The Blessed Entrepreneur

We all have aspirations. So, what kind of an entrepreneur do we aspire to be? I would like to be a Blessed Entrepreneur. How would this manifest?

The Blessed Entrepreneur has a rock-solid set of principles and core values. He or she marches to a tune of integrity and honor. Decisions are made in part with an eye toward how others are helped and most certainly an avoidance of intentionally hurting anyone. The purest test of this individual comes when a choice must be made between earning substantial profits by “cutting corners” or doing the right thing that generates little or no gain.

The Blessed Entrepreneur sees the glass not half empty or half full. This person sees many glasses overflowing and is always in deep gratitude for such bounty. A completely positive mindset is one of the strongest attributes of the Blessed Entrepreneur. Thoughts of lack and limitation are quickly swept away with optimism and hope; then translated into process and action that preordains the desired outcomes. Even moments of doubt and challenge are transformed into opportunity and silver linings.

The Blessed Entrepreneur exudes a quiet confidence. There is no arrogance – only competence. This confidence evolves through knowledge, experience and selflessness. The Blessed Entrepreneur is never too proud to ask for help or admit ignorance about a particular subject or situation. He or she is totally comfortable in his or her own skin. There’s no need to “put on airs” or pretend to be someone they’re not.

The Blessed Entrepreneur is the quintessential leader. This person is a role model and a collaborator. A command and control style is never utilized. Coaching is the approach most favored and a clear vision is continuously articulated. The Blessed Entrepreneur inspires members of the team to do better and be better. He or she is always looking for ways to recognize the accomplishments and success of others. An intentionally positive culture is developed and nurtured.

The Blessed Entrepreneur understands his or her priorities. Outside of a vocation, this individual has a strong focus on living a healthy lifestyle. This includes regular exercise, eating right and getting regular medical checkups. The Blessed Entrepreneur is aware that good health impacts all other aspects of his or her life. Similarly, this person also pays attention to the family unit, spending quality time with a spouse or partner, children, parents, grandparents and other family members. Most important of all, being fully present defines quality time.

The Blessed Entrepreneur is financially prosperous but not because wealth is his or her goal. Instead, a passion for a profession drives this person to excel and discover new opportunities. This passion unlocks a powerful creative flow that results in amazing success. And part of this success can be measured in a level of financial benefit that becomes a by-product of the overall effort.

The Blessed Entrepreneur embraces change and fearlessly pursues innovative solutions to problems that are faced. The prospects of change stimulate excitement and a desire to lead the process that enables an orderly transition. There’s no hand wringing about the past – only a positive outlook for the future with an expectation that every day will be even better than the last. This attitude converts to boundless energy that is infectious for all those with whom contact is made.

Finally, the Blessed Entrepreneur lives a life of service to others. He or she is always looking for ways to offer a helping hand without quid pro quo. There is no need or anticipation for accolades and recognition. The Blessed Entrepreneur has an innate ability to spot those who need assistance whether it be a colleague, a friend, a family member or even a stranger. This giving of one’s self may be small in nature or significant – it matters not.

Blessed Entrepreneurs lead complete and satisfying lives. They are committed to their aspirations which becomes inspirational for the rest of us.

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 Modern Day Entrepreneurial Leader

Are you an entrepreneurial leader? Leadership is such a broad topic that there are scores of books and blogs that focus on nothing else. Let’s scratch the surface by focusing on what leadership means in an entrepreneurial environment.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is humble. He or she happily gives credit to others for successes realized by the enterprise. By being comfortable in his/her own skin, this entrepreneur delights in shining the spotlight on members of the team who achieve and excel. He or she is also quick to take the blame if something goes wrong. And there’s no pointing of fingers at team members who failed when this happens. This entrepreneur realizes that leadership is all about building other people up – not tearing them down.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is always aware of others with whom he or she is interacting. This entrepreneur acknowledges them and shows genuine interest in their wellbeing. Expressing gratitude and appreciation is first nature for this person. Regardless of another individual’s station in life, the modern day entrepreneurial leader treats everyone in the same positive and uplifting manner. A smile, eye contact and a heartfelt “thank you” are equally extended to the barista in the coffee shop, the checker in the grocery store and the Fortune 500 CEO.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader always eats last. This may occur literally at the company’s annual picnic, or metaphorically on payday. If a venture is struggling to gain traction and is short on cash, this entrepreneur will make sure everyone else on the team gets paid first. In some instances this leader will even max out a credit card to bridge the gap until revenues from the enterprise provide the necessary cash to keep going.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is strategic. He or she understands the difference between strategy and tactics and works tirelessly to refine a winning strategy. This strategy is then communicated effectively to each team member who understands exactly how they fit in the organization and what their roles and accountabilities are. The entrepreneur spends more time working “on” his/her business than working “in” it.

While being strategic, the modern day entrepreneurial leader isn’t afraid to get his/her hands dirty either. If there’s a job to be done and no one to do it, this leader jumps in to fill the gap. This could mean anything from answering a phone on the switchboard, making a sales call, spending an hour on the production line (because the individual normally assigned suddenly became ill), to cleaning snow off the front entry stoop. The entrepreneur never believes that any of these tasks are “beneath” him or her.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is a visionary. He or she can clearly articulate the organization’s vision in a way that is understandable to all involved. And this leader is constantly looking at the industry, the enterprise and the customer to find new ways to innovate. The result may be the creation or refinement of products and services as well as ideas for streamlining the way those products and services are delivered.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader understands the value proposition and can differentiate his or her products/services. This can be a major problem for businesses at all stages of the lifecycle. A muddled approach to the value proposition can lead to confusion and apathy in the marketplace. This leader makes certain that the benefit of his/her products or services is very clear to the customer, and it’s easy to see that such benefits are significantly greater than with competing products or services.

Finally, the modern day entrepreneurial leader is the leading advocate of core values for the enterprise. He or she is always modeling them and high-fiving team members who do the same. These core values aren’t window dressing, but instead are foundational elements for the daily operation of the organization. This leader is also laser-focused on building a strong and positive culture. There is a realization that having the right team members on the bus is paramount and the entrepreneur works tirelessly to ensure that individuals who are not a cultural fit are excused from the enterprise. Further, each team member always knows where he or she stands from a performance perspective. This leader does not use blunt honesty that could harm morale. Instead he or she practices the approach of warm candor where a team member understands where improvement is needed without being destroyed in the process.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is the complete package. He or she is humble; easily expresses gratitude; puts his/her needs secondary to other team members; is strategic; isn’t afraid to get dirty hands; is a visionary; understands the value proposition, and is the leading advocate for core values and culture.

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 105 – The Case of the Frozen Hostage.

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 Handshake Heard Around the World

Recently we offered a managerial position to a prospective team member. All of the background screening was complete and he accepted the offer. We even had a firm starting date and appreciated the fact that he felt that he needed to give a two week notice to his current employer. A few days before his starting date he let us know that he wouldn’t be coming to work with us after all. It seems that his employer had offered him $12,000 more annually and he was going to stay put. There is so much wrong with this that I don’t know exactly where to start. Of course this isn’t the first time this has happened. And I know that other businesses have encountered the same thing.

From the prospective team member’s standpoint I have a real problem with this individual making a commitment and then reneging. Oh, I’ve heard all sorts of rationalization. “This is just the way of the world today.” Or, “You can’t really blame someone for wanting to simply take care of his family.” And, “This is classic Millennial behavior.” To all of this I say . . . hogwash. Strong relationships are built on commitment. It’s this way in a marriage, in a friendship, in business and certainly between an employer and an employee. Yet, some people see a potential job shift as a way to force their current employer to give them a raise – never mind that they’ve led their prospective employer down the primrose path.

Let’s look at the other side of the equation. By offering more money not to leave, the current employer is effectively saying to its employee, “We’ve been underpaying you all along and we knew it.” How does this reflect on the commitment of the employer? How is it that on one day an employee is worth what he has been paid all along, and the next day he’s suddenly worth $12,000 a year more? Why would the employee want to continue working for a company that does this?

One of our company’s five core values is Commitment. It’s definition – “We hold ourselves accountable and deliver on our promises.” Our rationale – “When we are fully committed, we are reliable and work diligently. Our commitment fosters dedication and loyalty.” We also wrap this core value with individual and organizational actions. From an individual perspective, “I take responsibility for my roles and accountabilities and strive to surpass expectations. I do what I say; I follow through and take ownership for my actions. I contribute constructive input for our company when requested or when needed.” From an organizational perspective, “Our leaders follow through and honor their commitments. Our leaders strive to make decisions keeping in mind the company, team members, customers and stakeholders. Our leaders are dedicated to supporting their team members so they can fulfill their commitments.”

In 1975, I interviewed for several jobs as I was about to graduate from college. I agreed to work for my current company and was immediately contacted by another prospective employer and offered a position that would have paid more. The thought never crossed my mind to even consider the offer because I had already made a commitment to my current firm. That was the way of the world in 1975. Sadly, as a society we’ve lost the meaning of the word Commitment.

For entrepreneurs trying to build a business, probably the most valuable resource we have is people. Without people, it’s virtually impossible to build an organization that provides a product or service to our customers. To attract and retain people we must demonstrate commitment in many forms. Our team members need to see that we are committed to making certain they are paid as promised. They need to know that we as leaders are committed to their well-being; to their growth and development, and to the long-term sustainability of our organizations. Perhaps by modeling commitment on our end, we can attract team members who will value this and become dedicated and loyal over the long haul.

I recommend that every entrepreneur adopt Commitment as a core value. By delivering on it each day, maybe it’s possible that the tide will turn and we can return to the day when our word is our bond.

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 102 – Sabotage?

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.

Building an Iconic Entrepreneurial Culture

We entrepreneurs live in a time where differentiation can be the determining factor between success and failure. As such, we are constantly looking for that silver bullet that elevates our product or service above the competition. Yet in our quest for this elusive competitive edge, we encounter a myriad of challenges involving everything under the sun. Often we have people issues – we struggle to find and retain qualified talent, or there may be low performance. Perhaps we endure periods where it just doesn’t seem that we can do anything right for our customers. Bottom line – entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart.

There is a differentiating factor that offers a nearly 100% guarantee for success – but is frequently overlooked by entrepreneurs. This differentiator is an iconic entrepreneurial culture. Well duh, you may be thinking. How could this possibly be overlooked? The reason is the fact that it takes a long time to build an iconic entrepreneurial culture. And we live in a society of instant gratification. The key is to start right now with this process. By taking positive steps every single day, we eventually will realize this objective.

So exactly what does an iconic entrepreneurial culture look like? It starts with a clear vision for the enterprise. Where are we going and what does it look like when we get there? This vision should be inspirational and easy to communicate. Then we must get the right people on the bus. We recruit and hire folks that share our dream and are committed to taking the necessary steps to achieve it. This is where many attempts to build a culture fall flat. We’re in a tight economy and acquiring talent is extremely difficult. Settling for a warm body (because we’re desperate) may actually be detrimental to the culture we are building.

Our team members need well-defined written roles and accountabilities. Without them, chaos ensues and many things fall between the cracks. Team members also need the proper training as well as the resources necessary to accomplish that for which they are responsible. I’ve written many times about our Why – that is, why we do what we do. Simon Sinek has identified the nine Whys – one of which makes each of us tick. When we can match the roles and accountabilities of our team members with their respective Whys, we’re well on our way to keeping them challenged and engaged. Team members want to feel valued and appreciated, so we do this in a genuine and authentic manner whenever possible. We express gratitude for the contributions made by our team and we recognize individuals for their achievements.

Incentive compensation tied to performance can be a strong motivator. Of equal importance is ensuring that each team member understands the importance of his role in the overall march toward reaching the vision. And team members need to be shown a path for their growth. This may involve opportunities for education, mentorship and career advancement.

Developing core values for the organization is another crucial stepping stone along the cultural path. Once established, advocate them and live them every single day. It goes without saying that core values are meaningless unless leaders model them consistently. In our company, we’ve heard from many new hires that the reason they joined was because it was obvious that we actually put our core values into practice.

An iconic entrepreneurial culture nurtures an environment of collaboration. Leaders work to obtain buy-in for decisions involving the team. It’s an environment that encourages experimentation and creativity. We promote the notion of a “laboratory mindset” for mistakes. In other words, when mistakes occur they are analyzed for what can be learned as opposed to being used as a reason to criticize and bludgeon.

An iconic entrepreneurial culture is positive and optimistic. Fear is eliminated and conflict is handled in an open and forthright manner. Team members are honest with each other and avoid triangulation. They celebrate together and cry together. Systems and processes support strategic thinking – but avoid becoming bureaucratic. Staying nimble is the eternal mantra. Finally, the entire team subscribes to a customer-centric ideology that worships at the altar of the Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Creating an iconic entrepreneurial culture is difficult and time consuming . . . but it is possible. And once it has been achieved, it becomes one of the most powerful differentiators there is.

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 101 – A Tip From Warren Buffet.

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 Mob

Entrepreneurs should do everything possible to avoid the Mob. If you are thinking the Mafia or La Cosa Nostra, that’s not what this is about. Our society is currently experiencing a phenomenon that I call the Mob Mentality. And there’s nothing good in it for us. If you are wondering, there are examples abound. The #MeToo movement certainly raises legitimate concerns about sexual harassment, but there are many people who are being convicted by the Mob without any opportunity to offer a defense. The same is happening with Mob convictions for racism, homophobia and a score of other real or perceived slights. And more recently, the Mob has become focused on guns and is convicting companies that might have some association with the National Rifle Association.

I don’t get into political discussions in this blog. This is about entrepreneurship and what we can do to become better entrepreneurs. But it’s hard to avoid becoming ensnared by the Mob when its fevered pitch ratchets out of control and overwhelms us with political correctness and hyperbole. I listened to a podcast recently about start-ups and angel investing. The host, who makes his political proclivities known every chance he gets, asked a founder he was interviewing, whether he would accept funding from a certain well-known venture capitalist that has political leanings that are out of favor with the Silicon Valley crowd. And the host and his guest pondered this question and it became apparent that there is actually a Mob Mentality that would prevent some founders from accepting funding from this VC. Incredible!

Successful entrepreneurships are built on diversity of thought and culture. The Mob advocates monolithic thought. Rather than engaging in civil discourse, the Mob will attempt to intimidate an entrepreneur through boycotts, adverse posts on social media and via other means. This is dangerous territory for us to be in. Facts be damned, the Mob is always in search of an enemy to destroy. If we are anywhere close by, we run the risk of being swept up in the hysteria of the moment.

So, how are we supposed to avoid the Mob? If we don’t have well-thought Core Values and a healthy, positive Culture, the Mob may be waiting for us right around the corner. Why is this important? Because focusing on Core Values and Culture will help our organization and its team members, move down the right path. Entrepreneurial endeavors that are drifting along without an intentional culture are more prone to make the kind of mistakes on which the Mob will pounce. Why? Because the guideposts provided by Core Values are missing. One of the five Core Values for our firm is that of Team Member Fulfillment. We work hard to evaluate decisions that we make as a company and as individual team members, and align them with the concept of a positive workplace experience. In so doing, it’s clear to everyone that there’s no place in Team Member Fulfillment for sexual harassment. Obviously someone who feels harassed or threatened, can’t be feeling fulfilled. Does this guarantee that it won’t happen – of course not. But we believe we’ve decreased the chances as a result of our cultural development.

Another way to avoid the Mob is to decline to participate. The Mob Mentality is mostly fueled by emotion. Entrepreneurs who choose to enter this arena are playing with fire. Remember as kids when we wanted to do something and used the emotional (and fact-less) argument, “everybody is doing it?” I certainly did, but fortunately my parents weren’t buying. There were several things that had I been allowed to participate, would have turned out badly for me. Just keep in mind that if you decide to jump on the Mob bandwagon, your team members and your customers may be watching. And the consequences could be detrimental to your business.

Finally, avoiding the Mob requires active leadership. Not only must we model our Core Values, but we should take the opportunity to lead our team away from or around the crowd. We should not make decisions simply to please or placate the Mob. Instead, we do the right thing for our enterprise and the team members that support it. In this day and age we can’t hide from our leadership responsibilities or the Mob will fill the void. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a number of business leaders that think they are protecting their companies from the Mob by siding with it. In most cases, this has simply caused more controversy and chaos. Strong, active leaders will chart a proper and measured course that avoids being trampled by the herd.

The Mob Mentality in our society is a dangerous thing. Entrepreneurs can avoid the Mob by adopting well-defined Core Values, creating a strong, positive Culture, declining to participate in Mob initiatives and demonstrating positive, active leadership.

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 89 – Up and to the 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.

Marauders

There have been some interesting developments in recent times on the subject of capitalism. An angry anti-capitalism movement is in full bloom in the U.S. and around the world. The classic definition of capitalism from Merriam-Webster is, “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” And what do the anti-capitalists want? They are pursuing a moneyless society or some other economic system such as socialism or communism. How have we arrived at this point?

There has always been a certain element of society that voices opposition to capitalism. Lately the voices seem to have grown louder and perhaps greater in number. I believe that this may be due in part to some bad behavior on the part of a few marauding capitalists. What is a “marauding capitalist?” Here are some examples. The financial services company, Wells Fargo, fraudulently created more than two million phony bank accounts which generated fees for the bank and helped push sales figures for thousands of employees (along with their bonuses). Then there was the scandal involving the EpiPen. The cost to Mylan, the pharmaceutical company producing the EpiPen is $30, and yet the consumer was being charged $600. And finally, there’s the case of Martin Shkreli, formerly CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who jacked up the price of the HIV drug Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to over $700.

Some of these actions were illegal. In all cases they were immoral. When this sort of behavior is perpetrated it gives capitalism a bad reputation. It’s not hard to see how the term “marauding capitalists” came about. Society generally disapproves of those who scheme and those who take unfair advantage of others. Is it any surprise that resentment has built to the point that the anti-capitalists are coming out of the woodwork?

What can we do to inoculate ourselves from becoming a “marauding capitalist?” It all starts with a foundation of Core Values. For a good part of my career I heard about companies with Core Values, but in most cases they were “lip serviced.” They were only for window dressing and no one paid any attention to them. Several years ago we decided to become serious about developing our culture and did so by developing meaningful Core Values. Since then we’ve focused on them relentlessly and celebrated the way they are lived by members of our team. Our Core Values include Commitment, Integrity, Customer Fulfillment, Team Member Fulfillment and Community Impact. By maintaining focus on delivering on our Core Values, we have avoided the kind of actions that might be regarded as unacceptable or offensive.

With well-thought Core Values and a commitment to living them every day, we entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about doing things that are immoral or illegal. But we’re not done yet. The “living them every day” part is critical and the most difficult. This is where Culture comes into play. Every organization has a Culture – intentional or unintentional. When the Culture is positive and aligned with the Core Values, it reduces the likelihood for moving off the straight and narrow. If someone on the team proposes an initiative that is contradictory to the Core Values, someone else will call this into accountability. A healthy Culture can become a self-policing mechanism that stops “marauding capitalism” in its tracks. Most importantly, the top leaders of an organization must embrace the Core Values and model them every single day. This sends the message that the company has not simply adopted Core Values to be politically correct.

There are plenty of companies that are doing it right. Panera Bread, Atmos Energy, Kohl’s, Western Union, Marathon Petroleum, Quest Diagnostics, Union Pacific and Sempra Energy, are just a few that are admired for their trustworthiness. Unfortunately it only takes a few bad actors to poison the well for capitalism overall.

We can all do our part to prevent marauding capitalism from becoming mainstream, for it invites more government regulation and gives a platform to those who want to destroy capitalism outright. When our operating principles are congruent with our Core Values we will be successful in this effort.

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 66 – The Bermuda Triangulation Effect.

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.

Wanna Change the World?

Here’s an obvious statement – entrepreneurs want to build successful businesses. But there’s something more that drives many of us. In some cases this objective is just as important as building the business itself. It’s a notion that invokes strong emotions and can be a driving force. Yes, many entrepreneurs want to make a difference in the world. They want to help change lives in a positive way. This is especially true of the millennial generation but also strikes a multi-generational chord for many.

While making a difference sounds great, how do we go about creating a company that does good work? A strong set of core values and a vision that embraces changing the world are critical factors. But to truly move forward to effectively and sustainably implement this concept we must start . . . with ourselves. Making a difference must become a mindset and a lifestyle. Think about it this way. If we want to lose weight permanently we don’t go on a diet, we change our lifestyle. It works the same way when we want to make a difference – we must change our lifestyle.

There is a simple yet powerful method that will help us move in the direction we desire. It revolves around a daily journal that we keep in which we record each attempt we make to do something that positively impacts one or more people. Here’s something else to think about. Making a difference doesn’t have to involve massive sweeping changes in the world. It starts with a lot of little steps that eventually have a cumulative effect. One of the mistakes that lead to frustration for entrepreneurs is believing that they can be the catalyst for major transformations overnight. Sure, every once in a while this can happen. But shooting for the stars without enough fuel is certainly going to end up in a fizzling disappointment.

What sort of baby steps should we be taking to develop a difference-making lifestyle and mindset? Look at all of the opportunities we have to make a positive impact on the lives of others every single day. In the restaurant where we are having breakfast or lunch, we can compliment our waitperson on providing excellent service. We can hold the door open so that another person can enter or exit. Perhaps we even anonymously pay for someone else’s meal in that restaurant from time-to-time. Maybe we handwrite a thank-you note to someone who has done something nice for us. Or we call a person with best wishes for their birthday. Do we always remember to acknowledge others with a smile and a warm greeting when we see them? Are our “please” and “thank you” manners always on display?

The little every day habits we develop to brighten the day of another individual are foundational toward taking bigger steps. Suppose one of our team members is apparently in distress. We can lend a sympathetic ear. Volunteering is a terrific way to make a positive difference in the lives we touch and can run the gamut of activities. Helping at a homeless shelter, mentoring other entrepreneurs, reading to sick kids in a children’s hospital and providing assistance to scouting organizations are examples of such bigger steps.

To keep ourselves on track, we utilize the Daily Difference Journal to record what we have done each day toward our lifestyle change. While it may seem trite to make an entry like, “told Olivia that her smile brightened the day,” the act of keeping such a tally reinforces the intentionality of our desire to do good things for our world. Repeating this process day-in and day-out helps set the pattern that we desire. Initially it pushes us to remember to look for opportunities to say and do things that create a positive experience for others. Eventually it becomes second nature and we don’t have to remember anything. We simply live each day looking for ways to make others happy and live better lives.

Making a difference in the world is a terrific benefit of being an entrepreneur. A Daily Difference Journal puts us on the path to accomplishing this with gusto!

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 55 – F-.

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 Three-Legged Stool

We entrepreneurs have no shortage of books and other resource materials at our disposal to understand how to win in today’s environment. We’re barraged with a multitude of tips, tactics, strategies and a host of other concepts. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone insists theirs is the right way. Ask any coach or consultant and undoubtedly each will have their own secret sauce. I have no issue with any of this and believe that this diversity of ideas is healthy for entrepreneurship as a whole. Fortunately no one individual has it all figured out . . . so we continue to seek. As one of the “seekers” I might as well add my thoughts to the mix.

My approach involves a three-legged stool, and it’s a very simple calculus. The first leg is that of Culture. For most of my career I wasn’t very focused on Culture and we certainly didn’t do much to promote it. Our Culture just kind of happened in a laissez-faire manner. Oh sure, we had a company picnic every now and then as well as a Christmas party; and from time-to-time we would undertake a community service project. But for the most part it was nose-to-the-grindstone – chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out. However, I’ve learned a lot over the past few years and I’m now drinking the Culture Kool-Aid – lots of it. Why? Because I’ve found that Core Values matter. Not just to the company but to each member of our team. And we really live our Core Values every single day. As a result, we now have a team of people who have a common alignment and purpose. We are able to connect with millennials and Boomers alike and productivity has markedly increased. While Culture is more than just Core Values, they serve as the foundation for a Culture.

The second leg of the stool is Product. With the strengthening of our Culture we’ve become more creative and innovative with respect to the products and services we provide. The positive environment that has emerged in our companies has enabled us to shine a spotlight on our Product set. We’re constantly making tweaks every chance we get to differentiate from our competition that which we offer. “How is it different?” has become our mantra. We’ve become much more targeted with our marketing and sales effort in a manner that complements our Product refinement. A clear focus on Product has been the impetus for a much more strategic approach to decisions that we make as opposed to the small-ball tactics that we used to deploy.

Finally, the third leg of the stool is Customer. Many companies pay lip service to their customers. Everyone recognizes that without customers we don’t stay in business very long. But to succeed entrepreneurs must go far beyond basic customer service. We must do the deep dive into understanding what makes the Customer tick. It’s more than just needs and wants . . . it’s also a more comprehensive understanding of buying patterns and lifestyles. It’s about anticipating what the Customer will value. Thus, the value proposition becomes the Holy Grail. How does the customer experience attain complete and total satisfaction?

Maybe I’ve oversimplified this, but everything else seems incidental beyond Culture, Product and Customer. Without a strong Culture how can we possibly create a great Product and take care of the Customer? Without a great Product, our Culture begins to crack as team members become demoralized and the Customer eventually suffers. And yes, without the Customer, there’s no point in a Culture or a Product.

Culture, Product and Customer. A three-legged stool that looks simple, but is strong enough to support a long winning streak for us as entrepreneurs.

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.

3LeggedStool1

Shooting Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shooting stars

Perfect Alignment

There are numerous obstacles that we encounter along the trail of life. Many are of our own making and some are not. What can we do to smooth out the path and avoid the monsters that jump out of the bushes to bite us? One answer involves a concept that I’ve only recently begun to understand at a deeper level and come to embrace. The concept is that of core values.

In the past I probably would have quit reading by this point and moved on to something that seemed more tangible to me at the time. After all “core values” sounds a bit esoteric and maybe even a bit “psycho-babblish” – not something a macho entrepreneur would be interested in. But after studying and witnessing the effects of core values, I’ve become a believer.

More than a year ago our collection of companies made a conscious decision to change our culture. A Core Values Team was formed and the group did amazing work. They spent countless hours brainstorming and debating the basic values they thought we should epitomize. The result was five core values including Integrity, Commitment, Team Member Fulfillment, Customer Fulfillment and Community Impact. A second team was formed called Building Internal Communities, and worked in tandem with the Core Values Team to roll out the core values to team members across all the companies with locations scattered across the country. Tremendous effort has been undertaken to keep the core values at the forefront and live them accordingly. And it seems to be working in an impressive fashion.

Here’s where it gets interesting. We determined early on that we wanted to make certain that everyone on the team was in perfect alignment with the core values; AND everyone with whom we work outside the organization is also aligned with these beliefs as well. It has become obvious over the past several months that some of our team members don’t completely buy into the core values and they have left (or in some cases, were asked to leave). But what’s even more fascinating is the fact that we can see very clearly that certain vendor and client relationships aren’t necessarily aligned either. In the past we’ve butted heads with these relationships or felt like we weren’t on the same page with them. Through understanding our core values we now have a means of assessing our external relationships to see how well we are in alignment.

The upshot of this process is that we are severing some of the ties that we have with external parties. Harkening back to my opening salvo – why live with the obstacles that stand in our way? This doesn’t mean that the external parties with whom we have been struggling are bad or dishonest. It simply means that we may not share the same values which can cause friction and anxiety. This can be eliminated by building relationships with those external parties where we are in perfect alignment. Gone are the hard feelings and the unrealistic expectations. No longer do we waste time hashing and re-hashing unpleasant interactions with other parties.

Establishing a strong set of core values helps team members become aligned. But of equal importance, working with external parties that share the same values helps make our lives richer and happier.

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.

flock of migrating canada geese birds