The Culture of Tang

What in the world? Are we talking about the iconic breakfast drink called Tang that was launched in 1959 by General Foods? No, this is a blog about an amazing man named Jerome Tang. Never heard of him? No surprise – most people haven’t.

Jerome Tang was born in Trinidad in 1966 and moved with his parents to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was the head basketball coach for the Heritage Christian Academy in Cleveland, Texas. In 2003 he was hired as an assistant coach for the Baylor Bears basketball team where he served for the next 19 years. In March 2022, Tang was named head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats where the basketball program was suffering successive losing seasons. The team was in such despair that only two players were left when he arrived – the remaining players had transferred to other schools. Pre-season polls unanimously picked Kansas State to finish last in the Big 12 conference. Fast forward to March 2023. Kansas State claimed third place in the conference; was a number three seed in the NCAA Tournament; beat blue-blood teams including Kentucky and Michigan State; and lost in an Elite Eight contest by three points, finishing the season with a 26-10 record.

This is an incredible “rags to riches” story about how Jerome Tang created a winning culture – instantly. And it has profound implications for entrepreneurs. With only two players waiting for his arrival, Tang turned to the transfer portal and was successful at bringing together a group of young men who wanted to win. He spoke often about how he wasn’t there to rebuild the basketball program – he intended to elevate it. He told the players that his goal the first year was to win the NCAA Championship (something Baylor accomplished in 2021). Big Hairy Audacious Goal? You bet. But why not?

Kansas State happens to be my alma mater, so I had a close-up view of how this man built a winning culture so quickly. He did it with joy. Jerome Tang was always smiling. It was obvious that he was having the time of his life. Before games, the team would sit in the locker room and dance to a rap song. Guess who was leading the clapping and swaying? Jerome Tang. Bramlage Coliseum had been coined as the Octagon of Doom in earlier days but the fan base had slipped over the years. Tang preached joy from the moment he set foot on campus. During the 2022-2023 season, the Wildcats won all but one game at home and the fans came roaring back. Tang did not disappoint. After each game he would jump into the stands and dance with the band or the students. At the conclusion of the last home game the entire team went into the stands and danced.  

Along with joy came a positive attitude. Coach Tang set the tone and the players responded to the positivity. When the Wildcats lost their final game in the NCAA Tournament, Tang met every player as they entered the locker room and congratulated them with a hand slap and a “head up” exclamation. Star player, Markquis Nowell explained, “he said if this is the worst thing that we have to go through, then our life will be pretty damned good. There are some people really going through some hard things in life, and I just lost a basketball game.” Earlier in the season, the fans were engaging in a derogatory chant about archrival, the Kansas Jayhawks. Tang grabbed the microphone at the end of the game and encouraged everyone to cheer for K-State and not against another team. He then led the crowd in a K-S-U chant that became the standard at the games thereafter.

Jerome Tang led by example in the off-season and throughout the regular season. He is a man of deep faith and did not hesitate to thank God for his blessings. Many of the players embraced his proclamations of faith – something he called Crazy Faith – and did the same during press conferences and media interviews. He was the epitome of humbleness and never took credit for himself. His players did the same – always pointing to the team effort. Clearly the players loved each other and celebrated each other’s success.

Tang was also a most gracious man. Thirty-three minutes before the start of the Michigan State game in the Sweet Sixteen, Coach Tang dialed a stranger in Wichita, Kansas to offer his condolences to a couple who had tragically lost their daughter (a K-State student) days earlier in a car accident. The grieving mother said, “He didn’t do it for it to become public, so if anything comes from this, we would want it to be a beautiful example of how Christians not only treat each other, but how Christians treat other people.” After the final game in the Elite Eight when the Wildcats lost in heartbreaking fashion, Tang made a trip to the opposing team’s locker room and told them that they were the “toughest sons of guns we’ve played all year.” He congratulated the opposing players and urged them to stay together and not get distracted and told them how proud he was of them. The opposing team! And, in his opening statement at the press conference after the game he said, “If we can’t be grateful in these times, then all the love and joy that we talk about is fraud. And we’re not frauds.”

Jerome Tang has a bountiful future ahead as the charismatic head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats basketball team. The legacy he is building is something for which every entrepreneur should take notice. A Winning Culture can be built with Joy, Positivity, Grace, Humbleness, Faith, and Love. And it can happen quickly.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Reactionary Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is all about innovation and being on the cutting edge. It’s about dreaming, creating, and doing things our own way. Sound about right to you? Then what would you say if I told you that another aspect of entrepreneurship is being reactionary? Actually, I’m taking liberties with the term. When I was reaching adulthood in the late sixties and early seventies, a reactionary was usually associated with a person who was protesting the Vietnam War and might use extreme measures to do so. To be sure, I’m not referring to entrepreneurs as this kind of reactionary. Entrepreneurs are reactionary in the sense that we are often reactive. What we react to can be make or break for our enterprise. Let’s look at two different aspects of being reactive.

Many entrepreneurs react to their competition. This is evident every day as we watch companies raise or lower prices based upon what they see their competitors doing. But there are many other examples of how this is being done. Company A produces a wearable device that measures the steps taken by a consumer. Company B produces a similar device that measures steps, but it also measures sleep patterns. Executives at Company A become concerned that it will lose market share, so they order the production of an upgraded device that measures steps, sleep and calories consumed. This is the additional “bells and whistles” approach. This arms race continues unabated – we’ve all seen it over and over.

While it’s important to know what our competition is doing, there’s something even more important to which we must react. Smart entrepreneurs react to their customers. Just because Company B produced a wearable device that measures steps, sleep, calories, plays music, allows the viewing of text messages, AND counts the number of black cats that cross our path, it doesn’t mean that their customers really want such features. Rather than participate in the arms race with his/her competition, the smart entrepreneur drills down to understand what customers want and need, and then focuses on producing a product that responds accordingly.

Normally we say that we want to be proactive. We tend to think that being reactive is somehow “behind the curve.” In many areas of entrepreneurship this way of thinking is correct. We may equate being reactive to being unprepared, slow to respond or being a step or two behind. As entrepreneurs we need to be proactive when it comes to our production methods, marketing, and sales ideas, and in all areas of human resources. But being reactive to our customers is just plain good business.

Let’s break this down further. If we are totally and continuously connected to our customers, we are going to know immediately when they perceive issues with our products and services, giving us the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments. For example, maybe we make a thing-a-ma-jig that is blue. But we learn from some of our customers that they really want it to be red. We react and begin making a red version. This is good. Suppose that our delivery time used to be one week and now is two. Our customers begin telling us that two weeks is too long. So, we react and tighten our delivery schedule. This is not good. Why? Because we should know that customers don’t want to wait two weeks for anything – everyone wants everything yesterday. We should have been proactive in this instance and never let the delivery schedule push out to two weeks. Instead, we should have been proactively trying to figure out how to shorten the timeframe from one week to a couple of days.

The entrepreneur who is constantly reacting to his/her competitors is the one who is behind the curve. Always trying to one-up the competition is a dangerous game to play unless it is done in concert with understanding the needs and wants of the customer. And then, the focus actually shifts from the competition to the customer. In the end, this may result in besting the other competitor in the space – but that wasn’t the primary objective.

Being an entrepreneurial reactionary makes sense when we are reacting to what we can do better for our customers. Then we can be proactive in all other aspects of our enterprise.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Chaotic and 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 most 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 bit 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 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 assist.

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 an 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.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The “Just Figure It Out” Entrepreneur

Several years ago, my wife and I attended one of her high school class reunions. For her sake, I won’t say which one, but let’s just say that it’s been several decades since her high school days. The event was well planned and quite enjoyable. As we were eating dinner at the banquet, I learned that the restaurant originally scheduled to cater the food bailed out just two weeks earlier. I inquired as to how this possibly could have happened and it was explained that apparently a new manager had recently been hired and there may have been other staffing issues. The restaurant is well-known and long-established in the community and it’s shocking that it reneged on its commitment. Fortunately, another restaurant was able to step up at the last minute and cater the class reunion.

I understand that things happen. Hiccups occur in the entrepreneurial world. However, it’s times like these where the real entrepreneurs shine. When we make commitments, we do whatever it takes to honor them. Sometimes this requires a great deal of creativity. Sometimes we lose money. But no matter what, we always honor our commitments. In the case of the original caterer for my wife’s class reunion, I don’t know what prevented them from following through and providing the food for the event. I found it interesting that while the reunion was in full swing, this restaurant was open and serving dinner across the street from the reunion site.

Real entrepreneurs have a “we’ll figure it out” attitude. Our word is our bond, and we’ll die trying to deliver what we promise. Since I don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding the failure of the caterer, let’s game out some scenarios. Perhaps the restaurant found itself with an unexpected labor shortage. The management may have felt that when understaffed, it could not deliver on the catering assignment. I happen to know that this restaurant has locations in other towns that aren’t too far away. One entrepreneurial approach might have been to pull staff from another town to make it possible to honor the catering commitment. I realize that this might have cost the restaurant an extra amount of money, but that shouldn’t enter the equation where a commitment is concerned.

A second scenario might have been one where the former manager made the commitment at a price that caused the restaurant to incur a loss. Maybe that’s why there’s a new manager! Regardless, if the commitment was made at the specified price, it should have been honored. A third scenario might have been one where there was a problem in the supply chain. I find this rather implausible because the cancellation occurred approximately two weeks before the event – more than enough time to resolve an issue with a supplier. However, should that have been the case the restaurant could easily have made other arrangements to procure the necessary ingredients even if it meant buying the items at the grocery store.

The point is that a real entrepreneur would just “figure it out.” Sometimes we do things with bubble gum and baling wire. At other times we deliver a result that is a work of art. The main thing is that the job gets done and the customer is thrilled. Welching on a commitment is simply unheard of to a real entrepreneur. In the case of the caterer, they are running a great risk because of their actions. I overheard some of my wife’s classmates who were so irritated that there was talk of boycotting the restaurant and writing negative reviews on social media. I’m sure the word will spread throughout the city and other high school classes will avoid using this restaurant for catering their reunions.  

There is a caveat to all of this. It’s important to understand that “we’ll just figure it out” is a fine approach for entrepreneurs at the early stages of our ventures. Eventually we need to refine our systems and processes and create redundancy in every area of our operation. It’s not possible to reach a level of scale if “we’ll just figure it out” is our long-term strategy. While it may sound laughable that any entrepreneur would do this over the long haul, I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve seen many, many companies that have been in this mode for years.

Real entrepreneurs always honor their commitments. And sometimes this requires them to “just figure it out” through unconventional means.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Woke Entrepreneur

If you think this blog is going to wade into the political morass of what has been termed as “wokeness” in society, well, that’s not going to happen. The Woke Entrepreneur I’m about to describe is a totally different kind of “woke.” Instead, I should probably use the term “Awakened Entrepreneur.”

The Awakened Entrepreneur has a number of traits and tendencies. For starters he/she is a visionary and has a clear idea of what the future looks like. This person understands how critical it is to communicate this vision in such a way that everyone in the organization knows “what it looks like where they get there.”

The Awakened Entrepreneur is a “Culture Builder.” I’ve said it before that every organization has a culture – either intentional or unintentional. Strong sustainable companies have intentional cultures that have been developed and refined over a period of years. A great leader believes in the culture and tirelessly supports and promotes it because it creates a solid foundation on which a company relies.

The Awakened Entrepreneur is authentic. There are no hidden agendas with this person. He or she is comfortable in their own skin and sees no need to put on airs or present a fake façade. The Awakened Entrepreneur exudes honesty and integrity. When someone meets this person, they instantly feel a high level of trust and honor. This genuineness can create the kind of reputation which every organization aspires to. We’ve all seen leaders who are known to be conniving and crafty – and their company is viewed in the same light.

The Awakened Entrepreneur is sensitive to the feelings of others. He or she is always looking for ways to support every member of the team. When corrective action is needed, this person does so with warm candor. He/she does not criticize publicly instead choosing to coach in private and without demonstrations of anger or hostility.

The Awakened Entrepreneur does not seek the limelight but deflects it in favor of other team members. This is yet another example of how this person is comfortable with himself/herself and does not need kudos or adulation. He/she builds up others by making certain they receive credit and recognition for their good work. Further, the Awakened Entrepreneur is quick to own his/her mistakes and never “throws anyone under bus.” In fact, this leader will take responsibility for errors and failures on behalf of the organization. There is no finger pointing by the Awakened Entrepreneur.

The Awakened Entrepreneur sets a good example for others. He/she demonstrates the desired work ethic and lives the organization’s core values. This person understands that the entire team is watching and his/her actions speak louder than words. You’ll never see this person getting drunk at the company Christmas party or having an inappropriate relationship with another member of the team. This leader never asks someone to do something that he or she wouldn’t do himself/herself.

The Awakened Entrepreneur is the eternal optimist and remains positive no matter the situation. While others may be disappointed in circumstance or outcome, this leader will always look for – and find – the silver lining. He or she understands that the psyche of the organization rises or falls with his/her mindset.

Yes, the Awakened Entrepreneur is many things – a visionary, a culture builder, authentic, sensitive to others, shuns the spotlight, sets a good example, and is always positive. Maybe this will some day become the new definition of “woke.”

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Stardust Entrepreneur

Our seven-year-old granddaughter claims she has a twin sister named Stardust . . . except that Stardust is older than our granddaughter. Stardust supposedly lives in the attic of our granddaughter’s home . . . even though there is no attic. Stardust is apparently homeschooled though our daughter says she’s never shown up for class. What’s most amazing is how I can ask a multitude of questions about Stardust and my granddaughter always has an answer for every one – instantly. The creative mind of this little girl is truly incredible, hilarious, and heartwarming.

There’s an entrepreneurial lesson here beyond the sharing of a proud grandpa story. How many of us have been able to preserve and expand upon the child’s imagination that many of us enjoyed when we were seven? How many of us have settled for the “reality” of life as we have become consumed with adulthood? Are we listening to the whispers that tell us to stay in our lane and color within the lines?

Imagination is inspiring. And inspiration propels us to elevate our game and do great things. Over the years, I’ve heard many entrepreneurs lament that they just aren’t creative. And I acknowledge that much of creativity is innate. But not all of it. Every entrepreneur can learn to be more creative, but it takes effort, intentionality, and practice. From time to time, I used a technique to test the creativity of a prospective team member during an interview – often for a sales position. After talking for a while and helping the prospect become comfortable, I tossed him or her a paper clip and asked the prospect to sell it to me. Often, the prospect would make a valiant effort to sell me on the “reality” of the paper clip. The virtues of the shape, strength, color, and utility would be extolled. It was an exciting moment when someone saw something other than a paper clip. I was asked need determination questions and to share my pain points. And then amazingly, the paper clip was transformed into something that removed that pain. The paper clip as a prop was re-imagined into a solution.

The whole point is that a few people were able to look at the paper clip differently. And that’s the moral of this story. We can improve our creative spirit by learning to look at something differently. Maybe it’s a system or process. Perhaps it’s a product or even a market. The process of looking at something differently can be enhanced by bringing others into a brainstorming session who are innately creative. A great entrepreneur will constantly challenge himself/herself to look differently at as many things as possible.

The sustainability of an organization must go beyond mastery. That is, we can develop the gold standard for a product or service and excel for an extended period of time. But if that’s all we do, our organization will eventually die. Why? Because someone else will come along and see the paper clip differently. They will improve upon it or change it completely and eventually our loyal customers will value that difference more highly and leave.

Seeing things differently and acting accordingly can be scary and chaotic. Change can ruffle many feathers and there’s no doubt that an organization that “flits” from one idea to the next can be at risk. But there’s no question that some level of mastery is needed – otherwise continual change can cause whiplash! Finding the right balance between creative explosion and basic inertia is obviously critical. We’ve been fine tuning this balance in our family of companies for more than 50 years. The good news is that our team has embraced both aspects of looking at things differently and successfully mastering the changes that are made.  

It’s my hope that Stardust will visit you someday soon and help you realize your unlimited potential that comes through your power of imagination.  

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Modern-Day Entrepreneur

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 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 with 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.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Expert Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, do you know it all? Most people will answer that they don’t. But guess what – we should! I’m speaking metaphorically of course. The point is that if we expect to win over the long haul, we had better be expert at what we do. When we are in command of the facts, we project confidence to others and feel it for ourselves. Malcom Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours of continuous and deliberate practice to become an expert. That’s five years of plying our craft before we become truly proficient. So, does this mean that after five years of working in the same profession we are officially experts? Not so. How much of our day is truly consumed with “continuous and deliberate practice?” I submit that there are several things we can do that put us in such a lane . . . and many more daily tasks that don’t qualify at all.

Study! One of the first steps in our quest toward entrepreneurial fluency is that of study and research. We read every trade publication we can get our hands on, and every book that is even semi-related to our industry. We surf the internet for the latest trends and news that might be salient. In the earlier days of my career, there were many articles that were ripped out of magazines and circulated throughout our office. Today it’s much easier to share information with others and here’s the key. We NEVER stop studying and researching. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been in the business for five years or 45 years, we continue to be a sponge for knowledge.

Professional designations! Earning a professional certification or designation is another step toward becoming an expert. One of the first things I did after I entered my industry was begin taking the coursework necessary to attain a professional designation. I was only 25 when I received it, and it helped overcome my obvious youth in establishing credibility within the industry. I also made some lifelong acquaintances that have been very helpful in my career.

Experiment! Part of the process of continuous and deliberate practice is experimentation. Through experimentation we find out what works and what doesn’t. It’s comforting to know that the aircraft in which we fly were developed by experts. When we have surgery, we know that experts developed the procedures and techniques. These experts perfected the airplane and surgical techniques through literally millions of iterations. We entrepreneurs should be bold and unafraid to continually experiment to discover new innovations.

Collaborate! Hand-in-hand with experimentation is collaboration. We look for every opportunity to work with others who may have solved similar problems or are seeking answers in the same manner as are we. Being willing to collaborate is a sign of strength – not weakness. Rather than having to figure everything out on our own, we can shortcut the process of becoming an expert by joining forces. This is a leverage play and one that should not be overlooked.

Teach it! Teaching others is a terrific way to cement our own knowledge and to learn from others. During the teaching process many questions are asked by the “students” which can be stimulating for the teacher. Mentoring falls in this category as well. When we can explain things to others in a meaningful way and challenge them to think critically; and when it’s clear that they are realizing true value from what we are sharing, we are achieving expert status.  

Participate in the discussion! This entails writing articles, blogs, and books. It involves attending industry conferences and sitting on panels of – yes, you guessed it – experts! Who does the local or national press contact for information about an industry? If they are calling you, then you are probably regarded as an expert. Take full advantage of this opportunity and become the go-to person for as many newspapers, trade publications and other information sources as possible.

Know the answers! Finally, a real expert knows the answers and is right most of the time. We should have a deep understanding of the macro and micro elements of our industry and be able to explain how our product or service is capitalizing on these elements. Being able to construct logical fact-based arguments that persuade others is a priceless quality. And it unquestionably demonstrates expertise.

Becoming an expert in our field takes thousands of hours of study and research; is aided by earning professional designations or certifications; experimenting, collaborating, and teaching; participating in the discussion and knowing the answers. And being an expert often provides a clear pathway to high levels of success.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Cheating Entrepreneur

I’m not writing this blog to be judgmental. I’m really not. However, there are some subjects that cannot be discussed without sounding judgmental. So here goes. Let’s look at the topic of (gasp!) cheating. I can’t say whether cheating is more prevalent in the business world today than 10, 25 or even 50 years ago. It still is an issue that takes many forms.

Presumably we all started learning about cheating as small children. As a youngster, I remember many a board game that devolved into accusations of cheating. Our teachers and parents admonished us to never look at someone else’s paper when taking a test. Playground games were fertile grounds for cheating – remember four-square? “The ball hit the line and is out.” “No, it didn’t!” “You’re a big fat cheater!” Roll the tape forward and as adults we might see team members clocking in or out for colleagues; money being borrowed from the petty cash box; résumés containing college degrees that weren’t earned or military service that didn’t happen; padded expense reports and exaggerated (and sometimes untruthful) claims about all sorts of things.

This all may sound like a collection of relatively minor transgressions. So let me tell you a story. Several years ago, we had an apartment manager who used a corporate account at a local store to make some personal purchases totaling less than $100 – and she reimbursed the property without being asked. When questioned by her supervisor, she admitted her mistake. Following company protocol, the supervisor wrote a memo that ended up in her file advising her that she had violated policy with a dishonest act. In our system of progressive discipline, another such incident could be grounds for termination. This probably seems like an innocuous situation – right? But the story gets worse.

A few years later it was discovered that this individual had concocted a very intricate, elaborate and almost impossible-to-discover embezzlement scheme – to the tune of $160,000. Her property received federal rent subsidies, and while we never had any money missing – her property was always 100% occupied and all rents collected every month – she figured out how to defraud the federal government. As her employer, we had to immediately re-pay the $160,000 to the government and then filed a claim under our crime insurance policy. Of course, she was prosecuted but had spent all the money, so there was no way to recover the stolen funds from her. The biggest surprise came when our insurance carrier denied the claim. Why? There was a fine-print clause in the policy that denied coverage if we knowingly hired or retained an employee who was dishonest. And the damning piece of evidence was that memo in her file that contained the words “dishonest act” involving her use of a company credit account for personal purposes. I’ll spare you the ugly details of litigation against the crime insurance carrier as well as the errors and omissions insurance carrier. Needless to say, we lost and ate the $160,000 (plus legal fees).

The moral of the story is three-fold. First, understand the fine details of your insurance coverage and modify your policies and procedures accordingly. Second, be careful at shrugging off small acts of cheating or dishonesty. They are a window into the overall character of an individual. What may appear to be a seemingly simple “mistake” could be the tip of a very expensive iceberg. Finally, everyone needs to see us as the paragon of virtue. We entrepreneurs need to model “squeaky clean” for our team, our customers and for the public at large. As hard as it may be, we need to demand complete and total integrity from ourselves and everyone else in our organizations. We start by always doing the right thing – especially when no one else is looking. And we hold our colleagues and associates to the same standard. The temptation may be great to cheat to compete, especially if we are struggling to gain traction. But if we do, it’s hard to expect others not to follow suit.

Integrity is not a puritanical concept. Great leaders always do the right thing and show others that it is the only standard by which to operate.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Victimized Entrepreneur

I listened to a fascinating business podcast recently. The host was interviewing an entrepreneur who apparently has faced many challenges throughout her career. What struck me the most was her statement that she has a “chip on her shoulder.” We’ve all heard this phrase before, and often it’s portrayed in a positive light. The thesis is that a person has faced adversity and come away from the experience stronger and tougher. I downloaded the transcript of this interview (which lasted for nearly an hour) and read it carefully. What I pieced together led me to question how positive a “chip on the shoulder” notion actually is. When does it veer into victimization territory?

For starters, let’s look at some phrases that I excerpted from the transcript. “Not everybody had a fair shake.” “In another way the industry is biased, and the numbers are terrible and bleak.” “I will say that it took an embarrassingly long time to get anyone to take me seriously, so that’s where the insult is.” “Some of these barriers are just insulting.” “One person has to climb the mountain and another’s gotta climb a fence.” “The person across the table has to get a fighting chance.” “I don’t play well with others.” “I’ll tell you this honestly, our goal post has moved – it’s also there is a microscope on what I’m doing and what my company is doing, that is not on other companies.” And how about this gem? “Back to the theme that it’s a meritocracy except you have to work five or ten times harder than everybody else which is the opposite of a meritocracy.” Other words were used like “dignity,” “gut punch,” “injustice” and “really screwed me over.”

This entrepreneur shared her journey of the past two or three years, and while she’s clearly made some progress with her business, a case could be made that she ought to be farther along. She obviously believes that the reason that she is not is due to external forces that have conspired against her. I don’t think I’ve listened to someone sound more like a victim in a long time. Unfortunately, the podcast host played the part of enabler and sympathizer. He egged her on and attempted to validate her claims. Yet, she presented very little concrete evidence to support her mindset.

I can’t begin to know all the experiences encountered by this entrepreneur. Undoubtedly there have been some trials and tribulations along the way – however, the world is not selective about this! The entrepreneur from the podcast has chosen to develop a “chip on her shoulder,” advocating that the deck has been stacked against her and others have stood in the way of her success. The result appears to be a bitter self-fulfilling prophesy.

What if this entrepreneur took a different path? What if this entrepreneur looked at the obstacles as opportunities rather than conspiracies? What if she believed in her heart that every failure meant that something even bigger and better was in store? What if she could visualize abundance and possibility instead of lack and limitation? Over the course of my career, I’ve always found that embracing optimism and positivity begat the desired results far more often than wallowing in pessimism and negativity.

For me, a “chip on the shoulder” is a cynical mindset. It is typified by wariness, suspicion, skepticism, and distrust. Entrepreneurs that wrap themselves in a “chip on the shoulder” cocoon will have a much tougher time receiving the good which they are pursuing. Here’s an indisputable fact. The adversity we experience directly shapes our mindset. But we make a choice as to what shape it takes. When we dwell on “being screwed over,” “gut punches” and “not playing well with others,” we are setting that shape as a giant chip that rests on our shoulder. And what a weight that chip can become!

We can avoid a “chip on the shoulder” mentality by following the positive path to our success. This enables us to work through, around, over and under the obstacles that we face and see them as opportunities to grow.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all the other major eBook formats.