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

Just Do It

Nike’s corporate tag line is “Just Do It.” And that could be the tag line for many companies of all sizes. Leaders at all levels send the message of “Just Do It” to their “charges.” This notion boils down to a command and control style of management. And I probably don’t need to point out how poorly this approach works with today’s Millennial workforce. We Boomers grew up in this environment and may have a tendency to continue its practice. Perhaps it’s time for something different.

I know that many entrepreneurs agree in principle with a more collaborative style of leadership. Yet, the language that is used may belie this agreement. Examine the following statement that rolls up many of the words used into a massive contradiction with collaboration. Mr. Smith is a senior executive with the ABC Company and he’s describing a recent business win for his company.

My employees really came through with this project. I have a hundred people working under me and every one of them did their jobs like they were supposed to. I set their goals and they achieved them. I’ve been focused on this opportunity for a long time. I love winning this way!”

At first blush Mr. Smith seems to be giving credit for the win to others. But the way he says it indicates that he isn’t yet a convert to a more enlightened style of leadership. Note the highlighted words. It’s pretty clear that he’s in charge here and other people have done his bidding.

Entrepreneurs can change this narrative. When we are comfortable in our own skin we are easily able to eliminate the unhealthy aspects of our ego from our interactions with others. It’s often the case that having to take the credit for an accomplishment or reinforcing the fact that we were “at the top of the food chain” is a result of our own lack of confidence or some other insecurity. With our new level of comfort we are able to relax, smile and become totally humble.

Here’s another version of the previous statement. Mr. Doe is a senior executive with XYZ, Inc. and is celebrating a recent success.

“The XYZ team is amazing! They worked together to establish the goal and drew upon our Core Values to develop a winning strategy. We are so appreciative of each and every one of the hundred team members who worked tirelessly on this project for more than a year. Their commitment, dedication and creativity are the reasons for our success.”

Sounds a little different doesn’t it? There’s not a single mention of the words “I,” “me” or “my.” The word “employee” has been replaced with “team member.” Mr. Doe simply delivers the message without allowing his ego to enter the picture. It’s clear that Mr. Doe’s team members work “with” him – not “under” him. I’ve written before about how we need to be intentional about modifying our vernacular away from “I,” “me,” and “my,” and changing to “we,” “us,” and “our.”

Collaborative leadership is not decision making by committee – as a leader we still make the ultimate critical decisions. Collaborative leadership is about seeking out team members and listening to their thoughts and ideas. It is valuing others as human beings and the contribution they make to the enterprise. It is about having empathy and creating a culture of respect. And it is about using the words we say as a reflection of all of these factors.

When we think about what we write and say we can ask ourselves this simple question – “Do my words focus the spotlight on me or on others?” Doing so helps us move away from the old command and control approach of the past.

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 – https://anentrepreneurswords.com/audio-podcast-17-sleepless-in-seattle/.

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.

george-patton

980 by 600

I saw a video clip the other day of the Haohan Qiao Bridge that stretches 980 feet between two cliffs in China’s Shiniuizhai National Geological Park. It’s a suspension footbridge that is extremely unique in one particular sense . . . it’s made of glass. As you walk (or crawl) across, you see through the glass floor and look straight down 600 feet to the canyon below. We’re told that the glass is 25 times stronger than ordinary glass and if it breaks it is so dense that a person won’t fall through.

What’s interesting about this bridge is the fact that it’s bold, it’s big AND it’s safe (we’ll assume for the moment that what we’re being told about the bridge’s safety is correct). This bridge is the perfect metaphor for what we’re trying to accomplish as entrepreneurs. There’s nothing wrong with small-ball, but after playing this way for a number of years we sometimes yearn to take that big leap across the canyon. Doing so requires that we push beyond our comfort zone and summon a fearlessness that we may not have previously experienced.

What prevents us from taking big and bold action? Often it’s a question of safety. We’ve invested much in the way of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today and we don’t want to risk our bank account, our 401(k), our home, our health, our reputation and yes, the possibility of failure. The risk of failure is likely the Number One reason we don’t take those big and bold steps. The rest of the risks can be successfully managed. We use them as “why not” reasons, but ultimately it all boils down to the chance that we might fail.

What does failure look like to you? Many of us are programmed to abhor failure. In school, getting an F was something to dread. Our parents were disappointed. We thought we looked stupid in the eyes of our classmates. There was real shame associated with this letter grade. Throughout our lives we have been conditioned to avoid failure at all costs. And so we say things like, “I don’t want to go all-in on my business idea because I can’t afford to put my family at risk.” But at the root of it, we are afraid to get that paper back from the teacher with a red F in the upper right hand corner.

I’ve said many times that failure is simply an unfinished experiment in the laboratory of life. Failed experiments can sometimes be the only way we eventually get it right. I’ve started numerous business ventures that failed. In one case we raised investor money to fund a particular concept but could not get the traction we were looking for. Within a few months we realized that we were going to fail and so we gave everyone’s money back and shut down the venture. The goodwill from the early recognition of our failure and the act of returning the investment capital enabled us to build even stronger relationships with those investors who have invested in subsequent ventures. Long ago I realized that there is nothing to be ashamed about when we fail, and maintain our integrity in doing so. I just haven’t figured out how to go big and bold without the risk of failure somewhere in the equation.

Here’s the bottom line. Step One – think big and then think bigger. Step Two – focus on how to mitigate the risks that could be associated with failing when launching that big (bigger) idea. Step Three – release the ego and realize that failure doesn’t diminish us as individuals. Step Four – create a solid implementation plan. Step Five – GO FOR IT!

Going big and bold is a process to be managed. But it also means that we have to get out of our own way to deny the insecurities and perceptions of failure that prevent us from moving forward.

 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.

glass bridge.

Reality Superstar

There are many acts we perform as entrepreneurs that are very similar to walking on a tightrope. They require just the right amount of focus, nerve-control and balance to keep from falling into the abyss. You are probably experiencing one or more right now. But here’s one to which you may not have given much thought. How do we be an “all-in optimist” and yet maintain a perspective that is grounded in reality? Another way of putting it is, “how do we see reality through rose-colored glasses?”

Let’s face it; sometimes reality bites. We prefer not to look at the downside which may lead us to fantasize about the upside. Eventually our point of view becomes one of hope which should not be confused with optimism. Rick Page wrote a great book a number of years ago entitled, Hope Is Not a Strategy. He’s right. I’ve tried to remove “hope” from my belief system. To me, the concept of hope conveys a sense of passivity. I’m more interested in assertively taking action in such a way that there is no room for hope in the equation.

If there is no hope and we must face reality, how can we possibly be optimistic? I believe that there is a way to be very optimistic about almost every situation while still understanding and living in reality. First, we must assess and face the downside head-on. This means that we need to take an objective look at the situation and in a cold and calculating fashion determine the facts – whatever they may be, good and bad. There is no room in this process for ignoring, denying or rationalizing. It’s critical that we inventory everything.

Next, we look at the facts and develop a complete understanding of the risks at hand. We must look at every risk as an opportunity to fail. Identifying the risks puts us in a position to figure out how we’ll mitigate those risks. So let’s review so far. We’ve recorded all of the facts we know about a situation – good and bad. We’ve determined the risks and mitigated them. And now we want to stack the deck in our favor. We do this by creating a clear path to win. Think about it this way. Suppose you are the captain of a sailboat. You need to get from Point A to Point B. But you know that there are many rocks, shoals, severe currents and other dangers lurking beneath the water. Before you set sail, you take charts, weather conditions, current sailor reports, and every other piece of information you can get your hands on. You then plot your course (creating a clear path to win) around the obstacles (mitigating the risks you identified from your fact-finding effort).

The last step in this process is that of holding a positive mindset. This should be relatively easy because you know the clear path that you need to take to win. And you’ve already planned for known and unknown challenges. The end result is that you possess an air of confidence, for in your positive state of mind, you know without a doubt that you are going to sail the waters smoothly, calmly and successfully. Now that’s optimism!

Becoming a Reality Superstar requires that we be optimistic. Optimism goes hand-in-hand with reality when we utilize a fact-based process to embrace the challenges that we experience. No longer do we need to hold onto hope, because we are supremely confident of our success.

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.

pigs-fly