Entrepreneurs Beware!

We live in a hypersensitive society today. It seems as though every time we turn around someone is being offended by something. It may be words, actions, facial expressions or even the way someone looks. The whole notion of being offended stems from a belief that we are somehow victims. Victims of what, I’m not really sure. But our culture is at a point where it promotes victimhood and all that goes with it. This is a very dangerous place for entrepreneurs to be.

Many of us Baby Boomers raised our children in an environment where everybody wins and there were no losers. I remember sporting events in which our daughters participated, and each child received a ribbon or a small trophy. Obviously in the real world there are winners and losers yet somehow, losing has become linked with victimization. I’m not saying that this is the sole reason for the hypersensitivity we are experiencing but it may be a contributing factor.

Entrepreneurs are in a tough spot. On the one hand we want to be sufficiently sensitive to saying or doing things that others could perceive as a slight. And yet we are in a rough and tumble business world that takes no prisoners. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply treat others as we would like to be treated. I’ve grown pretty thick skin over the years and as others will attest, it’s pretty hard to offend me. A few years ago, I took a computerized test that measured resilience among a number of traits and tendencies. My score was 97 out of 100 which I’m told indicates that I have very strong self-acceptance. My point in sharing is to demonstrate that I may be somewhat oblivious to attempts by others to offend me. So, what to do?

First, we need to measure our intent when we are interacting with others. Do we say certain things to another person because we want to make them feel inferior? Do we take certain actions because we want to “send a message” to a specific individual that we expect could result in hurt feelings? A compassionate leader will communicate honestly and openly while doing so with sufficient empathy. His or her ego will be totally eliminated from the interaction. If our intent is pure and we’ve separated from our ego, then it is less likely that we will offend someone.

Second, it’s important to understand what behavior is unacceptable. This is especially challenging from a generational perspective. A young female colleague of mine was at a luncheon recently. She shared that she sat next to an older man (Boomer generation) who was nice but commented as they were leaving that he was pleased to have been able to sit next to such an attractive young woman. My colleague was not offended but related that she thought the comment was unnecessary and inappropriate. What was intended as a compliment by an older man was interpreted as mild condescension by a younger woman. While I doubt that it was his intent to be condescending, it was clear that he has not learned that you just don’t say things like this.

I’m not advocating for political correctness. We’ve gone completely overboard with PC and it’s causing huge problems in our country. But I do think that we need to pay closer attention to how we might be perceived by others. And let’s do our own gut check. Do we find ourselves being offended with any frequency? If so, we might benefit from exploring what we see when we look in the mirror. Do we have a positive or negative self-image? Are we preoccupied with conflict or feelings of inferiority? If so, we may be prone to being easily offended.

As entrepreneurs we must develop thick skin through a strongly positive self-image. At the same time, we need to measure our intent when interacting with others as well as understand what is unacceptable to society. Doing so will minimize the likelihood that we will offend others.

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.

Comfortable Skin

How’s your skin? Does it fit comfortably? How thick is it? There are a couple of things to know about the skin of successful entrepreneurs. They are usually very comfortable in it and it’s thick as rhinoceros hide. Let’s explore what all of this means.

Our behavior, especially the way we treat other people, is a pretty good indicator of how comfortable we are in our own skin. We’ve all seen the caricature of a hard-driving take-no-prisoners Type A boss. He berates others and makes unreasonable demands. He is completely insensitive to the feelings of those around him and is often loud and boorish. I’m painting a pretty negative picture of this individual to dramatize my point. Such people are often deeply insecure. I’ve gotten to know several people like this. Every one of them has been a good person at heart, but they live in constant fear which adversely impacts their personality. They are afraid of being “found out” – they think that maybe they aren’t as qualified or “together” as the image they are trying to project. They are afraid that at any given moment they might fail at whatever endeavor they are tackling. The tough guy act overcompensates for these insecurities.

We all experience varying degrees of insecurity, but it’s how we deal with it that truly counts. I’ve had many friends and mentees over time that confided that they may be nervous about a particular situation and want my advice on how to handle it. As a seasoned pro when it comes to anxiety, I am able to boost their confidence by saying three simple words . . . “just be yourself.” And what I really mean is just be your true self. Not the mask that is worn and shown to others. Now you might say that this seems like overly simplistic advice. I agree. Just being ourselves is pretty simple. We try to overcomplicate things but it all boils down to this simple premise. I’ve learned how to overcome my anxiety and just be myself by pondering the following question. “Is this a life or death situation?” Fortunately I’ve always been able to answer “no.” Putting things in this perspective allows me to melt away the insecurity and just be who I am. As long as I’m being myself and maintaining my core values, I really don’t care what others may think. And then the pressure is off.

This brings me to my second “skin” point. Our insecurities mirror the manner in which we are affected by our interactions with others. When we allow ourselves to be hurt, feel slighted or victimized by someone else, it’s a reflection of how secure we are in our own skin. We take a lot of body blows as entrepreneurs. We may or may not get the credit when things go right, but we’re definitely the focal point when things go wrong – our fault or not. The business world is ultra-competitive and not everyone plays fairly. Conflict may erupt within our own organization and it’s up to us to resolve it. Bottom line – there’s a lot of opportunity to personalize the constant hammering to which we are subjected. We develop that suit of armor that gets us through the wars when we are totally comfortable with whom we are. I suppose in a way it’s more like a suit of Teflon™ that deflects the attacks. And perhaps they aren’t really attacks at all if we don’t perceive them as such . . . right?

Being comfortable in our own skin accomplishes two objectives. It enables us to treat others with dignity and respect and it inoculates us from allowing ourselves to be hurt by others. This is a pretty good twofer in my book.

 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.

mask

Judgment Day

Most days are good days for me. Every once in a while I’ll feel a bit more intense and may have a tendency to behave in ways that are out of character for me. Recently I observed a situation that reminded me of how dangerous it can be to let my guard down in this way. Allow me to set the stage for this story.

We were vacationing with friends and enjoying breakfast in a small outdoor café. A mid-60s couple was sitting at a nearby table. The woman was seated next to a small ledge and unwittingly shifted her chair and toppled over backwards. Immediately my friend who was closest, jumped up and rushed to her assistance. With her glasses askew and an embarrassed look on her face, she got back on her feet with my friend’s help. Fortunately she was not hurt.

The focus of this story is not on the woman’s accident but on the husband and how he reacted. He just sat there. While my friend came to the rescue, the husband just sat in his seat drinking his coffee like nothing had happened. At one point he joked to his wife that she “looked like a circus clown.” Once she regained her composure, the woman left the café – smiling but humiliated. After a moment the husband looked at us and said half in jest, “Well, you sure made me look bad.” And then he left.

Now here’s the most instructive part of this episode. Once the husband was gone the café patrons were abuzz and angry. People couldn’t believe the husband had treated his wife this way. As she cleared the table, the server exclaimed, “He just sat there. I can’t believe he didn’t get up to help her!” I heard references to “jerk,” and “a**hole,” just to name a few.

This man was being judged by a jury of his peers and he was found guilty. He left a lasting impression on everyone in that restaurant and it was 100% negative. Just a single action. For all we know, this man might be one of the finest, most generous and thoughtful human beings on the planet. He might have just donated $100 million to build a new wing on the local hospital, and named it in honor of his wife. But at that moment in time, and without any other context, he was an ogre to his jury and will forever remain frozen in that image.

Most of us care about how others see us. We want to be viewed in a favorable light or at worst, in a neutral manner. The husband in this story obviously had enough self-awareness to realize he was wrong as evidenced by his statement that, “You made me look bad.” Unfortunately that comment probably sealed his fate for the onlookers. He chose to blame my friend for how others saw him rather than taking responsibility for his own poor behavior. I’d bet that if he apologized to his wife in the restaurant and admitted that he had a momentary lapse in judgment, the impression he left would have been different.

We all have momentary lapses in our behavior. But it’s important to take corrective action to repair the damage as quickly as possible. Failure to do so may result in an extremely harsh and lasting judgment by a jury of our peers.

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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