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.

Easy Lifting

The news lately has been pretty grim in many respects. So many headlines were focused on bad things people are doing. There were sexual assault scandals, charges of racism, political mudslinging, competitive misdeeds and a host of other negative events. It seems like many of our citizens were committed to tearing down their fellow man. But to what end? How has this made the world a better place?

Entrepreneurs thrive on positive energy – actually we all do. Rather than use the hand to slap, how about we use it to lift up? Rather than pick others apart why don’t we pat them on the back. And rather than be hypercritical of everything about everyone, let’s intentionally look for the good. It goes without saying that this applies to our personal and professional lives alike.

If this sounds a bit too woo-woo, consider this. When are we most productive? When we are in conflict or in harmony? When are we most creative? And when are we the happiest and most fulfilled? I doubt anyone can honestly say that negativity has paved the path to their success. While our positive approach improves the wellbeing of others, guess what? It’s even more for our own benefit.

Here’s a simple test. Do you hear your friends, family and colleagues say more positive things about others, or more negative things? Recently I’ve listened to others (and myself) in this regard, and have noticed that often, the negative conversation outweighs the positive – that is, unless I move it in the other direction. When I intentionally find something good to say to someone or about someone else, it’s quite interesting to watch where the conversation goes. It takes a decided turn to the positive. Perhaps it’s contagious, or maybe it just needs a kick start. What’s fascinating is to see how easy it is move others in a positive direction by just being positive myself.

This practice takes no effort other than authenticity and a genuine desire to see the good in others. When we pay a compliment to a team member, a spouse or a child, it’s obvious how it makes them feel. But how does it make us feel? Perhaps there’s a bit of an afterglow for us that creates a lingering positive mindset. A routine I have developed is to walk through our office several times a day and speak to people. I’m looking for ways to build people up rather than tear them down. This occurs by engaging in short conversations, offering a word or encouragement here or there and smiling – always smiling. The process is energizing for me and stokes my innovation and creativity. And members of my team seem to take the cue – we hear them saying nice things about each other and pitching in to help one another.

I firmly believe that an organization (or a family) with a strongly positive culture will do great things. An uplifting spirit will help us through tough times and give us the momentum we need to climb the metaphorical mountains that need climbing. If members of our team are always looking over their shoulder and wondering when they are going to be criticized, a negative mindset ensues. If there is backstabbing, a constant rumor mill, cliques or a general air of indifference, the culture will reflect same.

Entrepreneurial leaders can be the difference maker when it comes to a positive or negative culture. The behavior we model in this respect will be noticed by everyone. If we are consistent about it, we may even help shift the mindset of others to entrench a positive culture that is permanent and enduring. Valuing the contribution of our team members and looking for every way possible to assist them is what can help us become the difference maker.

Making a commitment to continually see the good in others is healthy for our organization. The positive energy that it creates not only lifts up everyone else but also elevates us to an even greater state of being.

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 80 – Cocoons and Garlic Necklaces.

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.

Enamored

Let me set the scene. You just hired a young new hotshot. This person has had a meteoric career to date and you spent months recruiting him. He went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree and Stanford for an MBA. Right out of the blocks he’s been hitting it out-of-the-park for you. His creativity and innovation is off the charts and he’s a real charmer. Everyone loves him and he’s generating one success after another. What a dream situation – right?

There’s no doubt that this is a dream situation. However, there’s also danger lurking. Why? Whenever we become enamored with someone we run the risk of being blind to their shortcomings . . . and we all have shortcomings. Further we also may not be looking critically for coaching opportunities which shortchanges our new team member. How is it that we smart entrepreneurs fall into this trap? Actually it’s very easy. Perhaps we had a less than satisfactory experience with someone our new hire has replaced. Or we may never have had talent like this in the organization before. It’s very refreshing to have a smart person in our midst that can seemingly do no wrong. We never want the honeymoon to end, nor do we want to throw cold water on our new team member, lest we demoralize him or her early in the game.

Over the course of my career I’ve seen plenty “golden haired boys and girls.” And after a while, the luster wears off a bit. Always. By no means does this indicate that we made a poor hiring decision. Walking in the front door for the first time, seldom is anyone really as good as they may seem – a fact for which we need to be reminded periodically. It’s all about setting expectations. On Day One we are well-served to establish an understanding with our new team member whereby we will be providing continuous feedback. This will include both praise as well as constructive coaching. And, we must have a mindset that no matter how wonderful this individual might be, there’s always room to help him or her become better.

Here’s how we might create a feedback process that works well for all parties. During the first 90-days we hold a short weekly meeting with our new teammate. We’ll structure it into four parts. First, we share our positive observations about what this individual has done well during the previous week. If something notable has been accomplished, we celebrate accordingly. Second, we share one or more areas where we’d like to see more progress. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re being critical but we shouldn’t hesitate to offer constructive criticism if warranted. Third, we provide information that may be pertinent for the coming week. Perhaps we want to lay out some new objectives, or maybe there’s some company information to be conveyed. Finally, we allow time for our team member to ask questions or offer any observations he or she might have. After 90-days these meetings may be less frequent. The bottom line is that our rising star is conditioned to receiving feedback and we’ve been able to build a strong relationship from the very beginning.

Maintaining an objective perspective on new team members – especially those who show great promise – will help turn good talent into franchise-quality players. And it helps us remember that we can always be better tomorrow than we were today.

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.

rocket

Judgment Day

Question: Where is the fine line between constructive and negative criticism?

Answer: The very word “criticism” has negative connotations for many, so we’re starting from minus territory to begin with. Why? Because criticism is often associated with hurtful, manipulative language. Think about a situation where you feel like you’ve received negative criticism. How does a statement like this feel? “You really screwed up that presentation. You offended the client and couldn’t close the deal. I should have had someone else handle this assignment.” Wow. This sounds like a direct attack on you as a person. It’s no wonder that this type of criticism is not received favorably.

As entrepreneurs we must have thick skin in order to receive criticism of all types. And we must also be able to deliver criticism – but only in a constructive manner. First consider the audience. To deliver constructive criticism it must be perceived as constructive by the receiver. If this person is a highly resilient individual, your criticism may need to be offered more directly and bluntly. Conversely, someone who tends to be more sensitive may need to receive constructive criticism a bit more subtly.

Second, we must measure the intent of our criticism. Do we truly desire to be honest and constructive with what we have to say? Or do we want to send a message of disapproval in order to make the other person feel badly? Sometimes in our personal relationships – with a spouse or significant other – we may have a tendency to be less constructive and our criticism becomes hurtful.

Finally, constructive and effective criticism should always contain some suggestion for improvement. When this is done, our criticism can be perceived as helpful and positive. For example, the statement we read earlier could be modified as follows. “May I make a suggestion? The client may have been offended during the presentation because he thought we were ignoring his needs. The next time, you might consider spending a few moments reviewing the client’s specific needs and then show him how our product meets those needs.” There’s no mistaking that this is a positive and constructive dialogue and will most likely be perceived as intended.

Criticism should be focused on what someone has done or is doing, rather than the person himself. By being honest and appropriately sensitive to another’s feelings, criticism can be used as a positive and productive tool for improvement.

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.

judgment