Marauders

There have been some interesting developments in recent times on the subject of capitalism. An angry anti-capitalism movement is in full bloom in the U.S. and around the world. The classic definition of capitalism from Merriam-Webster is, “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” And what do the anti-capitalists want? They are pursuing a moneyless society or some other economic system such as socialism or communism. How have we arrived at this point?

There has always been a certain element of society that voices opposition to capitalism. Lately the voices seem to have grown louder and perhaps greater in number. I believe that this may be due in part to some bad behavior on the part of a few marauding capitalists. What is a “marauding capitalist?” Here are some examples. The financial services company, Wells Fargo, fraudulently created more than two million phony bank accounts which generated fees for the bank and helped push sales figures for thousands of employees (along with their bonuses). Then there was the scandal involving the EpiPen. The cost to Mylan, the pharmaceutical company producing the EpiPen is $30, and yet the consumer was being charged $600. And finally, there’s the case of Martin Shkreli, formerly CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who jacked up the price of the HIV drug Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to over $700.

Some of these actions were illegal. In all cases they were immoral. When this sort of behavior is perpetrated it gives capitalism a bad reputation. It’s not hard to see how the term “marauding capitalists” came about. Society generally disapproves of those who scheme and those who take unfair advantage of others. Is it any surprise that resentment has built to the point that the anti-capitalists are coming out of the woodwork?

What can we do to inoculate ourselves from becoming a “marauding capitalist?” It all starts with a foundation of Core Values. For a good part of my career I heard about companies with Core Values, but in most cases they were “lip serviced.” They were only for window dressing and no one paid any attention to them. Several years ago we decided to become serious about developing our culture and did so by developing meaningful Core Values. Since then we’ve focused on them relentlessly and celebrated the way they are lived by members of our team. Our Core Values include Commitment, Integrity, Customer Fulfillment, Team Member Fulfillment and Community Impact. By maintaining focus on delivering on our Core Values, we have avoided the kind of actions that might be regarded as unacceptable or offensive.

With well-thought Core Values and a commitment to living them every day, we entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about doing things that are immoral or illegal. But we’re not done yet. The “living them every day” part is critical and the most difficult. This is where Culture comes into play. Every organization has a Culture – intentional or unintentional. When the Culture is positive and aligned with the Core Values, it reduces the likelihood for moving off the straight and narrow. If someone on the team proposes an initiative that is contradictory to the Core Values, someone else will call this into accountability. A healthy Culture can become a self-policing mechanism that stops “marauding capitalism” in its tracks. Most importantly, the top leaders of an organization must embrace the Core Values and model them every single day. This sends the message that the company has not simply adopted Core Values to be politically correct.

There are plenty of companies that are doing it right. Panera Bread, Atmos Energy, Kohl’s, Western Union, Marathon Petroleum, Quest Diagnostics, Union Pacific and Sempra Energy, are just a few that are admired for their trustworthiness. Unfortunately it only takes a few bad actors to poison the well for capitalism overall.

We can all do our part to prevent marauding capitalism from becoming mainstream, for it invites more government regulation and gives a platform to those who want to destroy capitalism outright. When our operating principles are congruent with our Core Values we will be successful in this effort.

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 66 – The Bermuda Triangulation Effect.

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.

Do the Hustle

The legendary Sir Richard Branson was 16 when he launched his first business venture in 1967 – a magazine called Student. He followed this with a business selling records through the mail. Thus was born Virgin Records and ultimately a multitude of companies under the Virgin brand.

Mark Cuban was 25-years old when he started software company, MicroSolutions. Seven years later he sold it at a price that put $6 million in his pocket. He reinvested his winnings into another of his start-ups, Broadcast.com which netted $5.7 billion when sold.

John Paul DeJoria bounced around in the foster system as a boy. He was involved with crime and spent time in the military before he borrowed $700 to start John Paul Mitchell Systems. His humble beginnings included door-to-door sales and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Later he founded Patron tequila, another killer brand. Today he’s worth more than $3 billion.

What did all three of these entrepreneurs have in common? They were all “hustlers.” I know that when many of us hear that term, it doesn’t have positive connotations. We have images of a smarmy, greasy, fast talking character who is constantly trying to run a con. But this isn’t the kind of hustle to which I refer. Instead, this kind of hustle is all about a desire to win.

Entrepreneurs who have hustle are resilient. They are creative and they are fearless. The easiest way to describe an entrepreneurial hustler is to look at the parallel of a hard-fought basketball game. We’ve all seen players scrambling after loose balls, flying into the stands and throwing themselves onto the floor. They are willing to sacrifice their bodies with reckless abandon in their quest to achieve victory.

When we hustle we have a warrior’s mindset. Our initial focus is on survival. How many successful entrepreneurs started from deep and dark places? Remember how J. K. Rowling faced tremendous adversity in the early days before her celebrity as the author of the Harry Potter books? Her mother passed away; she gave birth to a child and went through a divorce; was clinically depressed, and lived on welfare for a time. But her only choice was to write to survive. When we are ready to curl up and hide from the world we should remember how others were able to make it through the tough times and come out the other side stronger and ready to whip the world. Resilience is a major key to survival.

Perhaps our business isn’t growing like we planned. Maybe we’ve even seen it slide backward. Now is the time to get into “hustle mode.” This can take many forms but the most important is a mindset of renewed determination. We examine our strategy and tactics so that we can make the necessary adjustments . . . with renewed determination. We push to new levels of innovation . . . with renewed determination. And we may even do things we’ve never done before . . . with renewed determination, so that we can survive.

Eventually we begin to achieve momentum. We begin to win. And we continue to hustle. Our mindset shifts away from simple survival, and the focus is now on how to thrive. We are relentless in discovering ways to become even more creative. We absolutely, positively know that we are going to succeed. Our “hustle” now involves an even greater sense of urgency along with commitment and dedication to setting our goals even higher. We ignore our critics and all the naysayers. We work hard and we endure the pain. There is no question we’ll make many sacrifices along the way. I can remember in the early years of my career when we were building our business. We had passed the point of survival and were beginning to thrive. I would sometimes arrive at work very early – 3:00 AM. And I would meet another colleague who was leaving to go home for a few hours of sleep. We were hustling and we were winning.

The entrepreneurial hustle often begins with survival and eventually results in a breakthrough where we thrive. Resilience, hard work, creativity, a fanatically positive mindset and laser like focus are some of the more important factors to this equation.

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 65 – After the Love is Gone.

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 Case of the Frozen Hostage

Damon has a problem. His staffing company is four years old and growing like crazy. Bottom line profits have doubled year-over-year since he launched the firm and several members of his team have been with him from the very beginning. Sounds like a dream story so far, right? But as I said, Damon has a problem. A key member of his organization, Mason, has become increasingly disruptive. Mason is in a position of leadership and works tirelessly – the business would not be where it is today without him. Unfortunately, the way he treats others is unacceptable. His approach is command and control. He bullies. He yells. And he threatens. Other members of the team go out of their way to avoid dealing with this individual and everyone walks on eggshells when they are forced to interact with him.

Damon isn’t blind to the problem. He has counseled Mason on many occasions. The result is always the same – an apology and a promise to change. But change is either short-lived or never happens at all. Within days he’s back to his old ways. Damon has offered to pay for therapy but is met with a benign sort of resistance. Mason agrees that he will consider professional help but never follows through to begin receiving it.

Recently Damon began thinking about making a change and terminating Mason. He considered all of the chaos and hurt feelings caused by this person. But he also recognized that Mason has some unique skills not to mention important client relationships. On the one hand Damon knows that Mason has already caused the departure of several team members over the past 18 months. Yet, he worries that letting Mason go might cause the loss of certain clients. And who would be able to step in and have the domain expertise to function as effectively as does Mason? Damon doesn’t know what to do and as the days and weeks go by, the problems with Mason persist. This is a classic case of The Frozen Hostage.

In effect, Damon is allowing himself to be held hostage by Mason. And he’s frozen into a do-nothing position. Does any of this sound familiar? Many of us undoubtedly have similar situations that exist in our own organizations. We want to try and make things work to everyone’s satisfaction. We all want our “Masons” to turn over a new leaf and start treating others with the respect they deserve – then everyone will be happy. Not one of us wants to take that deep breath and plunge into the icy waters of our “Mason’s” exit. We are convinced it will be messy and painful. So we procrastinate. And our inaction causes more suffering within our organizations.

I will be the first to concede that dealing with an issue like this is not pleasant. We develop loyalties, especially where we know someone has busted their rear to help us build our business. But eventually we cannot tolerate the behavior any longer and realize that we need to put an end to the madness – especially if our “Mason” isn’t interested in truly modifying his behavior.

The path toward “thawing out” the Frozen Hostage is straightforward. We need a plan. It starts with determining whether or not we can abide our “Mason” until we find a replacement for him. In either case, we must identify the process for finding the replacement. The plan includes developing a clear understanding of Mason’s role and accountabilities and looking for vulnerabilities. Then we tackle the vulnerabilities including technical skills and processes, as well as internal and external relationships. What is the timetable for implementing this plan? What is going to be announced and when? Who is going to cover the different roles and accountabilities on an interim basis after Mason departs? If we are lucky enough to surreptitiously hire his replacement, how are we going to ensure that our new team member hits the ground running without stumbling?

When we are the Frozen Hostage, we aren’t inclined to create this plan of attack. We just keep hoping that things get better and we don’t have to take drastic action . . . except it never seems to work out that way. By forcing ourselves into the planning mode we begin the thawing process.

As leaders, becoming a Frozen Hostage causes serious morale problems within our organizations. Knowing that we eventually have to take an unpleasant action, a logical planning process for replacing a key team member can make the path a bit smoother.

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 64 – The LFT Problem.

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 This Murphy Guy?

Suppose you are an entrepreneur who is seeking start-up funding for a terrific idea you have. You do your homework and put together a solid business plan. Market research shows a lot of upside. Then you pitch your idea to a group of investors and hear the following observations, “I’m concerned that it would be very easy for a competitor to take this idea and run with it faster than you will.” Or, “you are projecting revenues to grow at a 25% rate per quarter for the first three years. Do you seriously believe this can be accomplished?” And finally, “your burn rate seems pretty low – in my experience a rate double what you suggest would seem more appropriate.” What do these statements and questions represent? If you said “skepticism,” you are correct.

Skepticism can be a healthy thing for entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike. In 1987, Ronald Reagan made his famous “trust but verify” statement about a treaty with the then-Soviet Union. This is a great guidepost for us where skepticism is kept in a positive perspective. Part of advancing new ideas is to have them challenged. A lot of questions are to be expected, many of which may be doubting in nature. This is good – if our ideas can survive rigorous scrutiny and we can provide evidence that is sufficient to prove our case, everyone wins.

There’s a very fine line between the kind of skepticism that is all about looking for answers or proof, and that which questions veracity or integrity. When others become suspicious of our motives, we’ve entered dangerous territory for now we’re on the border of “cynicism.” Cynics suspect that others are motivated by self-interest and at times exhibit varying degrees of paranoia. When cynicism exists in an organization it’s like a cancer. The attitude of a cynic is negative. I believe that cynics are related to Murphy – you know, the Murphy of Murphy’s Law . . . anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Cynics are often denigrating, disapproving, apprehensive, sarcastic, and like to run other people down. You can see why cynics and their cynicism are so unproductive for any organization or institution.

Let’s juxtapose the skeptic and the cynic in our previous example of the start-up seeking funding. I already provided statements and questions that might have been made from a skeptical point of view. Now, here is what the cynic might say. “This idea is unoriginal and doesn’t stand a chance to succeed. Why are you pitching this to us? I’ll bet you’re going to take our money; buy a few computers; have a big party; shut down your company, and leave us holding the bag!” Not one positive thing was said there. And all of the various cynical tendencies were on full display – sarcasm, suspicion, bitterness, paranoia, and disapproval. Sure this may be a bit over-dramatized. But the illustration shows the stark contrast that is important to understand.

We need to maintain a certain dose of skepticism lest we suffer too large a degree of naïveté. Skepticism can be difficult for some entrepreneurs. We are optimists and have powerfully positive mindsets. There may be times when we aren’t interested in looking at the downside of our ideas. That’s why it’s critical that we have people on our team who exhibit a higher level of skepticism. And we must give them permission to prod and probe while expressing their skepticism in a constructive manner. Skeptics serve the entrepreneur well as a counterbalance to wild, pie-in-the-sky unrealistic notions. On the other hand, we must constantly be on the lookout for cynics and eliminate them when they surface.

Embracing healthy skepticism helps to build a better and more sustainable organization. Denying cynicism before it takes root is equally important to the long-term success of whatever it is that we are pursuing.

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 63 – Go Away – We’re Closed!

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.

“Don’t You Know Who I Am?!”

The actor, Alec Baldwin, purportedly was riding his bike the wrong way near Union Square in New York and was stopped by police officers. After uttering some profanities, he produced this gem, “Don’t you know who I am?” We’ve all heard this before. Someone isn’t getting his or her way and so they play the “Don’t you know who I am” card. This statement is reflective of the ultimate entitlement mentality. Entrepreneurs are often on the road to success – sometimes in a big way. This success may lead to wealth, fame and power. What it doesn’t produce is entitlement.

Let’s define entitlement a bit more clearly. There are certain circumstances where entitlement is perfectly legitimate. For example, suppose we pay through the nose to fly first class on an airline. There are perks that inure to our benefit when we pay extra for them. Similarly, if we pay a premium for a luxury automobile, there will likely be some special treatment that we receive at the dealership when we arrive for service. Again, we are entitled to this special treatment because we paid for it.

Now, contrast this with the guy who always parks his luxury car in a “no parking” zone. Or the woman in an expensive mink coat who cuts in line at the grocery store or the theater. Or in 2009 when a young woman ordered a hamburger in a fast food restaurant and upon asking her name for the order, she replied to the server, “You don’t recognize me? I’m Miley Cyrus!” I don’t know about you, but I cringe when I witness this kind of behavior. This type of entitlement mentality is not the legitimate kind.

As leaders we’re role models whether we like it or not. Our team members are watching every move we make. If we happen to be in the public eye, there are many more eyeballs and ears that are taking notice of everything we are doing and saying. Oh, and they are judging us AND our organization at the same time. It’s one thing to have a great deal of self-confidence and assertiveness – this is entirely necessary to succeed in today’s rough and tumble world of commerce. But the line is crossed when that self-confidence and assertiveness becomes boorish, arrogant and aggressive.

The whole issue is one of self-esteem. The way we see ourselves comes from within and not from the outer. It’s probably no secret that people who are shoving their fame, fortune or power in the face of others, are acting from a feeling of low self-esteem. Sometimes the resulting sense of misplaced entitlement leads to destructive actions such as heaving drinking, drug use, gambling, extramarital affairs and other sorts of outrageous behaviors.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with driving a luxury automobile, wearing expensive jewelry and clothing, or being on a magazine cover. It’s how we feel about ourselves and how we treat others that matters most. Country singer Dolly Parton is one of the nicest and most humble mega-stars on the planet. Soccer star David Beckham is super polite, and actress Jennifer Lawrence is known for being very down-to-earth and easy to work with. There’s no doubt that all three are members of the rich and famous class. And yet they aren’t overcompensating for their insecurities (and they may not have any) by displaying an attitude of entitlement. They, and many others like them are gracious and put others first.

Our station in life is not a rung on a ladder. Instead, it’s simply a stepping stone that is part of a long and winding journey. Each of us is on a similar journey. When we offer a helping hand to others our lives are enriched.

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 62 – 2300 Feet and No Ropes!

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.

Sliced Tomatoes

While vacationing, my wife and I had the occasion to dine at several restaurants that we have enjoyed over the years. Something happened at two of them that was somewhat of a surprise. Here’s what occurred. At the first restaurant we had been told by a nearby merchant that a particular dish was extremely good. Naturally we wanted to partake, only to be told by the waiter that this item was only available on the bar menu. I told him that we were willing to pay an upcharge if necessary in order to enjoy this seemingly delectable delight. No dice was his reply. He went on to spin a tale about how the kitchen was too small to serve both the bar and the dining room. The explanation was not remotely plausible.

We had enjoyed a scrumptious dinner at the second restaurant and were attended to by a very outgoing server. The entrée I selected had a side dish that I didn’t prefer and I asked if some sliced tomatoes could be substituted. This was done without issue and the service was impeccable. Roll the tape forward a week with a different server but the same entrée. Again, I asked for sliced tomatoes and was very abruptly informed that the chef was not going to accommodate my request. This server (a bit on the snippy side to begin with) said that there had been quite a conversation with the chef about such a substitution and he wasn’t going to slice any tomatoes.

In both situations, the desires of the customer were secondary to the desires of the restaurants. In both cases, I wrote social media reviews pointing out that the operational efficiencies of the eateries were apparently more important than offering a memorable customer experience. And as I thought about it more I realized how often this approach is taken by many businesses. But why?

We’re in the day and age of creating customer experiences. No longer is it just about selling a product or service. I’ve advocated for years that we should avoid “selling to” customers (product-centric) and help customers “buy from” (customer-centric). Helping people buy something provides us with an opportunity to create a more tailored and pleasant experience – something they might mention in a positive manner when speaking with friends and family . . . or posting on social media. Both restaurants failed the test. The food was so-so at the first establishment but truly amazing at the second. Yet, the wonderful cuisine was overshadowed by the negative experience of a chef who apparently was throwing a hissy fit for unknown reasons. I would have certainly understood if the tomatoes were of poor quality and that had been explained to me. And while the chef may have had a limited supply of tomatoes to be reserved for other dishes that included tomatoes, there is a fabulous modern day invention called a “grocery store.”

I eat breakfast regularly at a restaurant where the proprietor often makes a run to the nearby grocery store when she runs low on a particular food item. The last thing she wants to tell a customer is that she is out of something and can’t accommodate a request. The upshot of all of this is to pause for a moment and look at our own operations. Are there things we can do to make sure we are creating a positive customer experience? Do we have systems and processes that are designed to make our operations more efficient and profitable, but could potentially stand in the way of putting a smile on the customer’s face? Are we a slave to rigidity and adherence to a very precise “recipe?” Perhaps we should consider applying the “reasonableness test.” In other words, is the request of a customer reasonable or not? If it is, we should accommodate it to create the desired experience. If I had asked for Baked Alaska, that probably wouldn’t have passed the “reasonableness test.” But sliced tomatoes?

Entrepreneurs can differentiate themselves by working to create a memorable customer experience. This can be accomplished by developing a reasonableness test when it comes to customer requests.

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 61 – The Zone of Doom.

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.

Spock-Like

When I was a kid growing up it seems like my mother was always cooking something in a pressure cooker. I have no recollection of exactly what food she was preparing; I just remember the mystique of the pressure cooker. I think I must have been warned that there was an inherent danger with this device and I never wanted to stand too close. It’s possible that I was told that the thing could blow up at any second and I would be maimed by flying shrapnel, pork chop bones or some other lethal object. In retrospect, I think this admonition was one more way to keep me out of the kitchen while Mom was cooking dinner.

Anger is like the pressure cooker. It can simmer for a while and then seemingly explode in an unpredictable manner. From a physiological standpoint, the amygdala is the part of our brain that is the culprit. When the amygdala sounds the alarm to the body that something is present that will make us angry, our adrenal glands start pumping and testosterone is also produced. We begin speaking in a louder and more rapid voice. Our muscles tense, our cheeks flush and our heart starts beating faster. Anger is the ticket to higher risk for heart disease, and it also accelerates the aging process as well as decreases lung functions. Pure and simple – anger isn’t good for us.

Here’s the thing. It takes a superhuman effort not to get angry, especially when things aren’t going as planned. Now think about leadership and anger. Is there a productive correlation? The answer is obvious. To be strong and effective leaders we must curb our temper. Perhaps we’ve experienced the type of boss who has a hair trigger. When he goes off the meltdown is epic. His face gets beet red. He yells and screams. There may be a plethora of profanities laced throughout his diatribe. In extreme cases he may even shove files and papers to the floor or even throw something. What is the usual result of such a tantrum? There’s a general feeling of embarrassment and a specific sympathetic reaction to the party that is bearing the brunt of the boss’s emotion. Everyone keeps their head down and makes a detour away from the boss for the rest of the day. Overall, morale is destroyed. Fear is palpable. Is there any silver lining here? The simple answer is, no.

If all of the preceding is true, what is the point in getting angry? You guessed it – there is none. Do we truly feel better after we get angry? Do we enjoy the headache that ensues; the elevated blood pressure, and increased anxiety? I’ve worked for decades at “lengthening my fuse.” Those who have known me for a long time can attest to the fact that I rarely get mad anymore. This doesn’t mean that I’ve become a pushover. I’ve just learned that the toll that anger takes on my colleagues and me is just too high.

Here’s what I’ve discovered. When something is about to trigger an anger response I recognize the need to become stoic. A stoic is defined as “a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.” Think Mr. Spock in Star Trek or Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption. I have also come to realize that maintaining a positive mindset in every circumstance is critical to problem solving. Anger is a negative emotion and does nothing to get to a solution. This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel disappointment or even a momentary flash of “extreme dissatisfaction.” But staying in such a feeling is poisonous in every respect and is not the way I want to model for others.

Temper tantrums are for little kids and are usually best ignored. The best leaders are able to control their emotions and help their team move in a positive direction no matter what.

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 60 – Innie or Outie?

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.