The Collaborative Entrepreneur

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 do not need to point out how poorly this approach works with today’s Millennial workforce. We Boomers grew up in this environment and may tend to continue its practice. Perhaps it is 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 is not yet a convert to a more enlightened style of leadership. Note the highlighted words. Clearly, he is 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 is 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 relax, smile, and become totally humble.

Here is 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 is 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. Clearly, Mr. Doe’s team members work “with” him – not “under” him. I have 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 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.

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 Entrepreneur’s 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 are 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 is a very simple calculus. The first leg is that of Culture. For most of my career I was not 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 have learned a lot over the past few years, and I am now drinking the Culture Kool-Aid – lots of it. Why? Because I have 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 have 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 are 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 have 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 do not 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 is more than just needs and wants . . . it is also a more comprehensive understanding of buying patterns and lifestyles. It is about anticipating what the Customer will value. Thus, the value proposition becomes the Holy Grail. How does the customer experience attain complete and total fulfillment?

Maybe I have 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 is 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.

The Anti-Gotcha Entrepreneur

I purchased a couple of new beds for our home at a national mattress store. One was a fancy model that is adjustable, vibrates and has other bells and whistles. I would normally pay for such a purchase outright, but the mattress store was offering free financing for a year. I thought, “what the heck, why not?” So, I paid the monthly principal amounts over the course of 12 months like clockwork. Toward the end of this one-year period I started looking for a payoff balance to show up on the monthly statement, but it never did. Then I received a statement showing a large amount of “deferred interest” that when calculated produced an exceptionally high interest rate.

In looking back at the previous month’s statement (four pages of legal-size paper), I found a single sentence in small print advising me to look elsewhere in the statement for an acceleration amount. I finally found the payoff figure – again in small print. Unfortunately, I had missed the deadline by ten days and now owed over $3,000 in interest charges. I called the national bank that had purchased the paper from the mattress company and pointed out what my intentions had been from the outset and that the small print notice was deceptive and easily overlooked. I spoke with a supervisor and then a manager who ultimately cut my interest cost by 75%. I still contend that the interest should have been fully waived.

The national bank involved in this incident was clearly playing a “gotcha game.” There is no doubt in my mind that they intentionally used fine print and required the customer to hunt through the bill to find the amount owed. This is despicable behavior and does nothing to help the cause of entrepreneurship. I am not a fan of a lot of government regulation, but it is situations like this that trigger calls for more regulation in the first place. 

As entrepreneurs we should look at our business practices to see if we too are playing the “gotcha game.” Are the documents we use with our customers very clear relative to what is owed as well as the terms and conditions for payment? Or are we using fine print, misdirection, and incomprehensible language to obfuscate and confuse the customer? And if we are doing this, what is our end game . . . to shake down the customer for extra dollars?

Companies that are winning in today’s environment are focused on culture, product, and the customer. Profitability at any cost is not part of this calculus. Businesses that gouge their customers like the national bank with which I dealt, will ultimately suffer through new regulatory initiatives and/or customer abandonment. We entrepreneurs have a golden opportunity to identify competition that is perpetrating such behavior and differentiate ourselves in striking fashion. With the right messaging, winning customers from the bad actors should be relatively easy.

The integrity we maintain with our customers is one of the most valuable assets we possess. Playing the “gotcha game” can quickly turn that asset into a liability.

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 “No Assholes Allowed” Entrepreneur

Life is full of contrasts which span our personal and professional lives. Happy and sad. Victory and defeat. Sunny and rainy. Dogs and cats. Assholes and angels. Wait a minute – assholes and angels! What the heck?

As humans we have a lot of issues. Sometimes we are able to deal with these issues and at other times we are not. When we are successful in meeting our challenges, we tend to be more measured and pleasant. But when these challenges become seemingly insurmountable brick walls there is a chance that our personality changes – and not for the better. Feelings of insecurity and inferiority may manifest through biting and snide remarks, ugly facial expressions, or downright hostility.

A guy walks into McDonald’s and orders lunch. He just was chewed out by a client and he is not a happy camper. The person taking his order is a little slow or distracted and he snaps, “Your service is terrible.” Obviously, he is well on his way to winning friends and influencing people. Angelic behavior? Probably just the opposite. Little encounters like this happen all the time. Unfortunately, when unchecked, a pattern develops where lashing out in this manner can become a habit.

In an entrepreneurial organization rudeness and disrespect cause a great deal of tension. It produces negative energy, creates conflict, and can destroy the chemistry of a team. Leaders who ignore it are giving implicit approval of the perpetrators. It is one thing for there to be disagreements between team members. This can be a healthy process toward a successful result. But when the disagreements turn uncivil and personal the healthy part of the process has come to an end.

I have a pretty high tolerance factor for dissent. I encourage my colleagues to offer different opinions and ideas. And I don’t mind a lively discussion that stimulates new ways of thinking. However, I have been told that there are times when others begin to feel uncomfortable because of the intensity of some conversations. The line may have been crossed where the comments have become too biting and even personal. So, I am learning how to interrupt such situations and nip them in the bud before they digress into the world of the unproductive.

This all easily translates into one very simple premise. There is no place for a$$holes – anywhere in life. When unacceptable behavior is observed it needs to be stopped immediately. If there are several team members present it may be best to take a break in the meeting and consult with the offender in a one-on-one manner. There is nothing gained by embarrassing an individual publicly. Everyone has a bad day once in a while and a kind and empathetic word may be all that is necessary to diffuse a brewing tempest and prevent it from escalating.

It is much more troublesome when a member of the team has become a chronic asshole. Such a person may walk around with a permanent scowl on his or her face. Colleagues may go out of their way to avoid this individual. No one looks forward to meetings that include him or her, and encounters with this person often end with feelings of hurt, anger or humiliation. Chronic assholes must be dealt with swiftly and firmly. As soon as it becomes apparent that this person has chronic issues, he or she must be advised that his/her behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. When this person is a high performer it makes dealing with him/her that much more difficult. But for the sake of the team action must be taken including removal from the team as a last resort.

Life (and business) is tough enough without having to contend with assholes. Dispensing with such behavior as soon as possible will help restore the equilibrium of a team.

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 Bus Driving Entrepreneur

Here is a scenario. Sales are flat. The product development team is feuding with the marketing folks. Production is lagging and customer complaints are trending in the wrong direction. Sounds like a nightmare situation – right? It’s at a time like this that makes us wonder why we became entrepreneurs in the first place! As we try to sort out this mess, something becomes quickly apparent. We have the wrong people on the bus.

The whole problem would not even exist if we had selected the right people in the first place. But for most of us, we are where we are and must deal with an unwise hire here and a hopeful hire there. Rarely do we make the right hiring decisions from the get-go and find smooth sailing forevermore. Something I have grappled with for decades is when to change out the people on the bus – and sometimes the bus driver to boot! The mistake I have made over and over has been to give people too many chances and believe that if I just find the “right slot” for someone, that I can “save” him or her. In recent times I’ve come to realize that we’re not in the business of doing social work and it does no favor to someone who is miscast to continue to try and salvage them.

Most of us have a level of empathy that prevents us from being Donald Trump . . . that is to simply say, “You’re fired!” But there is undoubtedly a middle ground. We do not have to have a hair trigger and instantly terminate someone who is beginning to struggle. And we also do not need to continue to enable someone for months or even years who cannot get the job done.

As with much about entrepreneurship, there is a process that can make the decision to invite someone off the bus both humanely and timely. We start with clear written roles and accountabilities. It’s imperative that our team members truly understand what is expected of them. Roles and accountabilities should be quite comprehensive, and they must be measurable. We also must make sure that our team members understand how to perform their roles and accountabilities and that they have the proper resources to succeed. If I tell a non-pilot that he is responsible for flying a passenger jet from New York to LA I can be very clear about this. But if he is not trained to fly the plane, then it will either fail to get off the ground or if it does, well, what happens might not be pretty. I realize that this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it illustrates the point.

Hand in hand come key performance indicators. These are the metrics by which we determine if the roles and accountabilities are being sufficiently executed. Ongoing performance reviews are also an important element of ensuring that the right people are on the bus. Some companies do an annual performance review. This may be fine in a formal sense, but team members need a continual feedback loop. Then there will be no surprises when the annual review is performed. It is also helpful (and often judicious) to offer a written assessment as part of the continual feedback process. It’s not so much to build the file as it is to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding where improvement is needed.

Often when things are going poorly, it’s the result of a lack of roles and accountabilities; or a lack of training; or a lack of proper resources to get the job done; or a lack of measuring results; or a lack of providing team member feedback, or all of the above. When this happens and we must make a change in personnel, we dread having to act. Why? Because we know deep inside that we probably did not do everything necessary to be completely fair with our team member.

Ensuring that we have the right people on the bus is a strong step toward building a successful culture and producing the results we desire. And following a well-designed process to invite people off the bus who are not the right fit will allow us to act objectively and at the right pace.

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 Anatomy of an Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs exactly who are we? What makes us tick? Is there some sort of DNA gene that we can point to? I’ve thought a lot about some of the exceptional entrepreneurs I’ve known over the past four decades and have identified some of their traits and tendencies that stand out.

Let’s start with creativity and innovation. Entrepreneurs use their creative powers to innovate and find a better way to do something. Elon Musk has to be one of the most prolific entrepreneurs when it comes to innovation – Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Pay Pal and Solar City come to mind to name a few. Often, creative entrepreneurs are also visionaries. They have an uncanny ability to see into the future and understand what their customers will want and how their company needs to be designed to win. GoPro CEO Nick Woodman is one of the foremost visionaries in America today. Who could ever have imagined a series of high definition video cameras that are small, durable and light enough to capture our daily adventures – daring and mundane? And successful entrepreneurs understand risk. Rather than taking risk they are adept at managing it.

When they get knocked down, great entrepreneurs get back up – over and over and over. They are amazingly resilient and don’t see failure . . . only opportunity. Walt Disney was fired by his employer, the Kansas City Star, because he supposedly lacked creativity. That didn’t seem to impact his storied career. When things don’t work out as planned, they are flexible and know how to adapt and make the best of every situation. Top-flight entrepreneurs are persuasive and can convince others to say yes. They do so through the power of their passion. Does Steve Jobs come to mind? Look what he convinced us to buy! Along with their persuasive powers, successful entrepreneurs are strong communicators in both verbal and written formats.

Entrepreneurs are assertive – the great ones are less aggressive than assertive. They have a healthy degree of empathy and are sensitive to the feelings of others. Entrepreneurs at the top of their game have a certain amount of charisma. They can be sociable and gregarious – even if those aren’t their core tendencies. Without charisma an entrepreneur will find it tougher to raise money, develop important relationships and influence others. Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is one of the most charismatic leaders on the planet. And he has woven his charisma into a tapestry of empathy and caring about other people.

Culture King is another descriptor for the cream-of-the-crop entrepreneur. Ben Chestnut, founder and CEO of MailChimp fits into this category in the ways he has empowered the 500+ members of his team. Hand-in-hand with a strong culture is a smart entrepreneur’s ability to delegate. According to a 2013 Gallup survey of Inc. 500 CEOs, an average three-year growth rate of 1,751% was realized where the CEO had a high Delegator talent. Entrepreneurs typically have a high sense of urgency and tend to be very self-structured – there’s no way anyone is going to tell them what to do! Entrepreneurs simply don’t want to be a cog in someone else’s machine. Most entrepreneurs also have the ability to juggle many things at once and in fact need to feel the rush and excitement of pursuing multiple projects and initiatives simultaneously. Finally, ultra-successful entrepreneurs are generally positive and optimistic people. They don’t dwell on mistakes and never play the victim.

Remember the DNA thing I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? Well, there may be something to it. A February 17, 2016, research paper published in the Austin Journal of Molecular and Cellular Biology reported on the Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene and concluded that entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance for risk-taking in part, due to this gene      (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/294874673_Entrepreneurship_and_its_Genetic_Basis). Apparently genetics govern approximately 30% of what makes one an entrepreneur. But that leaves 70% to a wide range of personality traits and tendencies.

There are many such traits and tendencies that are identified with entrepreneurs. No one person possesses them all, but the more to which we lay claim the closer we come to attaining world class status.

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.

Who is Riding the Bus?

Here’s a scenario. Sales are flat. The product development team is feuding with the marketing folks. Production is lagging and customer complaints are trending in the wrong direction. Sounds like a nightmare situation – right? It’s at a time like this that makes us wonder why we became entrepreneurs in the first place! As we try to sort out this mess, something becomes quickly apparent. We have the wrong people on the bus.

The whole problem wouldn’t even exist if we had selected the right people in the first place. But for most of us, we are where we are and must deal with an unwise hire here and a hopeful hire there. Rarely do we make the right hiring decisions from the get-go and find smooth sailing forevermore. Something I’ve grappled with for decades is when to change out the people on the bus – and sometimes the bus driver to boot! The mistake I’ve made over and over has been to give people too many chances and believe that if I just find the “right slot” for someone, that I can “save” him or her. In recent times I’ve come to realize that we’re not in the business of doing social work and it does no favor to someone who is miscast to continue to try and salvage them.

Most of us have a level of empathy that prevents us from being the type of person who simply says, “You’re fired!” But there’s undoubtedly a middle ground. We don’t have to have a hair trigger and instantly terminate someone who is beginning to struggle. And we also don’t need to continue to enable someone for months or even years who can’t get the job done.

As with much about entrepreneurship, there is a process that can make the decision to invite someone off the bus both humane and timely. We start with clear written roles and accountabilities. It’s imperative that our team members truly understand what is expected of them. Roles and accountabilities should be quite comprehensive, and they must be measurable. We also must make sure that our team members understand how to perform their roles and accountabilities and that they have the proper resources to succeed. If I tell a non-pilot that he is responsible for flying a passenger jet from New York to LA I can be very clear about this. But if he’s not trained to fly the plane, then it will either fail to get off the ground or if it does, well, what happens might not be pretty. I realize that this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it illustrates the point.

Hand-in-hand come key performance indicators. These are the metrics by which we determine if the roles and accountabilities are being sufficiently executed. Ongoing performance reviews are also an important element of ensuring that the right people are on the bus. Some companies do an annual performance review. This may be fine in a formal sense, but team members need a continual feedback loop. Then there will be no surprises when the annual review is performed. It’s also helpful (and often judicious) to offer a written assessment as part of the continual feedback process. It’s not so much to build the file as it is to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding where improvement is needed.

Often when things are going poorly, it’s the result of a lack of roles and accountabilities; or a lack of training; or a lack of proper resources to get the job done; or a lack of measuring results; or a lack of providing team member feedback, or all of the above. When this happens and we must make a change in personnel, we dread having to take action. Why? Because we know deep inside that we probably didn’t do everything necessary to be completely fair with our team member.

Ensuring that we have the right people on the bus is a strong step toward building a successful culture and producing the results we desire. And following a well-designed process to invite people off the bus who aren’t the right fit will allow us to act objectively and at the right pace.

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.

Farewell to an Iconic Entrepreneur

On January 3, 2019, one of the legendary icons of entrepreneurship stepped on a rainbow. Herb Kelleher died at age 87 after living a storied life. Kelleher famously co-founded Southwest Airlines in the late 1960s. He was practicing law in San Antonio when a client brought him an idea to launch a new airline in 1967. Competing airlines did everything they could to prevent the new airline, originally incorporated as Air Southwest Company, from getting off the ground. Lawsuits were the only thing flying for several years, and at one point the board told Kelleher that the venture needed to be shut down. Kelleher offered to fight the lawsuits and pay the court costs out of his own pocket at which point the board agreed to stay in business. It took four years and victories at both the Texas and the U.S. Supreme Courts – twice – before Southwest Airlines flew for the first time on June 18, 1971. His resilience and tenaciousness are credited for enabling Southwest to persevere and become the major airline that it is today.

Kelleher was general counsel and served on the board of directors, becoming chairman in 1978. In 1981 he became the full-time CEO and built the airline into a powerhouse as a result of his vision. At the time, the airline industry was highly regulated and when an airline started losing money, it would petition the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to allow for a fare increase. As a result, it became exceedingly expensive for the public to fly – something that Kelleher saw as the opportunity of a lifetime. Initially Southwest was an intrastate carrier flying within Texas, making flying between Dallas, San Antonio and Houston affordable through ultra-low fares. Over the years the airline started flying outside the state of Texas but was hamstrung by the Wright Amendment – legislation designed to help the legacy carriers and hurt Southwest. The law required that Southwest could not fly from another state directly into Dallas’ Love Field without first stopping in an immediately adjacent state including Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico. I can remember flying from Kansas City to Dallas and having to stop in Oklahoma City to change planes because of this requirement. Eventually the Wright Amendment was defeated in Congress and Southwest was able to operate like any other airline in the country.

Kelleher was a marketing genius and employed numerous outrageous stunts that endeared Southwest to its employees and to the public. He never took himself too seriously and is well known for his love of Wild Turkey bourbon and a daily dose of five packs of Marlboro cigarettes. When it came to compensation, Kelleher chose to take less in cash salary and more stock options. This approach helped considerably with the Southwest labor force (where the CEO was not receiving an exorbitant level of pay) and made him a billionaire two-and-a-half times over. He claims to have been a “flamboyant marketer but was fiscally conservative.” His shrewd financial prowess put Southwest on a path to profitability that is unmatched by any other airline – and few public companies in any industry. Since 1973, the company has been profitable every single year.

For decades, the culture at Southwest Airlines has been studied under a microscope by business schools and business leaders. It’s safe to say that Kelleher defined and sustained that culture for the 20 years he was the CEO and even after he retired in 2001 (he remained chairman of the board until 2008). He spent an enormous amount of time talking to employees and gaining understanding for what was working and what needed to be fixed. He loaded baggage onto planes every Thanksgiving Day; met technicians at 2:00 AM in a maintenance hangar; visited operators at reservation centers and spent time as a gate agent. According to Terry Maxon, in a 2015 article for the Dallas News, Kelleher dressed up like Elvis Presley, a woman, the Easter bunny, a leprechaun and a flight attendant to promote Southwest. Maxon went on to explain the corporate culture was that of a 1) scrappy underdog to the public; 2) fierce warrior to its competitors, and 3) warm, supportive and protective atmosphere for the employees.

Herb Kelleher was a larger-than-life model for us as entrepreneurs to emulate. He had all the requisite entrepreneurial traits – vision, tenacity, resilience, marketing skills, financial acumen, a cultural leader and a genuine love for people. Above all he had a passion for life. They broke the mold when Herb Kelleher left this planet. R.I.P.

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 –

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.

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.

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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.