The Humble Entrepreneur

My daughter, son-in-law and their brood visited a fairly affluent Sunbelt community recently. They saw a lot of luxury cars, expensive jewelry, pricey condos and homes along with some monster yachts. I asked my son-in-law what surprised him the most about his experience and his response was not what I expected. He had several encounters with obviously well-to-do people that were less than pleasant.

In one instance he was preparing to pull into a parking place at a tony shopping center and a man tried to bull his way into the same space. I witnessed the incident and my son-in-law clearly was in the right. Yet the man berated him for not ceding the parking spot. There were other instances where people were pushy, impatient and downright rude. My son-in-law is still learning how to take these kinds of situations in stride. Instead of ignoring the bad behavior of others he chose to retort with his sarcastic wit.

There are a couple of lessons here for entrepreneurs and everyone in general. One of the wonderful benefits of entrepreneurship is the opportunity to gain substantial material wealth. And as our bank account grows, we may want to enjoy the fruits of our labor in the form of an upscale lifestyle. Long ago I adopted the philosophy that the “bigger” we get the humbler we become. By “bigger” I am referring to wealth, success, power and station in life. In other words, I would never want someone to identify me from a socio-economic standpoint by the way I act.

Unfortunately, there are those who think that their ascension to the riches they have accumulated entitles them to inhabit a special place in society. Metaphorically speaking they think it’s their right to go to the head of the line. Graciousness gives way to boorishness and snobbishness. There’s a very simple way to combat this attitude and prevent it from happening to us. My formula goes like this – I look to the person on my right and the person on my left and realize that I’m no better and no worse than either of those individuals. And, nothing I’ve done and nothing I will do will ever make me any better. Our true bounty comes from within – not from external sources. How we treat others is far more important than the price tag on any of our possessions.

The second lesson is that of how to respond to the kind of behavior I previously described. It’s a natural human reaction to be a bit defensive when we believe someone is attacking us. We want to stand our ground, and perhaps we even want to walk away as the winner of the bout. Newsflash – there is no victor when we engage in tit-for-tat. Sarcasm or verbal jabs may produce a momentary feeling of vindication but to what end? Did the other person change his or her mind? Did we actually solve the problem?

How should we respond? After sixty some-odd years I still remember my mother’s advice to “be the bigger person.” So, I’m pretty much done fighting with people. Instead, when I find myself in situations like my son-in-law experienced, I say two simple words . . . “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t matter if I’m 100% right, I say “I’m sorry.” At that point the other person doesn’t know what to say. They realize that anything more is pointless, and the situation is quickly defused. I can’t say that I am able to react this way every time, but it’s more often than not.

We have an opportunity to become more modest and unpretentious as we achieve more success in our lives. And with it comes eliminating the propensity to have the last word in confrontational situations.

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.

Charm School

I’ve always believed that the more successful we are the more humble we should be. Entrepreneurs have an opportunity to be fabulously successful in many different ways. And sometimes we may be viewed in a negative light by others who envy our success. That’s why it’s important that we not project the least bit of arrogance or haughtiness. One of the best ways to combat this perception is to go out of our way to practice the little courtesies in life.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize what a positive difference such courtesies can make in the lives of others. It’s one thing to be interacting personally with someone else and say please and thank you. But how well do we use these words in our e-mail conversations? Here’s a suggestion. Look through the recent “Sent Items” in your e-mail account and intentionally look for instances where you could have said “please and thank you.” Did you? Courteously asking someone to provide information or assistance in some way feels better to others than being “commanded” to do so.

My dad taught me to always hold doors open for others. As a kid, I became quite a doorman. This has certainly carried over into my adult life and it feels good to be polite in this manner. This practice doesn’t need to be limited to building doors but also elevator doors. Rather than be the first person on or off the elevator, I prefer to hold the door to make sure others get on or off ahead of me. In this day and age does this really matter? Perhaps it doesn’t make a difference to most people, but for me it’s the right thing to do. My father always had a good sense about the things he taught me and I think his teachings are ageless.

Sometimes we can be so busy and single-minded that we may not even notice others around us and fail to offer them a friendly greeting. Trust me when I say that while we may not notice them, others certainly notice us when we don’t acknowledge them. In my office or wherever I go, I strive to look others in the eye and say hello. A firm handshake also provides a sense of connection and can help to put the recipient at ease.

In the old days there was a saying about Southern charm. And there is something charming about offering compliments to others. I have found that service providers in all walks of life are often overlooked in this regard. We tend to take their service for granted. I’ve made a concerted effort over the past several years of speaking to service providers and when warranted, complimenting them on their service. If a waitperson in a restaurant has served me well, I’ll say something like, “very nice work this evening.” This statement is made at the same time that I look them in the eye, smile and shake their hand. If the service was really great, I find their supervisor and reiterate the compliment to that person. Recently I was in a restaurant where the food was exquisite. I asked my server to send out the chef if he was not too busy. I then proceeded to tell him what a fabulous meal he had prepared – I thought he was going to cry!

Here are a few other little tidbits. Drop a short handwritten thank-you note to someone with whom you’ve met or with whom you’ve dined – especially if you did so in their home or they paid the bill in a restaurant. An e-mail conveying the same message only gets us halfway there. When invited to someone’s home for dinner, don’t forget to take flowers, a bottle of wine, fine hand soap, or some other token of appreciation. I wish every high school senior had to take a Miss Manners class. The world would certainly be a much more polite and courteous place to live.

The last thing in the world we want is to step on someone’s feelings and have them think we’re an arrogant “high and mighty” so-and-so. By putting the needs of others first and being gracious we will have nothing to fear in this regard.

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

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