Is the Grass Really Greener?

The U.S. unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1969. Companies are becoming more and more creative in their recruiting efforts. From an employee’s perspective, times have probably never been better. There’s certainly a temptation to job-hop the way up the compensation ladder in the belief that an employer is going to be much more generous than would have been the case during the Great Recession and for many years thereafter. But the question must be asked, is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?

Everyone knows that there’s much more to a career than a paycheck. Those who blindly chase the dollars may get what they want – but there may be a whole lot more than they bargained for. I know many people who were thrilled with the amount of money they were going to make only to find out that their new boss was ridiculously difficult, the stress levels were off the charts and working conditions were abysmal. Yet, it’s very tempting to jump at the chance to make a lot more money and pick up a cool new title. So, how should we look at the “grass” on the other side of the fence?

Over the past 44 years, I’ve had numerous opportunities to make the jump. I resisted every time. Why? Long ago I realized that 1) I was working for and with honorable people; 2) I was allowed incredible freedom to be creative and experiment, and 3) I was working in an industry that I loved and had dreamt about since I was in the 8th grade. You’ll notice that nowhere did I mention money. The reason is simple. I was allowed to continually figure out how to add value to whatever I was pursuing, and my compensation increased accordingly. This approach is my suggested template for viewing the “grass is greener” dilemma.

I’ve always believed that most people work a job. A few pursue a career. And then there are those of us who are lucky enough to live our passion. I don’t think I’ve felt at any point in time (after the first three months in the mid-1970s) that I was working a job. For awhile I was pursuing a career. But for most of my adult life I’ve been able to live my passion. This is important to understand for it’s one of the three foundational elements to answering the “grass is greener” question. Each of us must find our own passion to pursue, and the sooner the better.

Let’s assume that we generally know that we are in the right industry – yes, I know – that’s a big assumption to make. But we must start somewhere. This brings us to the other two foundational elements. Am I working for and with honorable people? There’s much more to this question than it’s literal interpretation. What is the company’s culture? Is there a vision of where the organization is heading? Are there core values that are more than slogans in a fancy frame on the wall? Are employees valued and treated fairly? Do senior leaders express gratitude? Do they seek out feedback; listen to it, and act upon it? No situation is going to be perfect. But if the environment is comfortable and efforts are constantly being made to improve, that’s a good sign that we are in the midst of honorable people.

Finally, we need to measure how likely we will be to succeed over the long haul. In my case, I was pretty much allowed to make my own way. Sure, I had specific roles and responsibilities, but I always wanted to do more and be more. I saw a myriad of opportunities and developed plans to exploit them. I made plenty of mistakes – more than I can count. But I was allowed to make them and learn valuable lessons in the process. I always figured that as long as my successes exponentially outweighed my failures, I was on solid ground. And that turned out to be true. You’ve likely heard the old adage, “the cream rises to the top.” If we are working for and with honorable people, we can always know that we earn more trust and more latitude through our performance.

Ultimately there’s no need to look at the grass on the other side of the fence so long as we can grow a lush, green lawn on our side. When we do this we’ll surely reap the benefits 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.

Stacking the Deck

We entrepreneurs are winners at heart. Every day is like the Super Bowl or the World Series for us. It kills us when we lose on a last second shot. We train like we’re going into battle. We sweat and bleed and play through the hurt if there’s a chance to score a touchdown. We endure winning streaks that we are convinced will never end and losing streaks that create the lowest of lows. Whenever possible we want the deck to be stacked in our favor. Here are some ideas for doing exactly that.

  1. Admit mistakes. I’ve always said that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. But this can be a trap for entrepreneurs. Why? Because false pride and arrogance can sometimes prevent us from quickly admitting our mistakes. We simply refuse to be wrong. And when it’s painfully obvious to others, we lose our credibility. The moral of the story is this. We admit our mistakes immediately, learn whatever there is to learn and move on. Doing so also garners more respect from our team when they see us take on this mantle of vulnerability.
  2. Always do the right thing. We always do the right thing – even when it’s to our disadvantage. This is all about integrity which is doing the right thing when no one is looking or will ever notice. This is all about looking in the mirror at the end of each day and knowing that we don’t have any regrets about how we treated other people.
  3. Show appreciation for others. Here’s another trap for us entrepreneurs to avoid. There are times when we can tend to believe that we are all important and single-handedly carry the day. In the process we may be seen by others as being arrogant. Very rarely is there a situation where the Lone Ranger-effect is a reality. Instead, our success is almost always the result of a team effort. As such, it is incumbent upon us to express gratitude and appreciation for the many things that others have done to contribute to our success.
  4. Be humble. I’ve always said that the bigger we become in terms of success and personal profile, the more humble we should be. While showing appreciation for others is part of this there is much more to it. We do our best to shine the spotlight on others. We are as gracious as we can possibly be. Rather than crashing around with our Type A personalities, we try and walk as softly as we can – almost to the point that others aren’t even aware we are there. We have enough self-confidence and self-awareness to know that we don’t have to be the center-of-attention to be highly successful.
  5. Always have a positive mindset. I have never encountered a situation where negativity produced a viable solution for anything. Positivity is contagious and is ours to model. When our team members see us remaining truly positive in the face of great adversity, they may be more inclined to do the same. Positive energy propels – negative energy repels. Who among us want to be around a negative person? When we can adopt the belief that what seems like failure in the moment is actually an opportunity for something bigger and better, we are well down the road to continued success.
  6. Persevere. The entrepreneurial game is a tough one. We get knocked down a lot. There are plenty of times that nothing seems to be going our way. But we always have a choice. We can throw in the towel or we can live by Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in to convictions of honor and good sense.” Endurance becomes our ability to outlast every challenge that comes our way.
  7. Laugh and have fun. We don’t always have to be so serious . . . and we don’t have to take ourselves seriously either. Entrepreneurship is not a life sentence to drudgery and misery. We should savor every breath we take as we walk this incredible planet. Laugh, laugh and laugh some more. And when we can laugh at ourselves that’s even better. The more our entrepreneurial journey can be fun, the more likely we are to be living our passion.

When put it altogether – admitting mistakes, integrity, appreciation, gratitude, humility, positivity, perseverance and laughter – we are clearly stacking the deck in our favor. This “extra edge” then sets us up for the success that is ours to claim.

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 126 – Easy Lifting.

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.

Savor the Sandwich

On October 30, 2002, David Letterman hosted the last appearance of Warren Zevon, an American rock singer-songwriter and musician. You may remember a couple of his most notable hits – Werewolves of London and Lawyers, Guns & Money. Zevon had appeared numerous times on Letterman’s show and the two had become fast friends. Recently, Zevon had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and Letterman spent an entire hour talking openly and frankly with Zevon about his plight. I watched the YouTube video of the show and was amazed at the humor and grace that Zevon displayed. One of the most simple of things he said was so profound, “You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich.” Of course he went on to talk about enjoying every minute of playing in his band and playing with his kids. But the notion of enjoying something so mundane as a sandwich struck a chord with me. Tragically Zevon died on September 7, 2003 at the age of 56.

We entrepreneurs are in a constant state of hyper-drive. We all know that we should stop and smell the roses. We also know that we need to maintain work-life balance. And yet we can often find it difficult to carve time out of a packed schedule to do these things . . . or so we think. Part of the problem is the fact that we are so passionate about what we do. We’re obsessed with building our business. And I know for a fact that any entrepreneur who doesn’t have this obsession will either fail or be only marginally successful. But the passion and obsession does not mean that we can’t “savor the sandwich.”

What if we treated every interaction we have with others as though it would be the last time we would see them? What if every activity – professional or personal – was treated in similar fashion? The thought of this may seem somewhat morbid and maybe even hard to comprehend. But, what if . . . ? We all have a terminal diagnosis. We just don’t know whether it’s far into the future or right around the corner.

While this has been a difficult subject for me to get my head around, I’ve thought about it quite a bit the older I’ve become. I find that I prioritize differently. I want to make absolutely certain that the most important things on my to-do list are always finished. And at the same time, I have become more and more thankful for the little things in life. I revel in the warm sunshine and find moments of wonder gazing at a full moon. An early morning walk is no longer just exercise, but now a time for inspiration. Dinner at a favorite restaurant with my bride has become less about checking e-mail and social media, and more about the pinch-me feeling that is the result of nearly five decades together. No longer do I quickly scan through photos of my grandkids, but instead take in the twinkle in their eyes and the look of pure joy on their faces. During a meeting, I look around the room and think about how proud I am of the team we have assembled and what they are accomplishing. Of course there are obstacles that are faced every single day – but the endorphins are going full blast with the anticipation of how we will creatively overcome them together.

Savoring the sandwich means being present in every moment of every day. It means eliminating the “taking things for granted” syndrome that plagues each one of us to some degree. I have worked hard to develop the ability to compartmentalize the challenges we face in our enterprise. In so doing, I’m able to have greater appreciation for the little things that are happening around me. I am more obsessed than ever with scaling our various business initiatives. But I’m equally obsessed with seeing all of life in color. There’s no question that both can be done at the same time. Lending a helping hand to others, and expressing appreciation and gratitude to them is also part of the equation.

We have the ability to savor each sandwich as though it will be our last. And it doesn’t have to take the diagnosis of a terminal illness to unlock this ability.

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 5 – Now What?

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 Modern Day Entrepreneurial Leader

Are you an entrepreneurial leader? Leadership is such a broad topic that there are scores of books and blogs that focus on nothing else. Let’s scratch the surface by focusing on what leadership means in an entrepreneurial environment.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is humble. He or she happily gives credit to others for successes realized by the enterprise. By being comfortable in his/her own skin, this entrepreneur delights in shining the spotlight on members of the team who achieve and excel. He or she is also quick to take the blame if something goes wrong. And there’s no pointing of fingers at team members who failed when this happens. This entrepreneur realizes that leadership is all about building other people up – not tearing them down.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is always aware of others with whom he or she is interacting. This entrepreneur acknowledges them and shows genuine interest in their wellbeing. Expressing gratitude and appreciation is first nature for this person. Regardless of another individual’s station in life, the modern day entrepreneurial leader treats everyone in the same positive and uplifting manner. A smile, eye contact and a heartfelt “thank you” are equally extended to the barista in the coffee shop, the checker in the grocery store and the Fortune 500 CEO.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader always eats last. This may occur literally at the company’s annual picnic, or metaphorically on payday. If a venture is struggling to gain traction and is short on cash, this entrepreneur will make sure everyone else on the team gets paid first. In some instances this leader will even max out a credit card to bridge the gap until revenues from the enterprise provide the necessary cash to keep going.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is strategic. He or she understands the difference between strategy and tactics and works tirelessly to refine a winning strategy. This strategy is then communicated effectively to each team member who understands exactly how they fit in the organization and what their roles and accountabilities are. The entrepreneur spends more time working “on” his/her business than working “in” it.

While being strategic, the modern day entrepreneurial leader isn’t afraid to get his/her hands dirty either. If there’s a job to be done and no one to do it, this leader jumps in to fill the gap. This could mean anything from answering a phone on the switchboard, making a sales call, spending an hour on the production line (because the individual normally assigned suddenly became ill), to cleaning snow off the front entry stoop. The entrepreneur never believes that any of these tasks are “beneath” him or her.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is a visionary. He or she can clearly articulate the organization’s vision in a way that is understandable to all involved. And this leader is constantly looking at the industry, the enterprise and the customer to find new ways to innovate. The result may be the creation or refinement of products and services as well as ideas for streamlining the way those products and services are delivered.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader understands the value proposition and can differentiate his or her products/services. This can be a major problem for businesses at all stages of the lifecycle. A muddled approach to the value proposition can lead to confusion and apathy in the marketplace. This leader makes certain that the benefit of his/her products or services is very clear to the customer, and it’s easy to see that such benefits are significantly greater than with competing products or services.

Finally, the modern day entrepreneurial leader is the leading advocate of core values for the enterprise. He or she is always modeling them and high-fiving team members who do the same. These core values aren’t window dressing, but instead are foundational elements for the daily operation of the organization. This leader is also laser-focused on building a strong and positive culture. There is a realization that having the right team members on the bus is paramount and the entrepreneur works tirelessly to ensure that individuals who are not a cultural fit are excused from the enterprise. Further, each team member always knows where he or she stands from a performance perspective. This leader does not use blunt honesty that could harm morale. Instead he or she practices the approach of warm candor where a team member understands where improvement is needed without being destroyed in the process.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is the complete package. He or she is humble; easily expresses gratitude; puts his/her needs secondary to other team members; is strategic; isn’t afraid to get dirty hands; is a visionary; understands the value proposition, and is the leading advocate for core values and culture.

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 105 – The Case of the Frozen Hostage.

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.

Overflowing

We entrepreneurs have much for which to be grateful. As I write this at the beginning of 2018, what better way to start a new year than to express gratitude? We have been blessed with so much and it’s helpful and healthy to reflect on these blessings.

I am grateful for my wife of more than 44 years and all of her love and support through the peaks and valleys of our lives. I am grateful for our daughters and how they have become great mothers to our three beautiful grandchildren. I am grateful to my son-in-law for the way he has become a terrific father. I am grateful to my parents who chose me through an adoption process and gave me an amazing childhood. I am grateful to my sister for so many things, but especially the way she cared for our mother before she died. I am grateful to our many friends who have joined us over the decades in countless moments of laughter and joy.

I am grateful that I learned to play the piano when I was young for it paved the way for me to type and be very efficient on the computer keyboard today. I am grateful that my parents helped me become a disciplined young man through many hours of piano and clarinet practice, as well as assigning me family responsibilities and holding me accountable accordingly. I am grateful that I was able to play basketball as a youngster and for the various summer jobs that taught me how to work hard and save money. I am grateful for having the opportunity to be a Boy Scout and all of the experiences that led to my Eagle award. I am grateful for having grown up in a small college town that was safe and offered a myriad of productive activities for a young person in the 1950s and 1960s.

I am grateful to my partner who gave me the opportunity nearly 43 years ago to become a part of a quality organization, and then let me spread my wings and soar. I am grateful to my other partner of nearly 22 years who has taught me empathy and understanding. I am grateful to the other senior leaders of our various companies who are helping to build a strong and sustainable culture. I am grateful to the hundreds of team members who advance our cause every hour of every day. I am grateful for the opportunity to use our platform to create and innovate. And I am grateful that our entrepreneurial endeavor has allowed me to live my “Why” which is to make sense of complexity.

I am also grateful for my physical health and the fact that I have few maladies for a person my age. I am especially grateful to each of my health care providers who have supported me in achieving great health. I am grateful that I have all of my mental faculties which enable me to read, write and think about the wonderful world in which we live.

I am grateful for having the honor of helping a number of mentees grow their businesses over the years. I am grateful for being invited to serve on different boards and various search committees. I am grateful for the young people who have participated in a university teacher’s scholarship program that my wife and I started in 1999. Many of them have now gone on to touch the lives of so many others as teachers.

I am grateful for having been able to earn an income that has provided a comfortable lifestyle. I am grateful to be able to travel throughout the country and abroad. I am grateful for my various hobbies including publishing this blog and recording a podcast – and of course I’m grateful to each of you who reads and listens.

I am grateful for my positive and optimistic outlook on life. I am grateful for my resilience and perseverance. I am grateful to be able to say that I have no real regrets, nor have I ever done anything to intentionally hurt someone else. I am grateful that I have a strong moral compass and that I can continue to explore my spirituality. I am grateful to all of the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for my freedom and for all of the first responders that stand ready to assist when needed.

My list could go on and on, so please don’t take offense if I didn’t make reference to you. It’s exhilarating to become immersed in gratitude and realize that our lives have been shaped by so many other people. I’m betting that you could also identify much for which you are grateful. To that end, let’s all be grateful for a Happy New Year!

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 78 – Oatmeal on the Floor.

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.

Walking Shoes

We’ve all known hard-charging Type A entrepreneurs who have a “take no prisoners” attitude. These people are the doers. They are decisive and they know how to execute. But sometimes there is a downside to this sort of personality. Yes, sometimes those of us who are very driven may have a tendency to be insensitive. This usually isn’t intentional but nonetheless it can have a detrimental effect on our team members and the culture we are trying to build.

There are a number of ways that insensitivity can manifest. It can be as direct as making derogatory or belittling comments to as subtle as failing to acknowledge someone with a friendly greeting in the morning. Think about an exchange like this. Team member – “I’d like to volunteer to work with Jim on the Norton project.” Entrepreneur – “No, you just need to stay focused on what you are doing.” While it may be absolutely true that the team member needs to keep doing what she’s doing, the way the entrepreneur delivered the message could be construed as insensitive. A different selection of words would make all the difference. How about this instead? “Jan – thanks for the offer. Your project is critically important and I’m counting on you to get it wrapped up. But I will take a rain check on having you help with the next one.” This statement acknowledges the team member with an expression of appreciation and also affirms her value. And it gives her hope that she’ll be given another opportunity in the future.

So, how do we develop the appropriate level of sensitivity without going so far as to sing Kumbaya all the time? There’s a very simple method that I’ve learned over the years. I will admit to once-upon-a-time being the insensitive Type A hard-charger that was described in the opening paragraph. I justified my behavior by believing that I was simply being expedient in my dealings with others. After all, I was moving at 100 miles an hour and the quicker I could get through with one meeting the sooner I could move on to the next. But I gradually became aware that my people skills were suffering. I wasn’t doing anything to cultivate relationships or goodwill. Eventually I developed a new awareness by just putting myself in the other person’s shoes. How would I feel if someone spoke to me a certain way; said something in a certain manner, or failed to somehow acknowledge me?

The key is to practice, practice and constantly practice. I try to pay attention to how everyone around me is feeling. In a restaurant, I want to make sure that the wait staff is properly appreciated. At the office I try to make eye contact with members of our team as I walk by and greet each and every one of them. I pay attention to the language that I use, going the extra mile to avoid careless statements that could be misconstrued. Again, I’m always testing what I say or do against the basic premise of how I would want to be treated if I were the other person. After a while it becomes very intuitive.

The mark of a good leader is the manner in which he or she treats others. Running roughshod or being humble and sensitive? The choice is easy when walking a mile in another’s shoes.

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.

dirty shoes

Celebritude!

As I write this it’s just days before the end of the year. It’s a time of rest and reflection. It’s a time of excitement for the New Year ahead. And it’s a time for celebration and gratitude – Celebritude! What is Celebritude?

Celebritude is a celebration of gratitude. Think about all for which we can be grateful. It’s not very hard, is it? Hopefully we’ve been acknowledging our gratitude throughout the year. After all, we know that maintaining an attitude of gratitude is part of the giving and receiving equation that enriches our lives. But we can do more in the gratitude department by creating “Celebritude.”

Celebritude is a time to think about those who have been particularly instrumental in supporting us and helping to make our lives better. Was there a teacher who inspired us during our early years? Perhaps there was a mentor somewhere along the way. How about a friend who lent a sympathetic ear during tough times? Maybe a colleague encouraged us to step up and do something we never thought we could do. And of course there may be a spouse or significant other who always believed in us.

To create Celebritude we must intentionally inventory those seminal figures that have helped shape our lives in positive ways. Then we take the opportunity to celebrate them and all that they have meant to us. There are many ways to do this. For example we could write a heartfelt letter to that teacher expressing our appreciation for his or her inspiration so many years ago. We might make a charitable contribution in the name of the mentor we appreciate so much. Dinner at a nice restaurant for that fabulous friend who has been so encouraging could be a perfect expression of gratitude. A nice gift might be appropriate for that colleague who challenged us to stretch ourselves and be better. And maybe we could take a special trip to say thank you to the spouse or significant other who has stood by our side through thick and thin.

When we create Celebritude we amp-up the gratitude process. It grounds us in the knowing that others have lifted us up and helped to propel us forward throughout our lives. By celebrating our gratitude for these wonderful souls we open a major channel of positive energy that benefits others as well as ourselves. And we can continue to live in Celebritude by paying it forward. Now, we can become that significant benefactor in someone else’s life by providing inspiration, support, mentorship, challenges and love.

The creation of Celebritude can be life changing for us and for others. Truly celebrating our gratitude brings a new level of momentum to the positive energy in which we thrive.

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.

Celebration