Tell Me What You See

When you look at me, what do you see? When you look at others, what do you see? Am I judged by my appearance? Are you skeptical or wary? These thoughts offer an interesting commentary on our society in general and on entrepreneurship in particular. Here’s what I have observed – about others and sometimes about myself. Are we actually looking for the good in our fellow man, or are we focused on finding fault? The political situation has disproportionately magnified this concern. Our country is so divided and partisan that it’s easy to instantly brand another person based upon what we perceive to be their ideology. Rightly or wrongly, if they are branded as a liberal or conservative; a Democrat or Republican, we may automatically draw conclusions that don’t serve us well.

I am renewing my efforts to work harder to see the good in others; to help build others up, rather than tearing them down. Does this sound trite? Think about it for a moment. Jonathan is negotiating to purchase a piece of equipment for his factory. There are major dollars involved and he has located the item that is only slightly used. Jonathan’s first thought is, “I wonder how I’m going to get screwed by the seller?” Right out of the blocks he’s telling the universe that he expects to be taken advantage of. He knows nothing about the individual who is selling the equipment. When asked why he feels this way, he responds, “Well, you can’t trust anyone these days.” Wow! We’ve all heard this before. But why would we set expectations this way? The transaction is immediately infused with negative energy from the start.

Here’s another one. Molly is the 28-year of vice-president of marketing at a consumer products company. While interacting with a prospective client who is in his sixties, he makes a rather inartful comment. Molly is immediately triggered into thinking that she is being harassed. The comment was harmless to the client from a generational perspective, but Molly now sees him as a horrible person. From this point forward, everything he says and does is seen by Molly in a negative light.

Here’s the last example. Henry is interviewing candidates to fill a software development position. One individual had a very pronounced southern accent and was slightly overweight. These traits were off-putting to Henry and he scratched the candidate from consideration. This was a classic case of “judging a book by its cover.”

Now let’s look at the flip side of these encounters. For Jonathan, he had no idea that the company selling the used piece of equipment had a new piece of equipment arriving within two weeks and needed to quickly remove the old piece. To accomplish this, the company marked down the price significantly in order to move it.  The equipment had been maintained in pristine condition and was truly a bargain. Instead of her knee-jerk reaction to the older client, Molly might have chalked it up as a comment that was not intended to be offensive and watched to see if there was any other behavior that warranted concern. Finally, had Henry tested his candidate, he might have found a brilliant mind hiding inside that southern good old boy.

Ronald Reagan once used the term, “trust but verify” when answering a question about nuclear disarmament. This concept remains as viable today as it did back in the 1980s. Rather than thinking the worst about others, we instead genuinely think the best about them and through our interactions, verify that they deserve our positive feelings and goodwill. Instead of being on guard all the time, we embrace others and reject the notion that they intend to do us harm. If at some point it is clear they are intentionally breaking our trust, then we change our feelings toward them.

Our entrepreneurial endeavors are enhanced when we see the best in others. When we establish our relationships in a positive manner they will flourish. When we help build others up, both parties will be the beneficiaries. I recently had the opportunity to begin working with an individual that represents a company with which we’ve done business for years. Another member of our team had previously dealt with him numerous times and had fairly negative things to say about their encounters. I chose not to have preconceived notions about this individual and after several e-mails and conversations, found him to be most pleasant and helpful. He conducted himself honorably and while a little slow with his responses, always managed to follow through. I believe that if I had bought into my teammates feelings, my interactions might have been less positive.

When we adopt the trust but verify attitude, we can build strong and lasting relationships that will flourish over time. Thus, when you ask me what I see, I say that it’s all good.

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.

Male Pink Flamingos

Question: I have some less than flattering physical traits. Should I consider cosmetic surgery to keep my appearance from negatively impacting my success as an entrepreneur?

Answer: This question reminds me of the male pink flamingo. I’m going to stereotype here, so bear with me. For past generations (including mine) the color pink is more often associated with femininity than with masculinity. So metaphorically imagine what it must be like for the male pink flamingo. He lives his entire adult existence cloaked in bright pink. And yet it doesn’t seem to bother him one whit.

OK, I know pink flamingos are birds, and birds aren’t self-conscious. Which makes the point. Why as humans are we so concerned about our physical idiosyncrasies? There’s no question that society still gives a slight edge to beautiful people. But first impressions don’t make the world go round. It’s the substance of our character and the depth of our passion that is vital to building and sustaining relationships. I’ll bet if we made a consensus list of famous entrepreneurs we’ll find few that would make a casting call in Hollywood. I won’t name names, but can attest to the fact that this list includes the tall, the short, the very short, the rotund, the bald, the wrinkled, the liver-spotted . . . you get the picture. And when we see a photo of one of these women or men what are we thinking? I don’t see the thick glasses, but I do see an amazing bright individual who has achieved great things.

For most of us, the trouble started when we reached puberty. We were so intent on being attractive to the opposite sex that we often saw ourselves as just the opposite. And every little childhood slight magnified our feelings of inadequacy. Fortunately with age comes maturity (usually) and for the most part we are able to let go of our desire to look like we did when we were 17. But every once in a while we look in the mirror and self-doubts bubble up.

Self-doubts may simply be replaced with self-awareness. Are we well-groomed? Are our clothes clean and pressed? Do we have a smile on our face and exude a positive attitude? As an entrepreneur, I can tell you that I’ve met with some people who were wearing $2,000 Armani suits or carrying $7,500 Hermes Birkin handbags and everything about their appearance, attitude and mannerisms told me they were trying too hard. Likewise, I’ve met with entrepreneurs who were wearing off-the-rack at Wal-Mart and had childhood acne scars but were truly extroverted and genuine. Who do you suppose I trusted more and wanted to do business with?

Like the male pink flamingo we can make the choice to be comfortable in our own skin. Then the first impression we make will be about the things that really matter.

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.

pink flamingos