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

Master’s Degree

What would you think of an entrepreneur who says that he or she will give his strategy to his/her competition? The sporting metaphor would be the equivalent of a football coach giving away his playbook. Is this total insanity? Why would we lay out our game plan for competitors that are trying to beat our brains out? I’m not advocating that we do this but I do believe that the hype over being secretive about business strategies may be overblown. Why? Because I don’t believe that the strategy itself is as important as the execution of that strategy.

It’s completely true that most entrepreneurs need to spend more time working on their business than in their business. Translation – entrepreneurs need to be more strategic and less tactical, which is not an easy task in small organizations. But what trumps everything is the effective and successful implementation of a strategy. If we lay out our strategy for a competitor, that doesn’t necessarily mean that our competitor will beat us with it. Our strategy was developed with extensive input from a number of stakeholders in our company. It evolved through our culture and is nuanced by a wide range of variables that are specific to our enterprise. It’s highly unlikely that our competitor can implement our strategy as well as we can

So, if it’s principally about execution, how does an entrepreneur ensure that this process achieves success? Execution is a mixture of tangible and intangible factors. First, the team must have confidence in its abilities; in the strategy; in the data that is foundational to the strategy, and in the resources that must be brought to bear to implement the strategy. Hand-in-hand with this confidence is the trust factor. Team members must totally trust each other to fulfill their roles and be accountable accordingly. Without this trust, the execution of a strategy is impossible.

Sound strategies are often developed with the experience of members of the implementing team in mind. A strategy to manufacture and sell a particular type of product assumes that the engineers designing it and the equipment operators on the line have the minimum level of experience needed to turn out a flawless finished product.  In addition to experience there’s an assumption that team members have certain skills that will be married with experience to deliver the product at a cost and level of quality that results in happy customers and a financial profit to the company.

Strategy execution involves a myriad of mechanics. Translation – there’s a well-thought comprehensive process that enables a step-by-step methodology from start to finish. This process encompasses everything from market research, engineering and design, procurement of raw materials (still assuming a manufactured product for illustration purposes), production, quality control, marketing, sales, shipping, customer service, billing and collections . . . the list goes on. The point here is that the mechanics of implementation are vital to successful strategy execution.

Finally, the team must have a winning mindset. This goes beyond confidence. It’s about truly believing that without question the strategy will win. It’s about visualizing success. True believer team members celebrate their impending success on a daily basis. The culture is upbeat and positive. It is focused on honoring the team AND the customer. The winning mindset transcends confidence and envisions the strategy as already implemented in perfect order.

The ability to execute a strategy defines an entrepreneur and his or her organization. Some can and many cannot. Entrepreneurs who can consistently blend all of the right ingredients are masters of implementation.

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.

Football Playbook

Oh Those Surly Bonds

I’m proud to say that I’m an entrepreneur in a state of denial. And I suggest that you too should be in a similar state of denial. Why you ask, would an entrepreneur want to be in denial? After all, we’re eternal optimists and have a never-say-die approach to everything . . . right? Here’s what I’m in denial about.

I deny fear. I realize that fear freezes me into a state of inertia, or causes me to make irrational decisions. Fear saps my energy and causes me to ride an emotional roller-coaster. Fear robs me of my creativity and my initiative. I will not be afraid.

I deny all thoughts of self-doubt. Self-doubt is my mortal enemy. It causes me to question my instincts and clouds my intuition. I become tentative and worry about making mistakes. Self-doubt destroys my confidence and causes me to question my abilities. I will not allow self-doubt to manifest in my life.

I deny any belief that I’m a victim. There may be times when I feel that I’ve been wronged or believe someone has done something that prevents my success. I realize that when I feel victimized I’m giving away my power to someone else. Playing the victim fills me with negative energy. I will not be a victim to anyone for anything.

I deny all thoughts of lack and limitation. I stop myself when I start to utter phrases such as, “I can’t because,” “I’m not able,” and “if only.” My entrepreneurial spirit is dulled when I think that I am limited in some way. I realize that the only limitations I have are those that I place upon myself. I will not allow thoughts of lack and limitation to creep into my consciousness.

Being in denial about fear, self-doubt, beliefs of victimization, and thoughts of lack and limitation is only the first of two critical steps. It’s not enough to simply deny these negative factors. We must replace them with positive action-oriented affirmations. I deny fear and embrace faith. I deny self-doubt and have total confidence in who I am and what I’m doing. I deny any belief that I’m a victim and take full responsibility for my actions. I deny all thoughts of lack and limitation and know that my opportunities have no bounds.

Denying that which will inhibit me and affirming the positive direction I will take, allows me to release the surly bonds that hold me. And then I can soar to new heights.

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.

space-shuttle-atlantis

Speak to Me

Question: Recently I was asked to speak before an industry group. I’m very nervous about giving this presentation. How can I get rid of the butterflies and give a talk for which I can be proud?

Answer: Public speaking offers a terrific opportunity to share knowledge and gain exposure for your organization and yourself. And yet it’s something that a large percentage of the population fears . . . even dreads. Why is that? I believe that the main reason is that we are so afraid of what other people will think of us. What if we make a mistake? Will we be viewed as not having the expertise that we want to project? Perhaps we measure ourselves against the lofty speaking styles of those we perceive to be great orators.

As with most things, successful public speaking is all about mindset. We can allow the fear to consume us or we can turn the tables and actually embrace the opportunity. Think about this. The choice is very clear – consuming fear or a joyful embrace. Assuming that we choose to embrace the opportunity we then must continuously affirm how positively excited and grateful we are to be making the presentation. Making this choice is Step One in the process.

Step Two is to determine the style of speaking that is best suited for us. I detest standing behind a podium and reading a speech. Instead, I need to connect with my audience. I’ve adopted a style where I take a microphone and walk around the room – almost like a town hall format. I ask questions of the audience and encourage their feedback throughout my presentation. Thus, I do not put myself in situations where I can’t adapt the presentation to my style. And when I’ve been asked to stand behind a podium and read a speech, I’m generally able to re-work the format into my walk-around more casual approach. Finding the right style of speaking is a critical step toward a successful presentation.

Step Three is to practice, practice and practice. I recommend that you practice your presentation at least three times in front of other people if possible. The more you practice the more confident you will become. Practice also will allow you to become more fluid in your delivery and to fine tune some of the details that you wish to present.

So, now we have continuously embraced the opportunity with a positive attitude. We have developed a speaking style that is just right for us. And we’ve practiced our presentation multiple times. Now the moment of truth has arrived and perhaps we’re feeling a little jittery. Try “leaning into” the jitters. Instead of allowing them to nibble at our confidence, we turn the anxiety into excitement. Try exclaiming, “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to make the best presentation I’ve ever made in my life!” Say it multiple times along with a few deep breaths, and we’re ready to rock-and-roll.

Speaking in public is an honor. Presenting over and over ensures that we’ll become highly proficient. And then the feeling we get when we’re finished is that of supreme satisfaction.

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.

public speaking

Big Mo

Question: Some people seem to be on a roll with everything going their way. How can I get some of that?

Answer: What you are suggesting is like a sports team. The team begins to win some games and the next thing you know they’ve put together a pretty impressive winning streak. Did you know that the 1916 New York Giants baseball team won 26 games in a row? The college basketball UCLA Bruins recorded 88 consecutive wins between 1971 and 1974. And at 17 – 0 the 1972 Miami Dolphins was the only NFL team to win the Super Bowl with a perfect season.

What did these teams have in common? They were able to use their talent optimally. They executed the basics and fundamentals of the sport they were playing. They had a solid game plan. They were well-coached. They had confidence and faith in their abilities. And they absolutely positively believed that they would win. What a powerful combination of factors! Blended together they created momentum.

We’ve all seen momentum in our business and personal lives. A company creates a winning product and can do no wrong. It captures an ever increasing percentage of market share and then garners a lot of favorable press. This in turn creates more demand for its product and feeds the momentum. But how do we build momentum for ourselves and our businesses? What if we don’t have that magical product or service that gets all the buzz?

We can create our own momentum following the same pattern as the great sports teams that put together incredible winning streaks. It’s incumbent upon us to assemble a team that has top flight talent. Are there team members who don’t have the talent we need? If so, it will be difficult to gain momentum. Do we pay attention to the basics and fundamentals of our business? Is our customer service second-to-none? Is our product the best that we can build? Do we have a sound business strategy? Our game plan must be well-thought and proven to work successfully. How can we create a winning streak if we don’t have such a strategy in place? Is our team well-coached? Do we micro-manage our teammates? Are people held accountable? All of these elements will build momentum. But there’s one thing that will push us over the top and sustain that momentum. Do we have confidence in our abilities? Do we really truly believe that we will win? Individuals and teams that continuously win have an everyday belief that they will always win. And if they do suffer a loss, they get right back in the winning groove the next day.

The most powerful aspect of momentum is faith. It’s the humble belief that we have the ability to win and nothing can shake that belief. There’s never a shadow of a doubt in our being that we will succeed. Believe in momentum and it will be so.

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.

locomotives