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.

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.

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.

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.

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A Warm Blanket

I was waiting for a flight and a lady came to the ticket counter from an adjoining gate and asked the attendant if an announcement could be made about the status of the flight from that gate. Apparently it was past the departure time; the monitor revealed nothing, and there was no airline person at the gate. A few minutes later an announcement about the delay was made, but not after several moments of irritation on the part of the passengers waiting for that flight.

Why is it that so many companies communicate so poorly with their customers – especially when things aren’t going quite right? Common sense tells us that communications should be amplified in such instances. And yet it seems that there is a bit of a “run and hide” mentality when the train runs off the tracks. Airlines may be the worst where this is concerned – we all have more airline stories than we can remember. But this malady is shared across the business spectrum. While visiting a resort community in California, I walked past a grocery store that had a sign on the door at midday saying, “Closed – Computers Down.” Customers were trying to open the locked door and shook their heads after reading the sign. What a missed opportunity!

There are a couple of reasons why this happens, neither of which are good. The first is a cultural issue. If a company adopts the philosophy that the customer comes first, then its response to anything going awry impacting the customer will be immediate, complete and ongoing communications. Anything less is contrary to a customer-first culture. We entrepreneurs must decide if we are going to embrace such a culture and if so, determine the steps that we are going to take to ensure that come hell or high water the customer will always be wrapped in a warm blanket. Which brings us to the second reason why many companies fail at communicating effectively when things go wrong.

A company may have every intention of effectively communicating with its customers through thick and thin. But unless there is a clearly defined strategy that translates into actionable steps for every member of the team, there’s no way that successful implementation can happen. Take the airlines for instance. I have trouble believing that they don’t have great customer service as an intention. However, there’s no other explanation than there’s a disconnect somewhere between their strategy and putting it into practice.

In our respective organizations, we can make certain that our strategy and implementation are seamless through simulation. This involves identifying every possible mishap that could occur, causing issues for our customers. Next we can create a step-by-step process for dealing with these problems while maintaining a constant focus on how we smooth the way for our customers. It will require a combination of urgency, honesty, straightforwardness, empathy, clarity and frequency. In other words, we’re going to quickly tell our customers what has happened in clear and concise terms. We aren’t going to lie – if the airplane is broken, we’ll tell them that the airplane is broken and not make up some other excuse. We will apologize for any inconvenience and take the necessary steps to make things as painless for the customer as possible – even if it costs us some money. And we will continue to communicate early and often until the situation is resolved. Every member of our team will know exactly how they are supposed to make this happen and we will practice, practice and practice some more.

If we truly care about our customers, our bottom line will be the better for it. Thus, we should do everything in our power to make sure that the customer has a positive experience even when we have trouble delivering our products or services.

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.

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