Is It Really a Struggle?

How many times have you heard that entrepreneurship is a struggle? Heck, we’ve all heard how life in general can be a struggle. But is it really? I think it’s worth exploring the notion of “struggling.” Various definitions of the word “struggle” reference adversaries, opposing forces, bodily effort, fight, conflict or contest. I’m just not feeling it.

Let’s paint a picture. Three years ago, Entrepreneur Ed launched his new enterprise. He has encountered many interesting issues along the way. There have been untimely resignations of key team members; nail-biting moments when it was questionable whether he would make payroll; a patent infringement lawsuit; shortages of raw materials that were critical in producing Ed’s product; brutal competition resulting in a price war; cancellation of a liability insurance policy, and the loss of a key customer. Many might say that the last three years have been a “struggle” for Entrepreneur Ed, after all, it appears that he has faced a great deal of adversity. But Ed doesn’t see it that way.

Here is Ed’s perspective. What others see as negative experiences Ed sees as puzzles to solve. Challenging – sure! But Ed believes that what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger and smarter. The utopian view would have us sail along on calm seas growing our businesses from 8 to 5, then going home to play with the kids and spend weekends at the beach. Uh, sorry, it doesn’t work that way. What matters most is the mindset we have as we move through the course of each day. Do we feel like we’re on a perpetual treadmill, grinding away and being attacked from all sides? Do we wonder when the proverbial “other shoe” is going to drop? Perhaps we have become totally overwhelmed to the point of depression. It doesn’t have to be.

Here’s the antidote to the “struggle.” We know we’ve signed on for an adventure – both in the entrepreneurial world and for life in general. That adventure is going to be whatever we make it. If we are fearful and expect disaster . . . we’re likely to find ourselves with a front row seat on the deck of the Titanic as it slowly sinks into the North Atlantic. However, every challenge does not need to end in catastrophe.

We have been rapidly scaling our companies for the past few years. There have been many moments when someone looking in from the outside might believe we were seconds from colliding with a massive iceberg (sorry, I can’t seem to shake out of the Titanic metaphor). I have never believed for a moment that we were on the wrong course. I’ve seen each challenge as a positive opportunity for creativity and growth. And guess what? It’s working! Every time we think we’re flirting with disaster we seem to pull a rabbit out of a hat – except there’s really nothing magical about it at all. Instead, we have a well-thought plan and we have an extremely positive mindset. We know there will be detours along the way. Sometimes we’ll have to backtrack to find the trail, but we are never lost, and we are always focused on our vision.

As I write this, it’s worth noting that I’ve been with the same company and on the same quest for 44 years. I can now look back and realize how incredible the ride has been. Did it ever seem like a struggle? There definitely were times early in my career where I wondered if we were going to survive. But the older (and maybe wiser) I’ve become, the more I’ve come to understand that success comes from within us. While there may be some external influences, it’s really all about how we see the world when we get up in the morning; how we choose to look at each experience throughout the day, and the impression with which we are left when our head hits the pillow at night. In other words, we’ll struggle if we believe we are struggling. Or, we’ll see the incredibly short time we are riding this planet as a golden opportunity for experimentation, innovation, mastery and joy.

We throw off the chains of “struggle” when we embrace a life filled with positive energy and gratitude. And then we can pursue our purposeful vision with confidence.

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.

Winning

“Just concentrate on throwing the ball over the plate rather than breaking the sound barrier and be more varied and selective with your pitches.” That’s the advice catcher Norm Sherry gave to future Hall of Fame pitcher, Sandy Koufax, in 1961. Prior to that Koufax had labored through several seasons of mediocre pitching. Once he solved his control problem, he became nearly unhittable striking out 2,396 batters in his relatively short career. Koufax retired from the game in 1967 at age 30. Without a doubt, he went out a winner.

When we think of winning, what comes to mind? Most of us would say that we have achieved the success of victory – that’s the obvious answer. But when we’re asked how we won, the answer becomes a bit murkier. So, exactly how do we win? Do we simply throw the ball harder than anyone else? Or is there something deeper?

As we study great winners in sports and other walks of life one thing becomes abundantly clear. Great winners are fanatical about the basics and fundamentals of what they do. We’ve all heard how the basics and fundamentals are the foundational elements to success. And yet many times we just want to swing hard and hit the ball into the left field seats. The result is that we often strikeout. Lesson #1 – we’ll strikeout less and win more if we pay attention to how well we are executing the basics and fundamentals of our game. In business, perhaps we have enjoyed a winning streak lately. Human nature may cause us to take our foot off the accelerator and start enjoying the ride. What happens then? Maybe our winning streak comes to an end. We haven’t spent the time and energy continuing to cultivate relationships. We aren’t making the follow-up calls that we used to make. And we aren’t doing the homework necessary to understand what our customers really need and want.

Sandy Koufax would be an anomaly in today’s sports environment. He shunned the spotlight and stayed out of the public eye. He loved violin music – it’s said that Mendelsohn was one of his favorite composers. He chose not to chase the money and quit the game rather than risk further injury to an ailing arm. He was his own man which in itself is a special mindset. Lesson #2 – ignoring the noise in the world around us and maintaining our focus puts us on the path to winning.

Winning is seemingly about competing – right? Well, yes and no. If we are out to “beat” someone else the chances are higher that we won’t. In other words, if we become fixated on how to beat the competition, we’re really ceding our power to someone else. Why? Because our focus has shifted away from what we need to do to execute in the necessary fashion, and we’re now conjuring a methodology that we think will give us a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, we’ve forgotten that the way we win is to ignore the noise around us and execute our game plan in a flawless manner. Lesson #3 – don’t allow our competition to dictate the terms and conditions for winning.

Zig Ziglar famously said, “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” I used the term “special mindset” in this blog. The only thing special is the absolute, 100% core belief that we deserve to win, and we will win. But there’s one more piece to this puzzle. We must relax into winning. If our intensity is too great, we can easily deviate from the basics and fundamentals and overcompensate. I’ve seen terrific baseball pitchers that start losing because they are so amped up that they try to “throw” the ball and over-control it, rather than relaxing and “pitching” the way they know how. Lesson #4 – to win, we must believe that we will and we must remain relaxed while doing so.

Winning is a relatively simple formula that involves always executing the basics and fundamentals; ignoring all the noise that is going on around us; playing our game and not trying to beat the competition and believing without any doubt that we’ll win. Oh, and yes, relax. Putting it altogether ensures that we’ll be Hall of Famers in our own right.

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 Confident Entrepreneur

There is at least one must-have trait for successful entrepreneurs. Without confidence the road is very steep and rocky. College basketball is one of the most interesting demonstrations of how confidence or a lack thereof, can impact outcomes. I’ve watched many a game where the players on a team are tentative. They lack energy and they are missing their shots. Often they are out of position and cannot rebound or chase down loose balls. A few days later the same team plays another game. This time there is fluidity in their motion. They are passing the ball crisply; players are getting nice elevation when they shoot, and the ball is going in the hole. The night-and-day difference between the two contests is that of confidence.

What is the secret to gaining and maintaining confidence? There are several elements that are required. The first is that of “mastery.” Mastery is achieved through constant practice and the repetitive patterning that occurs as our experience builds. This is particularly important for millennials to understand. Fair or not, many millennials are tagged with the stereotype that they have an incredibly high sense of urgency. They don’t want to wait for results and can be impatient at times. However, I’ve seen millennials and people of all ages, try something a couple of times and believe they have mastered it. Then I watch as they try it again and bomb badly. With confidence shaken they are humbled and may become afraid to jump in the water again. All of this could have been avoided had real mastery been achieved. One of the biggest fears in society today is that of public speaking. And the only way to resolve this fear once and for all, is to practice speaking over and over and over. The fear doesn’t suddenly evaporate after a handful of gigs. It took me 50 or 60 times to reach the point that I began to feel comfortable in front of a group.

The second element is that of achieving a history of desired outcomes. It’s one thing to repeat a process enough times to master something. That helps to build confidence. But achieving the results we want is the validation necessary for us to know that we’re on the right track with our mastery. Let’s use our basketball example again. A team may be executing the basics and fundamentals properly; it may be playing strong defense, and the players are running the plays as designed. But if the scoreboard isn’t showing a W for the team on a regular basis, it’s hard to build confidence. I’ve never heard anyone profess that losing all the time builds confidence . . . but winning does. As entrepreneurs we must tweak our approach until we begin to win consistently. For example, if our sales approach isn’t working and we keep doing it the same way, it’s time to start experimenting to learn what it takes to win. After all, there’s no point in “mastering” losing!

The third aspect of building confidence is to always maintain a positive attitude – no matter what. We must believe that eventually we’ll get it right; eventually we will win. I’ve said many times that what we think in mind produces in the outer after its kind. When we believe at our core that we are going to win, eventually we will win. If we have doubts or know in our bones that we’re going to lose, eventually we will lose. I have never seen anyone become more self-confident by having a negative attitude. Attitude is critical to the success of individuals and to the team. If one member of the team is positive and the rest are negative, the confidence of the team will be adversely affected. As entrepreneurial leaders it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our team is unanimous with a positive attitude.

Developing mastery, achieving success and being eternally optimistic are the rocket fuel that will propel us to a perpetual state of self-confidence. This patterning also inoculates us from having our self-confidence shaken when from time-to-time we might stumble. We’ve been there before. We know what we must do, and we are able to re-calibrate and get back on track with ease and grace. There is no panic or desperation – we simply remember to follow the formula that has worked so well in the past.

Building self-confidence is a process much like riding a bicycle. Once learned, we may fall off on rare occasion; but when we do we get up, dust ourselves off and start riding the bike again like it never happened.

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.

Permanent Footprints in the Sand

My mother used to cite an old saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” We entrepreneurs should heed Mom’s advice. One of the most challenging aspects of building a business is interacting with our team members. There are people who are extremely committed and dedicated. Others are sleepwalking through the day for the sole purpose of collecting a paycheck. And there are many more who are somewhere in between.

As frustrating as it may be at times, I’ve come to realize that the “honey” approach is definitely the most productive. Helping build people up is much more gratifying and yields far better results, than tearing them down. Let’s focus for just a moment on the notion of “tearing them down.” It’s obvious that a boss who yells, screams and belittles his employees is “tearing them down.” But there are also other behaviors that fall into this category even though they are less apparent. For example, triangulating about another person can be just as destructive as making derogatory remarks to their face. Triangulation in this context, means talking with someone in a negative manner about another person. This does nothing to advance the cause and can likely get back to the person who is the subject of the conversation. Another example is actually an act of omission. This is where we know someone could perform better if we offered our assistance, but we decline to do so. Finally, the entrepreneur who is constantly critical about everything someone does is certainly not building them up.

The central premise for how we go about building others up is really quite simple. We think about how we would want to be treated and then do so for the other person. As long as we keep this foundational element front and center, we will be well on our way to being a positive force in the development of our team. Often this will require keeping our emotions in check. When things go off the rails do we automatically look for someone to blame? Or do we take a deep breath and look for the opportunity to coach? An added benefit is something else I’ve discovered. When members of the team don’t have to live in fear of making a mistake, they are much more likely to own it when they make one and much more inclined to share bad news in a timely and truthful manner.

Somewhere I read that we should offer five compliments for every one criticism. I’m not sure of the scientific basis for this ratio, but the intent makes sense. People always value feedback – especially when it’s positive. My middle school grandson is a case in point. All children at this stage of life tend to be insecure. I spend a great deal of time praising him for his accomplishments and encouraging him when he fails. Rather than be critical of his shortcomings I ask him how he might do something differently the next time. I make sure he knows that I believe in him and know that he can accomplish whatever he sets out to do. I’ve watched as he’s become more and more confident as he gets older.

The concept is no different with our adult team members. The more of a positive approach we take, the more likely we are to realize the right kind of results. This is particularly true with Millennial team members. We’ve found that Millennials place a high value on coaching and mentoring. This is a clear signal that the command and control managerial style of the past does not work for them. They are looking for a collaborative relationship with their teammates as well as their managers. And what a terrific opportunity this is for us to learn how to work on our “build them up” skills.

“Building them up,” means asking permission to offer constructive suggestions. It means making recommendations rather than issuing orders. It means explaining the bigger picture when assigning a project and it means making certain that the team member understands what value his or her participation brings to the overall effort. Accusations are out. Clear and direct communications are in. Brutal honesty is out and warm candor is in. Celebrating success and constantly expressing gratitude are definitely in.

When we look for ways to build others up our lives are enriched and our enterprises will thrive. This is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to others and will leave permanent footprints in the sand that represent the time we spend walking this planet.

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 118 – Celebrate Good Times.

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.

Narrow Guardrails

Consider the following conversation that an entrepreneur named George is having with himself. “I really would like to accept the invitation to speak to the Downtown Civic Club. But I’m afraid I’ll be too nervous.” Here’s a similar conversation being held in the head of Megan, another budding entrepreneur. “I just don’t know. Maybe I should apply for that fellowship – but the odds aren’t in my favor to win.” And finally, Entrepreneur Don is thinking, “I’m reluctant to invest in a new product line because I’m not convinced it can succeed.”

But there’s more of a story behind each of these “conversations.” For George, he remembers the time several years ago when he made a presentation at a conference and was unprepared – he bombed. Megan recalls once applying for a highly coveted membership in a leadership organization. The process was very competitive and Megan’s application was rejected. Finally, Don previously invested in a product line that failed and he lost a chunk of change on the idea. I’m going to use a descriptive phrase for what is happening that will probably demonstrate a generation gap. What George, Megan and Don are doing is “playing old tapes.” Some younger members of the audience who may not know what “tapes” are. In the old days, some of us “old people” listened to music and dialogue on a thin magnetized strip of plastic film. There were reel-to-reel tapes, eight track tapes and cassette tapes to name a few “tape” formats.

To “play old tapes” is to recall negative experiences from the past and make decisions today based upon those experiences. Playing old tapes generally embraces the notion of lack and limitation. It’s based in fear – often an irrational fear – that shakes our confidence. Over time, these old tapes can have a paralyzing effect for an entrepreneur. Eventually we can fall into a rut with narrow guardrails that are reflective of our past failures. What we really want to do is to venture off this rutted road to nowhere and get back on the freeway that will take us to our dreams.

Getting rid of old tapes is harder than it sounds, but it can (and must) be done. First, we embrace who we are right now. We cannot change the past. There’s not a single person alive today who hasn’t made mistakes. And I think it’s safe to say that all of us have made many. We should use the past for its instructive elements while discarding the emotional aspects of how it felt to be embarrassed, hurt or even shamed. The instructive element for George is to always be sufficiently prepared for future presentations. It’s in his best interest to release the humiliation that he carries for it serves no purpose. In a sense, it’s time to get rid of the rearview mirror.

Once we have determined the instructive elements from our past mistakes and thrown out the emotional rearview mirror, we move on to the next step. What exactly does our success look like? For Megan, she holds an image in her mind’s eye. She sees herself attending a luncheon with hundreds of other people. And at the appointed time, she hears her name being called and watches as she walks to the stage to receive congratulations for winning the fellowship. This visualization is powerful and is a “tape” worth playing over and over. In so doing, we pattern our brain to be receptive to the success that awaits us.

Finally, we celebrate by making new “tapes.” This is accomplished by rejoicing in the small victories that we constantly encounter. We entrepreneurs think big. We set lofty goals and we are always pushing for the big wins. But we tend to overlook the small wins we experience every single day. Entrepreneur Don realizes that his sales are growing at a respectable pace. His team has been 100% intact for four years. His defective product returns are zero. All of these factors are wins and Don should take pride in their achievement. He now sees that he’s on the right track and is perfectly capable of making the right decisions.

We stop the process of playing old tapes by discerning the instructive elements from our past mistakes and eliminating the negative emotions that we remember. Then we repeatedly visualize our success and celebrate the wins we are experiencing on a daily basis. The end result is a completely new set of positive tapes that are free of lack and limitation.

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 52 – Ice and Eskimos.

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.

Ethan and Emma

Entrepreneur Ethan and Entrepreneur Emma are similar in a lot of ways. They have built successful businesses from the ground up; are creators of innovative products, and are considered by their peers as visionaries. But there is a major difference between them. Probably the best way to explain this difference is to observe them in action.

One morning, Ethan’s production manager enters his office at which point Ethan launches into an inquisition. Apparently there is an issue on the assembly line and Ethan wants to get to the bottom of it. The production manager begins to explain the problem, but Ethan interrupts and cuts him off. He raises his voice and his face turns red – it’s obvious that he’s agitated. Eventually he stands up, paces and gestures frequently.

Across town, Emma is meeting with her sales manager who is explaining issues involving a downturn in sales. Emma sits calmly and listens to the entire presentation. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments and then asks several very direct questions. Her expression never changes as her clear blue eyes focus like lasers on her associate. Emma is the picture of composure and finally offers her opinion in a steady and measured voice.

How would we characterize the behavior of Ethan? And how about that of Emma? The word that describes Ethan is “aggressive” and the word that describes Emma is “assertive.” There’s no question that Ethan was heavy handed in his approach with the production manager. It’s almost like he was trying to overpower the guy. By contrast Emma was able to demonstrate her leadership forcefully without showing anger.

Assertiveness or aggressiveness – which is the more effective leadership style? While it may depend upon the circumstances, assertiveness has a higher probability to successfully influence others. Think about it. Are we more receptive to someone who is positive or someone who is negative? An assertive leader may be straightforward and even direct, but never belittles or resorts to intimidation.

Why are some leaders too aggressive? I believe that one explanation could be a lack of confidence, some sort of insecurity, or a combination of both. People who are concerned about being “found out” may use aggressiveness as a smokescreen. Leaders who are overly aggressive may cause morale problems. When negative energy is created it is difficult to maintain a productive environment. Aggressive people may be prone to mercurial outbursts and unnerving stares which further contribute to the unhealthy atmosphere that has been created.

For entrepreneurs building a business (and anyone else for that matter), a gut check is in order to determine one’s position on the aggression meter. Aggressive tendencies can be tempered when we learn how to become more assertive. And the first step is to recognize when our aggressive behavior is about to go on display. It’s important to identify a trigger that alerts us that we need to shift gears. This will require some real introspection to make this discovery. Then we must emulate the behavior of an assertive person. We become impassive with our facial features. We project calm. We lower the volume of our voice and we show respect for those with whom we interact. Changing one’s reputation as an aggressive personality is a tall order. But with awareness and effort such a change can be accomplished.

Assertiveness is a positive quality that can enhance our leadership style. And through awareness and commitment it’s possible to eliminate aggressive tendencies and replace them with the assertive traits that are desirable.

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 50 – The Last Word.

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.

Leap Year

It’s Leap Year! When you check on this statement you may be confused because it might not be officially true – at least according to the calendar. But from an entrepreneur’s perspective, it’s Leap Year. OK – some additional set-up is in order. Let’s think about where we are in our lives and in our careers. What have we achieved? Does it seem like we may be putting one foot in front of the other and carefully walking down the street? Is something holding us back from bursting into a full sprint? Do we have a gnawing feeling that we’re behind the curve and maybe even falling short?

I’d like to tell you a story about a friend of mine. I have his permission to share this, so I’m not talking out-of-school. More than 15 years ago he asked me if I could mentor him in a life-coaching sense. He had a great job with a well-known and highly respected company and was climbing the ladder. He had the opportunity to move to another city with the same company and eagerly did so. He continued to excel in the corporate world and was financially secure. But he was yearning for something more.

This individual had a passion for the outdoors and loved to go rock climbing and whitewater rafting. It was his release from the stress of his daily routine. Eventually this passion became a part-time business. My friend began guiding trips for other entrepreneurs that had a similar passion for the outdoors. He became a master at juggling his day job with his new hobby-business. Ultimately, his yearning overtook the conservative, safe side of him and he quit his very lucrative corporate job to work for himself. Today, I am proud of the fact that he has built a successful company providing a wide range of guided outdoor excursions to a variety of destinations.

Of course the path taken by my friend was neither direct nor smooth. He struggled mightily to make the final decision to take the Big Leap. But in the end he did and it has paid off mightily for him. He is a happy man who is in charge of his own destiny and blessed to be able to provide a good life for his family. So, how did he do it?

The Big Leap is undoubtedly different for each of us. But it requires some of the same basic elements. First, is the element of Strong Desire. Do we really want it? The Big Leap can happen when Strong Desire becomes overwhelming. We really, really want something to happen. It’s stuck in our consciousness every day. It’s a craving. All we can think about is that which we envision becoming a reality for us.

The second element is that of Knowledge. My friend amassed considerable Knowledge by experimenting with his business ideas while still working his full-time corporate job. He did this for a period of years – not weeks or months – and was able to learn what worked and what didn’t. He achieved a deep understanding of the market opportunities as well as the pitfalls to avoid. And the more Knowledge he gained, the more his Strong Desire became even stronger.

The third element is that of Confidence. I watched with admiration as my friend’s Confidence soared over time. His Strong Desire supported by Knowledge had become a quest. We worked through an Opportunities-to-Fail exercise where we inventoried all of the risks we could think of and how he would mitigate those risks. This all unfolded in a measured way. We didn’t rush but we also didn’t tarry. His Confidence grew as the result of a process.

Finally, the last element of the Big Leap is that of Faith. I’m not referring to Faith in a religious sense. Instead it’s a belief that goes beyond the empirical nature of Confidence. In this case, my friend had reached the point where his Strong Desire, Knowledge and Confidence coalesced to produce a belief that he would absolutely succeed. Oh sure, there were still moments of doubt. But they didn’t shake his Faith that he would be able to make his new venture work.

We can make every year Leap Year. When we’re ready to shake out of the same-old, same-old and take that next big step, we can do so when the four elements of Strong Desire, Knowledge, Confidence and Faith are combined to buttress the big idea that we have.

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 30 – 980 by 600.

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.

skydiving