Bedlam, Chaos and the Slammed Entrepreneur

Tony owns a five-year old company that produces several different flavors of a healthy energy bar. Business is booming and the company is flirting with profitability. The business will soon reach a scale where profitability is consistent. Sales have been growing at 50% per year and the team has now expanded to 75 employees. The production facility runs two shifts and plans are in the works for a third. Sounds like a dream situation – right?

Here’s a look at the other side of Tony’s operation. A piece of machinery in the plant seems to be on its last legs with periodic breakdowns at the most inopportune times. Capital is needed to add two more pieces of equipment to accommodate the planned third shift. Tony’s not exactly sure what the source of those funds will be. His marketing director quit and the position hasn’t yet been filled. Also, the company needs to hire 15 new employees for the upcoming third shift – but it’s been very hard to find people that are willing to work all night long. On top of all that, a product recall may be in the offing due to a problem with the packaging. Tony has been working 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week for months without a break. He’s stressed and badly needs some time off. But he’s worried that if he steps away – even for a long weekend – the business might go off the rails. Tony is experiencing bedlam, chaos and is overwhelmingly slammed.

If you are an entrepreneur can you relate to this not-so-hypothetical scenario? Everything is go-go-go and seems totally out of control. We find ourselves spending the vast majority of our time working “in” the business rather than “on” the business. We know we probably need to add another key staff position or two to allow us to work more strategically, but we worry that profitability and cash flow might be too tight if we do. We figure we can “muscle through” for a few more months and eventually the profit picture will improve to the point that bringing on the key personnel will be easier. Unfortunately, the “few more months” stretches out a big longer than expected (or desired).

What we are solving is not how to cope with the chaos, bedlam and stress, but how to move out of this mode as quickly as possible. Every minute we spend mired in this mess is another minute that is added to the ledger of total frustration and wheel-spinning. We all know the eventual outcome of this – a loss of passion, burnout, health issues and potentially much worse.

Step OneStop the madness. Seriously, stop and step away for 24-hours. Without a clear head we can’t fix a thing. We don’t check our e-mail; we don’t call the office; we go dark and do something – anything – that will turn our attention away from the bedlam, the chaos and the stress.

Step TwoAssess. We catalog all of the pieces to this crazy jigsaw puzzle. What is working and what isn’t. What are the biggest issues we are facing? This is not a time to find solutions. We have a single focus and that is to take stock of our situation.

Step ThreePrioritize. Once we have identified all of our issues we next prioritize the swamp. In other words, which alligator is the largest and most likely to eat us and which is the smallest.

Step FourDelegate. Look, we can’t do this all by ourselves. If we have key members of our team that can help, we bring them into the picture at this point. If we don’t have key people, we may need to turn to outside consultants to provide assistance.

Step FivePlan. We take each issue and create a project plan in collaboration with our key team members or consultants. The plan needs to take a step-by-step approach that identifies what resources will be needed for successful implementation as well as a specific timeline to get there.

Step SixExecute. With a plan in hand and the workload delegated, it’s the entrepreneur’s job to pull the trigger and turn everyone loose to execute. Then he or she must monitor the activity and hold people accountable for the desired results.

You may be thinking that this is a pretty obvious process. Except that it’s not. When we are stuck on the treadmill of bedlam, chaos and stress, it’s hard if not impossible, to rise above it all and take the six steps I just outlined. Discipline is needed to stay on course – that’s another responsibility of the entrepreneur. Gradually sanity will be restored and our enterprise will hum like a well-oiled machine.

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 109 – Super Powers.

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 Macho Entrepreneur

Just about everyone has heard the 1978 song called “Macho Man” by the Village People. The first verse goes like this:

“Every man wants to be macho macho man. To have the kind of body, always in demand. Jogging in the mornings, go man go. Work outs in the health spa, muscles glow. You can best believe that, he’s a macho man. Ready to get down with, anyone he can.” Ugghh. I never did like that song. Usually this term refers to the male species and generally speaks to “showing aggressive pride in one’s masculinity,” according to one dictionary. The word is often associated with “machismo” which introduces the concept of self-reliance. I’m going to take some liberties here and loosely use the term as it relates to entrepreneurs – male and female.

Allow me to paint a picture of the Macho Entrepreneur. This individual is scrappy and passionate about his or her endeavors. The Macho Entrepreneur is driven to excel – a real Type A personality. Hard-charging and brimming over with ideas, this person sometimes has a mindset of “if you want it done right, you must do it yourself!” The Macho Entrepreneur is not going to let anything stand in his or her way to achieving success and will always “die trying.” Do you know anyone who displays these traits and tendencies? This used to be my self-portrait though I think I’m in more of a “recovery” mode at present.

The Macho Entrepreneur means no harm and thinks he or she is being noble by modeling strong-willed behavior and commitment. But there are inherent pitfalls in this approach that don’t promote the notion of building a team and ultimately a sustainable organization. When I was much more inclined in the macho mode, I received feedback that some people felt it was my way or the highway. In reality, I have a high level of ego-drive which when translated, means that I want to persuade anyone and everyone to see things my way. And my enthusiasm could sometimes come across to others like a steamroller. I was somewhat of a perfectionist – even when it made no sense to be so – which is a result of some obsessive-compulsive tendencies on my part. Finally, I’ve always been inclined to keep calm and “never let ‘em see you sweat.”

Here’s what I’ve learned. Being a Macho Entrepreneur is a dead-end. Well, maybe it’s more of a cul-de-sac because one can turn around and exit the behavior and take a new path. Regardless, the macho traits really don’t lead to building a successful organization. Trust me on this because I’ve lived through it all from start to finish. So, what’s the alternative?

I’ve said it many times – we must have the right people on the bus. These are people who share our values and have passion for what they do. This is critical because they will be motivated only if they understand our vision of the future and how they fit into the process of getting there. When we know we are surrounded by the right people we are more inclined to delegate. We don’t have to do it all ourselves. And we understand that while others may do some things differently than we might have, empowering them is even more important. As long as the ultimate objective is achieved in an efficient manner with integrity, we agree that allowing some latitude is a healthy thing. This gets us to the point of allowing others to make decisions. I once heard an entrepreneur say that he only wanted to make four decisions a year – four major decisions! This forced him to delegate decision-making and truly trust his team.

Discarding the Macho Entrepreneur label also means collaborating with others. This sends the signal that their opinions are valued and desired. And believe it or not, many members of our respective teams actually have some pretty good ideas! What comes next? We get to celebrate the success of others which reinforces the notion that they are capable of making decisions and moving the organization forward. Finally, we learn how to be a coach rather than command. No longer is coercion a necessity or an option (it probably never was). We help our team members look at the different possibilities and work through a process of determining the right approach to achieve the desired outcome.

Our lives and our organizations will be richer and more rewarding when we figure out how to transform away from being the Macho Entrepreneur. We accomplish this by surrounding ourselves with the right people who understand and share our vision; to whom we can delegate decision making and promote collaboration, and who we can coach and ultimately celebrate their victories.

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 99 – Narrow Guardrails.

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.