. There will certainly be times when we are recognized for personal achievement and there is nothing wrong with this whatsoever. The fine line here is our intention and how we handle it. Did we seek the recognition or was it a byproduct of our efforts? And, when the wonderful things were being said about us, did we acknowledge others who contributed to our (and the team’s) success? But this can be a trap if we aren’t walking the talk. It’s interesting to watch a ball game where a star player is being interviewed at the conclusion of the event and he appears to deflect the praise by mentioning how much his teammates figured into his success. The incongruence in his statement is that his play throughout the game reflected selfishness.

Whether in our entrepreneurial venues or with life in general, we are best served when we subordinate our egos to an attitude of gracious selflessness. Stepping off the stage and genuinely giving credit to others who deserve it is a demonstration of real star power.

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.

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