Shooting Star

Imagine a warm summer night, a meadow away from the city lights and a cloudless, moonless sky. A blanket is spread on the ground and you stretch out on your back and gaze at the heavens above. Trillions of pin dots twinkle back at you. Suddenly, as luck would have it, a streak of light crosses right in front of your eyes – a brief moment of intense action in an otherwise passive setting. Yes, a meteor is truly a sight to behold and provides a metaphorical warning to us as entrepreneurs.

The romanticism of a shooting star quickly gives way to the realization that we have just witnessed a piece of interplanetary debris burning up in the earth’s atmosphere. The operative words here are “burning up.” In entrepreneurial parlance, we’re talking about “burning out.” We all know what burnout is, so I don’t need to describe its symptoms. In fact, we’ve all probably experienced burnout in some form over the course of our careers. More important are two central questions. How do we prevent burnout in the first place? And how do we get out of burnout if it already holds us captive?

Preventing burnout in the first place is actually easier than figuring out how to get out of it once we’re in it. Consider this example. Jeff is focused on his software training business in laser-like fashion. He eats, sleeps and breathes software training and hasn’t had a vacation in six years. The business is growing in a very profitable fashion, but Jeff worries every day that if he takes his eye off the ball, his competition could easily overtake him and he’d begin losing money. He justifies his herculean efforts as the right way to provide for his family (but he’s missed eight of his son’s last ten soccer games). By contrast, Amy has a competing software training business. She is passionate about her company which is growing like Jeff’s and is also profitable. Amy has learned through time management techniques and following a carefully thought plan, how to be incredibly productive while she’s at work. She serves on a non-profit board, exercises and meditates every day, volunteers at a local homeless shelter, plays tennis and takes a ten-day vacation every six months. It’s pretty obvious which entrepreneur is a prime candidate for burnout. Because she has embraced a life balance, Amy is more creative and innovative. When Jeff finally hits the wall Amy will blow on by him because she has learned how to build a strong team to which she can delegate.

Extracting ourselves from the clutches of burnout is a real challenge. The first step is to go back to the basics and determine if our vision and mission are the same now as they were when we were filled with passion at the outset of our endeavor. Do they need to be tweaked? What made us passionate about what we started doing in the first place? Are our core values intact? Reconnecting with our passion is critical and can only happen when we become grounded in our vision, mission and values. Without this re-set we cannot know for certain if the passion is truly alive.

Next, we need to make the choice to move toward a more balanced approach to life. Nothing prevents us from adopting Amy’s M.O. Experts say that it takes three weeks to form a habit. Every day we must become intentional about identifying and implementing the different elements that will compose our newly balanced life. Getting out of ourselves and doing good things for others is one of the best ways to break out of the burnout cycle.

Finding a balance in life is the best preventive medicine for warding off burnout . . . and for getting out of it. While shooting stars are spectacular to watch there’s no need to be one.

Shooting stars

Hero or Not?

I grew up in an age where the hero of the day was a cowboy or someone like Superman. I think my favorite was a character named Paladin played by Richard Boone in Have Gun Will Travel TV western series that ran from 1957 to 1963. Paladin wore a black hat, but he was definitely a good guy. He took care of the bad guys with his cunning and his fast gun. He wore a stoic expression and generally solved the problems he faced by himself. You never saw him flinch. There were no high fives; no fist bumps; no complaints, and he was always the gentleman. Many of us grew up idolizing macho heroes of this sort.

Paladin is a wonderful metaphor for today’s entrepreneur. How many of us take the “never let ‘em see you sweat” approach and soldier on to the finish line regardless of the obstacles we encounter? I know that I certainly have felt responsibility for the hundreds of employees and their families that are integral to the success of our companies. And as a result, there have been times when I have sacrificed mightily to make certain that my colleagues are safe and secure. After all, isn’t that what a leader is supposed to do?

We entrepreneurs often spend more time working in rather than on our businesses. I will stand at the head of the line to admit that in the past I handled things that others could have been doing because I a) wanted to set a good example, b) figured that I could get it done more quickly than showing someone else how to do it, or c) wanted it done properly. After a while I began to wonder why everyone stepped back and let me do these things not realizing that the example I was setting was encouraging people to believe that I would handle it! I suppose at the time that there was a feeling of indispensability on my part. I needed to be in the middle of things to pave the way to victory.

So what did I learn following this path? I learned that no one saw me as “the hero.” They became reliant upon me and they also felt that I didn’t have confidence in them. Apathy became a real problem. The quality of work slipped because the “Lee will fix it – he fixes everything” syndrome was in full swing. I was burning out and not having as much fun as I had in the past.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that if I really care about my team members and their families – and I really do – the most important thing I can do for them is to create a sustainable organization. Companies where the founder or key principal micromanages everything and strangles everyone are doomed to die when the leader retires or dies. I can’t bear the thought of that happening to the people I’ve worked with for decades. My solution has been to develop a culture of empowerment and coaching. I now spend time helping my teammates learn how to fish as opposed to doing the fishing for them. It’s my responsibility to hold the vision for our companies, but that has become a shared vision rather than just my vision. Delegation is a key element to sustainability and all team members now have clearly defined roles and accountabilities with training and resources devoted to helping them succeed.

Heroes come from the battlefield or burning buildings and not from the boardroom. Sharing responsibility is the best way to create a sustainable organization.

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.

paladin