What I Learned From a Non-Entrepreneur

Over the course of our careers, we entrepreneurs spend a lot of time studying other successful entrepreneurs. We try and emulate their good qualities and avoid those traits that are less flattering. This is a smart strategy and can serve us well. However, there is also much we can learn from non-entrepreneurs as well. While this may sound somewhat paradoxical, stick with me here. There is much wisdom that can be gained in our entrepreneurial world by modeling non-entrepreneurs.

My father was a college professor – a scientist who loved research and teaching. As I think back over the course of my short life with him (he died when I was 34), I realize how much I learned from him that has helped me in my entrepreneurial endeavors. My sister and I were both adopted (and we came from different biological parents), so I was not the recipient of any of Dad’s genetics and who knows what was lurking in my biological gene pool. So, I was destined to “learned behaviors” at my father’s knee.

Dad was the most patient person I’ve ever known. As a young boy, I asked him a million questions, and never once did he ever seem exasperated about my constant grilling. Instead, he would smile and remain patient as he explained things for the 40th time. For several years, he performed extensive cancer research, injecting mice with tumor materials and then experimenting with different dosages of a formula that was designed to shrink the tumors. He even drafted my mom into returning to the lab after dinner to help him with this project. He was incredibly dedicated to iteration after iteration, always staying positive and all the while, juggling his other research and teaching assignments. My sense of urgency is extremely high. I certainly don’t have Dad’s level of patience. But by watching him, I’ve learned to be more patient over the long term – it’s patience over the short-term stuff that needs more work on my part.

Unflappable is another word for calm, and my dad was its walking definition. I’ll never forget his best demonstration of his unflappability. Way back in the day, people in my hometown would sometimes burn the grass in their yards in the springtime. The theory was that it helped kill the weeds and promoted a healthier stand of grass in a few weeks. On this particular day, the plan was to create a controlled burn to accomplish this objective. Dad asked Mom to wait for him to change his clothes and they would do this together. Unfortunately, Mom didn’t have Dad’s patience and decided to start the fire without him. A sudden gust of wind caught the flame and a cedar tree on the corner of the house ignited. If you’ve never seen a cedar tree catch fire, it’s a sight to behold. The Biblical image of the burning bush comes to mind. Mom was frantic and raced into the house looking for a fire extinguisher. She passed my dad in the basement but was babbling incoherently, and so he had no idea what was happening. Meanwhile, the next-door neighbor put out the fire with a garden hose; a fire truck showed up; a crowd had gathered, and Dad finally ambled out oblivious to what was happening. I’ll never forget how he reacted at that point. Rather than read my mother the riot act, he grinned and was amused at the commotion that had ensued. Now, some 58 years later, I always remember how I never saw my dad as anything but calm. And I try and mirror his demeanor whenever possible.

Dad was an honest man. Every fiber of his being was honest. We were traveling as a family on a vacation and stopped for fuel. It was a full-service gas station – there was no such thing as self-serve gas in the 1950s and early 1960s. After the gas was pumped, there was the normal scramble of getting kids back in the car from a restroom break; taking the dog to relieve itself and making certain the trailer was still hitched properly. A few miles down the road Dad asked my mom, “Did you pay for the gas?” It was quickly apparent that the we had driven off without paying at which point Dad turned the car around and drove back to the service station and made payment. Interestingly, the station attendant hadn’t even realized that we had left without paying. No one would have ever known that we hadn’t paid for the gas, but Dad’s integrity wouldn’t let this get in the way of doing the right thing.

My father – the non-entrepreneur – modeled many other traits that have been critical to me finding my way as an entrepreneur. His perseverance, his problem-solving abilities, his work ethic, his sense of humor and his passion were all on full display throughout the 72 years of his life. I am blessed to have been loved by him and learned valuable and enduring life lessons from him. Which non-entrepreneur in your life has made a similar difference for you?

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 Podcast 132 – How to Be a Great Entrepreneur. 

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.

A Rabbit and a Hat

Have you ever felt like your back was against the wall? And I’m not talking about a looming deadline to renew a driver’s license. No, I’m referring to a true-life Indiana Jones sort of experience. You’ve stepped into a room and activated some sort of an ancient counterweight that causes the floor, ceiling and walls to shift and begin to close in on you. There’s seemingly no way out and you can either await your doom or “MacGyver it” and improvise a solution. I apologize – sometimes my metaphors can really become convoluted. Indiana, meet MacGyver. Perhaps you’re running low on cash – in your business or personal life. Maybe your top three team members have just announced they are setting up shop across the street and will become your competitor. Or your top three customers have determined that they will be purchasing 75% to 90% less of your product.

Human nature might say that a panic attack is in order, followed by a bottle or two of something at least 100-proof. We’re at a loss in terms of how to react. Some might call this a state of shock. While all we may want to do is run and hide, that’s simply not an option. And we really aren’t receptive to the notion espoused by a parent (or a coach) at some point in the past – “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Instead we look at the wall that seemingly has no way over, under or around, and completely shut down. Except there’s one thing . . . we cannot shut down. Period. Ultimately we develop a special kind of spirit. I call it “undaunted spirit.” In our hearts we truly believe that nothing is insurmountable. This isn’t just a conscious state of mind – it’s a knowing at the very core of our being.

So exactly how do we achieve this undaunted spirit? We can’t just snap our fingers and manifest it. It requires daily preparation and practice every chance we get. Undaunted spirit isn’t something that flips on and off like a light switch. Once we have it we always want to maintain it.

Step one is to make a game out of solving problems creatively. Entrepreneurs are pretty quick to solve a problem and move on without giving much thought to all of the different solutions that might be available. We usually go for the most intuitive, expeditious and least costly. But doing this deprives us of the opportunity to look at a whole host of other ideas. The entire point in doing this is to help us realize that there are usually many different options from which we can choose. It may be obvious that if kids are tracking a path through our yard after school, we plant a couple of thorn bushes to dissuade this behavior. If we slow down and think about it, there may be other solutions that are equally workable or even better. Maybe we could have the lawn sprinkler system set to come on as school is dismissing. Using every day issues like this to practice creatively identifying multiple solutions prepares us for the Tuesday when we learn that there’s not enough money to make payroll on Friday.

Step two is to do whatever it takes to stay positive every minute of every day. I’ve said it before – negative thoughts and negative energy never solved anything. Worse, they block the flow of positive energy that delivers creative solutions. Practicing maintaining a positive mindset in our everyday life prepares us for the day when the “you-know-what” hits the fan.

Step three is simple – stay calm. I remember years ago I was flying my airplane and practicing approaches in unstable weather. I was instrument rated and wanted to get some real life experience in more difficult conditions. A storm was moving in and I was near the airport when all of a sudden I was caught in a strong downdraft. I was going straight down and I mean STRAIGHT DOWN. Charts and pencils were flying around the cabin – and just as quickly I was caught in an updraft and going straight up and I mean STRAIGHT UP! I will confess that there was a brief moment of “pucker factor,” but I had practiced staying calm and the practice took over. I knew I just had to fly the airplane and not worry about anything else, and by remaining calm I was able to make it through a scary situation unscathed.

Creatively identifying multiple options; fiercely maintaining a positive frame of mind and keeping calm helps us develop undaunted spirit. Then like a magician, we are able to pull the rabbit out of a hat whenever the need arises because we know that no challenge is insurmountable.

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 – Audio Episode 48 – Pluses and Minuses.

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.

Team ‘Tude

My favorite Major League baseball team is in a slump. They can’t hit their way out of a paper bag. Their starting pitching has been amazing, but the bats are asleep. They are losing games 1 – 0 or 2 – 1. For a fan, it’s agonizing to watch. How can it be that an entire team that is paid over $140 million a year cannot hit? What’s worse, the two highest paid starters are batting .169 and .203 respectively. It’s one thing for a player or two to be slumping. It’s quite another for the whole team to be in this predicament. Yeah, I know. It’s a long season and eventually the bats will come alive. Hopefully it won’t be too late to make a serious run at a pennant. But this whole episode is instructive from an entrepreneurial standpoint. What happens when our entire team is in a slump?

Have you ever felt like nothing is going right? Multiply this by the same feeling being shared by nearly everyone on your team and you may have a genuine team slump. The reason for this is as obvious as the entire baseball team slumping all at the same time. In scientific terms, the team’s attitude is messed up! So you ask – how did we get there in the first place? Who knows? The important thing is that if we’re not careful it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It often starts with one person – perhaps a star producer – who is struggling with a losing streak. That individual may grouse a bit with the “woe is me” routine. Others listen to this and can’t help but be impacted. It’s particularly concerning when a leader in the organization becomes negative in this way. Team members begin to feel a bit insecure. Everyone starts looking over their shoulders. They work especially hard to avoid mistakes and become very self-conscious in the process. Eventually each member of the team has become part of the downward spiral that creates the aforementioned slump.

What’s the way out? In baseball, sometimes the general manager fires the hitting coach. In other instances, the manager may shuffle the lineup. I’ve heard of more drastic situations where a team meeting occurs and a player reads the riot act to the rest of the team. Then everyone rallies, puts on a new face and plays the game with new resolve. And sometimes all of this can work.

I submit that when a team is struggling as a whole, it’s time for the leader to step up. It’s a time for calm. If the entrepreneur/leader starts to panic, it’s awfully hard for the whole team not to follow suit. Instead, strong positive reinforcement is needed from the leader. Each team member needs to be told in genuine terms how critical he or she is to the organization. The leader should point to the positive patterns of success that have been realized in the past. He or she shouldn’t hesitate to provide coaching where there are obvious flaws in execution.

It’s also a time to engage the team in an exercise of collaboration. Team meetings are held where ideas are exchanged and new positive energy is created. It’s important for us as entrepreneurs to be truly optimistic and upbeat. It’s not a time to wallow in despair and dwell on all of the negative things that have been occurring. When we model calm and creativity, our team will respond in kind. Our leadership has never been more important than at times like this.

Ultimately we want each member of our team to commit to a positive attitude. Sound a bit woo-woo? It’s not. I haven’t been in the locker room of my favorite baseball team, but I’m willing to bet that the attitude isn’t very positive. Attitude is a razor’s edge. It’s easy to tip either way into positive or negative territory. If the team ends up with a negative attitude there is no way that it will win. It’s the entrepreneur’s charge to make absolutely certain that a positive attitude is attained and maintained.

Team slumps can be attributed to the team’s attitude. Strong leadership that creates infectious positivity is a great start toward helping the team regain its balance and winning form.

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 45 – Comfortable Skin.

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.

Innie or Outie?

Are you an “innie or an outie?” And I’m not talking about belly buttons. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Before you answer you should know that there are many common misconceptions about these terms. The famous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung developed extensive research on this subject. In fact, Jung actually used the term “extravert” instead of “extrovert.” Over the years the word seemed to have morphed into the “extrovert” terminology we use today. So, when you hear these words, what do you think? An introvert is shy and an extrovert is outgoing? As with many things, this is an oversimplification. Think about how we recharge our batteries. Do you find that you gain renewed energy from being alone in solitude or by being around other people? Technically, introverts seek renewal alone and extroverts recharge through interaction with others. But enough with the technicalities. Let’s explore introversion and extroversion in the more traditional sense.

How can introverts and extroverts survive and thrive with each other? How can an introvert succeed when many situations call for a high degree of sociability and gregariousness? And how do extroverts avoid coming across as a bull in a china shop in situations that need reflection and finesse?

I know a person who has a position that requires considerable interaction with others in a public setting. This individual makes outstanding presentations to large groups of people but struggles mightily with one-on-one interaction. I and others question his genuineness and authenticity as a result of this challenge with his personality. People see him as a masterful “performer” on stage but are frustrated because the “act” doesn’t translate into personal charisma.

For those of us who might find it challenging to engage easily with others, here are some ideas. Step into it. Play offense instead of defense. We can put ourselves in situations where we have the opportunity for interaction. Maybe it’s at a conference or a gathering of some sort. We find someone who isn’t already talking to others and go introduce ourselves. Be strong. The handshake is firm and we make friendly eye contact. The person I mentioned in the preceding paragraph has a tendency to either avoid eye contact or look over my shoulder. Smile. Always smile. It helps us to put ourselves and others at ease. Relax. Don’t try too hard. We just need to be who we are – not someone else. And yes, we can be strong and relaxed at the same time. This actually projects confidence.

On the other end of the spectrum some of us may be somewhat supercharged with extroversion. In certain situations this can be overwhelming to others and can come across in a high pressure salesman manner. Of course we don’t want to be perceived this way. Many extroverts have a great deal of nervous energy and perhaps even a touch (or mega dose) of ADHD. This reflects in their speech patterns and mannerisms.

As extroverts we need to work to “dial it back” at times. Zip it. We may have a tendency to dominate conversations. Instead, we need to make a concerted effort to create a dialogue where we make sure that others have a chance to express themselves. Chill. Somehow we have to resist the urge to outwardly manifest all of the energy that is pent-up inside. Calm. We need to replace the pent-up energy with calmness. Don’t worry; our charisma is so strong that we won’t be seen as a shrinking violet. Smile. A friendly smile is disarming and sends positive vibes to others. As extroverts we may have a tendency to be too intense. Remembering to always smile will put others at ease.

Introverts and extroverts must make a mutual effort to co-exist and collaborate. When they succeed, they can do great things together.

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.

bull-china-shop

The Case of the Dirty Diaper Over the Cliff

Let me set the scene. We get a call from a customer and boy is he mad. He rants and raves about how he’s been wronged by one of our team members. “She was so incredibly rude to me!” he exclaims. “And she even laughed at me when I explained my issue.” Honestly, what is our first thought? It may be that we can’t believe our team member would act in this manner. We may also prepare ourselves to have a serious conversation with this team member and really lay down the law. Perhaps we are even ready to put a note in the personnel file about the incident. What happens next? We’re plenty steamed, so we track down our team member and lay out the situation in a somewhat accusatory fashion offering plenty of righteous indignation in the process. Except . . . it turns out that the customer was all wrong. What happened here? I call it the “The Case of the Dirty Diaper Tossed Over the Cliff.”

In this situation, we heard a complaint (the Dirty Diaper) and immediately jumped to a conclusion (the Cliff). We failed to gather solid evidence in a calm and reasonable fashion and instead rushed into an unpleasant encounter with our team member half-cocked. In this specific scenario, had we conducted a proper investigation we would have discovered that there was a witness – another customer – who observed the whole thing. And after talking to this customer, we learned that the accuser had an axe to grind with our team member and called her names and said ugly things to her. Not the other way around. Unfortunately we failed to give her the benefit of the doubt when we launched into our accusation which of course caused unnecessary tension.

In the “heat of battle” aka/confrontational situations – it’s easy to sympathize with the party that is upset. Perhaps our team has had the type of issues in the past that are being presented in the current situation. We instinctively may have a tendency to jump to erroneous conclusions and even worse, act upon them. The fallout from this approach can be devastating. Our team member felt that we weren’t supporting her and the feelings of trust she had for us were broken. Other team members learned of the incident and the trust with them was damaged as well. Ultimately the team member involved quit – all because this matter was so incredibly mishandled.

Maybe this has never happened to you. I truly hope that is the case. I’ve seen it occur in my own organization and I’ve even been the “accuser” in a bit of a milder way, but nonetheless I didn’t do my homework first. I’ve resolved to listen carefully to information that is being provided by the complainant and ask questions sufficient to fully understand this person’s point of view. I also try to glean as many facts as possible. Often there’s a lot of emotion involved and the “diaper” gets really dirty very fast. It’s critical to be adequately sympathetic without taking sides and try to focus on the facts. Then, rather than taking the “dirty diaper” and “throwing it off the cliff,” I try to factually determine the other side of the situation without accusation or condemnation.

There will be times when the facts presented by the two parties are vastly different. Let’s assume for a moment that there are no witnesses and there’s just no way to corroborate either version of the encounter. We have to be very careful passing judgment in such situations and determining that one party is right and the other is wrong. Instead, we offer our counsel with the intent to coach our team member, and we do what we can to placate the party who is aggrieved. In a sense, we need to operate as would a judge or jury. If the evidence is insufficient, it’s pretty hard to render a clear decision. Should a pattern develop with our team member where we learn of similar issues occurring on an ongoing basis, we may need to take stronger action based upon such a pattern.

Strong teams are built on trust. We must protect this trust by handling contentious issues in a calm and measured fashion; gathering evidence, and resisting the inclination to jump to conclusions.

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.

Father Changing Baby's Diaper --- Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis

Father Changing Baby’s Diaper — Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis

Confluences

Consider this. One of your key employees just gave her two-week notice. Your company didn’t win a major contract for which it was bidding. The vice-president of production just informed you that delivery of a key component for manufacturing a product that is 30% of your sales has been indefinitely delayed. Your company website was hacked last night and decorated with cyber graffiti. Cash flow is a bit tight right now. Oh, and you haven’t been able to squeeze in a workout for a week. How does all of this feel right about now? Certainly being under siege might be one way to describe it.

Let me assure you that similar situations like this are experienced by many entrepreneurs every single day. Perhaps some of it is preventable. But more importantly – how do you handle it? Are you able to stay calm, smile and find your way through the minefield? Or is it meltdown time and maybe a visit to the local tavern after work? The key is how we choose to view and respond to such events. If we see all that I’ve described as a crisis, then we may react with fear and panic. However, if we simply see this as a “Confluence of Events,” we may be a bit more sanguine about it. Let’s look at some of the reactions I’ve witnessed over the years when I see entrepreneurs encounter a “Confluence of Events.”

  • The Beginning of the End – those who go here lay awake at night conjuring images of complete and total disaster and destruction. They are convinced that their company is going down the tubes; they’ll personally go broke, and they’ll end up living under a bridge. They go to the office and try to slug it out, but they have this feeling of impending doom. Sometimes this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • Deny and Hide – others utilize the Deny and Hide approach. They refuse to acknowledge that something needs to be done and go play golf, take a “business” trip or find some other distraction. Rather than face the issues at hand, they rationalize their reaction by positing that “others need to step up and show leadership” in order to solve the problems.
  • Focus, Focus, Focus – I’ve watched leaders with the best of intentions sharpen their focus . . . in over-the-top ways! They tend to jump in and micro-manage a particular situation to the exclusion of everything else that is occurring. By plunging in this way they believe that they are being productive – except that the rest of the issues that need solving are languishing.

These are just three of the reactions I’ve observed and each demonstrates the classic fight or flight response. There is another way.

When the “siege” begins and a Confluence of Events is in sight the first thing we can do is take a deep breath. Seriously. Spending several minutes to become quiet will help clear the mind. There’s plenty of time to deal with the issues at hand, and becoming centered will make the process easier. Next, we write down the specific facts surrounding each challenge that we’re facing. This helps move us away from dwelling on the emotional elements. I’ve found that when I push out the emotion, things generally aren’t as bad as they seem. Finally, we map out the manner in which we are going to tackle each situation that is contributing to our Confluence of Events. We identify the priorities and start working our way through them. At no time do we feel victimized or defeated. We show leadership by maintaining an even keel and demonstrating that no matter what the situation, there’s always a resolution.

A confluence of problems in our business and personal lives may seem insurmountable. Avoiding a siege mentality begins with remaining calm and unemotional. Then we’re able to methodically and successfully work through or around the obstacles we are facing.

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.

bomber

Intensitivity

Dear Entrepreneur:

I watched you the other day as you “took command” of a situation involving a vendor who works with your company. Obviously the vendor did not perform his service satisfactorily – you certainly let him know this in no uncertain terms. I did get a little concerned when I saw the veins begin to pop out in your neck. I’m sure glad I wasn’t on the other end of that call!

Sincerely – One of your employees

Just reading this feels a bit embarrassing. Have you ever known anyone like this? Some entrepreneurs pride themselves in being very direct and matter-of-fact. They pull no punches and sugarcoat nothing. They wear their bluntness as a badge of honor. Unfortunately they have become confused about the virtues of honesty and transparency, and feel the need to demonstrate these traits in an extremely intense manner. But to what end? Did this approach resolve the situation? Did it build a stronger relationship? Is the vendor more or less likely to want to go out of his way for the entrepreneur in the future?

This brings us to an interesting point of discussion. Is it better to be more assertive or more aggressive? When we’re assertive, we’re able to be direct and straight-forward without becoming angry. Being aggressive typically brings with it a sort of heavy-handedness that evokes negativity. It’s a real art to being able to deal with a situation assertively where everyone walks away with generally positive feelings – but the message has been clearly delivered.

What can we do to re-pattern our aggressive tendencies and convert them into a more positive and assertive approach? Years ago, I took a Caliper Profile. It’s a computerized test that identifies traits and tendencies and is an excellent tool for hiring people. On a scale of 1 to 100, my Assertiveness score was a 99 and my Aggressiveness score was a 92. I was told that this was a bit of a dicey pattern. I could just as easily flip from being assertive to being aggressive – and sometimes too aggressive. Knowing this, I’ve been working for years to try and tone down my aggressiveness. I’ve learned that I need to keep my temper in check and try and remain as James Bond-like as possible. Sure, that may sound corny, but the goal is to be unflappable and even-keeled.

I try to remember to keep a smile on my face even when the bullets are flying at me. I attempt to stay on a fact-path and eliminate emotion from my conversation. Every once in a while when someone else is being aggressive I’ll succeed in lowering the volume of my voice. In turn, the other person may begin to calm down and lower his or her volume as well. Once the temper is in check, being assertive is much easier. Clear and persuasive arguments can be made in a cool and calm fashion. Now I’m working more on the intensity I convey, particularly with my body language. When I’m feeling quite passionate or positive about something, I can sit forward in my chair and raise my voice a bit – even though I’m not at all angry. I have to try harder to be less animated which some people can misinterpret as aggressiveness.

We are much more likely to reach our goals when we replace aggressiveness with assertiveness. Then the badge of honor we wear is that of positive outcomes instead of trampled feelings.

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.

James Bond