The Assertive vs. Aggressive Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur Jason and Entrepreneur Jessica are similar in a lot of ways. They have built successful businesses from the ground up; are creators of innovative products and are considered by their peers as visionaries. But there is a major difference between them. Probably the best way to explain this difference is to observe them in action.

One morning, Jason’s production manager enters his office at which point Jason launches into an inquisition. Apparently, there is an issue on the assembly line and Jason wants to get to the bottom of it. The production manager begins to explain the problem, but Jason interrupts and cuts him off. He raises his voice, and his face turns red – it’s obvious that he’s agitated. Eventually he stands up, paces and gestures frequently.

Across town, Jessica is meeting with her sales manager who is explaining issues involving a downturn in sales. Jessica sits calmly and listens to the entire presentation. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments and then asks several very direct questions. Her expression never changes as her clear blue eyes focus like lasers on her associate. Jessica is the picture of composure and finally offers her opinion in a steady and measured voice.

How would we characterize the behavior of Jason? And how about that of Jessica? The word that describes Jason is “aggressive” and the word that describes Jessica is “assertive.” There’s no question that Jason was heavy handed in his approach with the production manager. It’s almost like he was trying to overpower the guy. By contrast Jessica was able to demonstrate her leadership forcefully without showing anger.

Assertiveness or aggressiveness – which is the more effective leadership style? While it may depend upon the circumstances, assertiveness has a higher probability to successfully influence others. Think about it. Are we more receptive to someone who is positive or someone who is negative? An assertive leader may be straightforward and even direct, but never belittles or resorts to intimidation.

Why are some leaders too aggressive? I believe that one explanation could be a lack of confidence, some sort of insecurity, or a combination of both. People who are concerned about being “found out” may use aggressiveness as a smokescreen. Leaders who are overly aggressive may cause morale problems. When negative energy is created it is difficult to maintain a productive environment. Aggressive people may be prone to mercurial outbursts and unnerving stares which further contribute to the unhealthy atmosphere that has been created.

For entrepreneurs building a business (and anyone else for that matter), a gut check is necessary to determine one’s position on the aggression meter. Aggressive tendencies can be tempered when we learn how to become more assertive. And the first step is to recognize when our aggressive behavior is about to go on display. It’s important to identify a trigger that alerts us that we need to shift gears. This will require some real introspection to make this discovery. Then we must emulate the behavior of an assertive person. We become impassive with our facial features. We project calm. We lower the volume of our voice, and we show respect for those with whom we interact. Changing one’s reputation as an aggressive personality is a tall order. But with awareness and effort such a change can be accomplished.

Assertiveness is a positive quality that can enhance our leadership style. And through awareness and commitment it’s possible to eliminate aggressive tendencies and replace them with the assertive traits that are desirable.

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

The Entrepreneur and the Team Slump

My favorite Major League baseball team was in a slump. They couldn’t hit their way out of a paper bag. Their starting pitching was amazing, but the bats were asleep. They were losing games 1 – 0 or 2 – 1. For a fan, it was agonizing to watch. How could it be that an entire team that is paid over $140 million a year cannot hit? What’s worse, the two highest paid starters were batting .169 and .203 respectively. It’s one thing for a player or two to be slumping. It’s quite another for the whole team to be in this predicament. Yeah, I know – I should have taken the long view. The season goes on forever and eventually the bats should come alive (they didn’t). Hopefully it wouldn’t be too late to make a serious run at a pennant (it was). But this whole episode is instructive from an entrepreneurial standpoint. What happens when our entire team is in a slump?

Have you ever felt like nothing is going right? Multiply this by the same feeling being shared by nearly everyone on your team and you may have a genuine team slump. The reason for this is as obvious as the entire baseball team slumping all at the same time. In scientific terms, the team’s attitude is messed up! So, you ask – how did we get there in the first place? Who knows? The important thing is that if we’re not careful it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It often starts with one person – perhaps a star producer – who is struggling with a losing streak. That individual may grouse a bit with the “woe is me” routine. Others listen to this and can’t help but be impacted. It’s particularly concerning when a leader in the organization becomes negative in this way. Team members begin to feel a bit insecure. Everyone starts looking over their shoulders. They work especially hard to avoid mistakes and become very self-conscious in the process. Eventually each member of the team has become part of the downward spiral that creates the aforementioned slump.

What’s the way out? In baseball, sometimes the general manager fires the hitting coach. In other instances, the manager may shuffle the lineup. I’ve heard of more drastic situations where a team meeting occurs, and a player reads the riot act to the rest of the team. Then everyone rallies, puts on a new face, and plays the game with new resolve. And sometimes all of this can work.

I submit that when a team is struggling as a whole, it’s time for the leader to step up. It’s a time for calm. If the entrepreneur/leader starts to panic, it’s awfully hard for the whole team not to follow suit. Instead, strong positive reinforcement is needed from the leader. Each team member needs to be told in genuine terms how critical he or she is to the organization. The leader should point to the positive patterns of success that have been realized in the past. He or she shouldn’t hesitate to provide coaching where there are obvious flaws in execution.

It’s also a time to engage the team in an exercise of collaboration. Team meetings are held where ideas are exchanged, and new positive energy is created. It’s important for us as entrepreneurs to be truly optimistic and upbeat. It’s not a time to wallow in despair and dwell on all the negative things that have been occurring. When we model calm and creativity, our team will respond in kind. Our leadership has never been more important than at times like this.

Ultimately, we want each member of our team to commit to a positive attitude. Sound a bit woo-woo? It’s not. I haven’t been in the locker room of my favorite baseball team, but I’m willing to bet that the attitude isn’t very positive. Attitude is a razor’s edge. It’s easy to tip either way into positive or negative territory. If the team ends up with a negative attitude there is no way that it will win. It’s the entrepreneurs charge to make absolutely certain that a positive attitude is attained and maintained.

Team slumps can be attributed to the team’s attitude. Strong leadership that creates infectious positivity is a great start toward helping the team regain its balance and winning form.

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

The Entrepreneur’s Personal SWOT

Almost every entrepreneur has heard about the acronym, SWOT. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Typically, the SWOT analysis is used as a corporate assessment. We gauge each of these areas relative to our own businesses and then create strategies to respond accordingly. But there is another application of the SWOT analysis that I have rarely (maybe never) heard utilized. And that is to perform a personal SWOT analysis. As the entrepreneur, it is a good practice to self-perform the SWOT. But it would also be enlightening to have a peer or trusted colleague do the same to gain an additional perspective.

We start this process by analyzing our personal Strengths. Are we strong leaders – if so, how is this demonstrated? Are we persevering? Do we have exemplary resilience in the face of adversity? Perhaps we have a strong innovative flair. Could we safely say that we are calm, patient, kind or generous? We should identify and assess the strengths that matter most.

Seeing our Weaknesses may not be so easy especially if we aren’t an introspective type. This may require help from that trusted colleague or a peer who is not afraid to tell it like it is. Do we have a temper? Does our ego ever get in the way? Do we always treat others with respect? Are we perceived to be of high integrity? Do we give up too easily? Maybe we tend to lose focus.

Analyzing our Opportunities is an exercise in determining whether our glass is half empty or half full. Think about what we personally have the potential to do. Could we become more philanthropic? Is there a mentoring or coaching opportunity in our future? Do we begin speaking at industry conferences? Perhaps we could develop a new product or service. Ultimately this is about how we can become more fulfilled as human beings as well as becoming even more valuable to our enterprise.

Finally, we must look at our Threats. Could our lifestyle be a threat to our health? Is there a lurking situation that could degrade our financial security? Does our mindset work for or against us? When we evaluate Threats in a corporate sense, we generally are contemplating external pressures that we may think are beyond our control. As we consider Threats from a personal standpoint, we find that most will be of an internal nature. We can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

Once we complete an honest and realistic personal SWOT assessment, we need to take the next step of creating strategies that bolster our Strengths; resolve our Weaknesses; take full advantage of our Opportunities and eliminate our Threats. The ensuing plan can become the centerpiece for leading a balanced work and personal life. And revisiting it often will ensure its implementation.

A personal SWOT analysis can be an invigorating and exhilarating process. When done in concert with a SWOT for a company, the results can be a powerful catalyst for positive change in both the entrepreneur and his or her enterprise.

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 Visionary Entrepreneur

Here is a fundamental question for all entrepreneurs. Are you a visionary? Being a visionary and having a corporate vision are two different things, so take care not to confuse the two. For a company, a non-profit or any other organization to thrive and succeed over a long period of time, visionary leadership is paramount. And unfortunately, many companies stagnate and die when the visionary leader moves on for whatever reason. That is why it is crucial for a company to continuously develop visionaries across generations that will help to sustain the organization in the future.

It is not hard to think about individuals who exemplify the term “visionary.” Steve Jobs comes to my mind before anyone else. He was a rebel and an unconventional thinker who was not afraid to take risks. Similarly, Bill Gates was a visionary who became the richest man in the world because of his ability to understand and shape the future. What comes to mind when you hear these names – Henry Ford, Wilbur and Orville Wright, John D.  Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Sam Walton, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg? Each was a phenomenal innovator. Each had an uncanny sense of where the world was going. Each had dreams but was also a doer.

Being a visionary is partially innate and partially learned. So, what can we do to develop our visionary leadership skills? How curious are you? Do you read everything you can get your hands on? Visionaries are expansive readers and are curious about everything. Curiosity stimulates the imagination and helps bring forth new ideas manifesting in a high degree of creativity. How persevering are you? The next time you are ready to throw in the towel remember that visionaries have a stick-to-it attitude. They are highly resilient and believe they can solve any problem. Visionaries love discussion and debate. Some may see this as confrontational, but it really is not. Instead, a visionary listens to differing points of view even when it gets a bit lively.

What other ways can we model visionary behavior? Do you embrace change or are you more comfortable living with doing things the same way? Visionaries are change agents. They like to teach and are focused on doing the right thing. Integrity ranks high on their list of values. Do you have high expectations for your team? Sometimes the line between high vs. unreasonable expectations can blur a bit. But do not expect a visionary to set a low bar. Visionaries tend to be eternal optimists and cannot see a glass half empty – it is always half full or even more. And visionaries are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. Finally, visionaries do not live in the details – they are quintessential delegators.

A visionary has a knack for looking at a collection of data and telling the future. He or she sees things that others do not and is not the least bit concerned if his or her ideas are pooh-poohed. In fact, visionaries will work hard to persuade others to buy into what they believe because they have a supreme degree of self-confidence.

By emulating their behaviors, traits, and tendencies, we too can become visionaries. Our value to our organization increases exponentially when we provide visionary leadership.

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 Blessed Entrepreneur

We all have aspirations. So, what kind of an entrepreneur do we aspire to be? I would like to be a Blessed Entrepreneur. How would this manifest?

The Blessed Entrepreneur has a rock-solid set of principles and core values. He or she marches to a tune of integrity and honor. Decisions are made in part with an eye toward how others are helped and most certainly an avoidance of intentionally hurting anyone. The purest test of this individual comes when a choice must be made between earning substantial profits by “cutting corners” or doing the right thing that generates little or no gain.

The Blessed Entrepreneur sees the glass not half empty or half full. This person sees many glasses overflowing and is always in deep gratitude for such bounty. A completely positive mindset is one of the strongest attributes of the Blessed Entrepreneur. Thoughts of lack and limitation are quickly swept away with optimism and hope; then translated into process and action that preordains the desired outcomes. Even moments of doubt and challenge are transformed into opportunity and silver linings.

The Blessed Entrepreneur exudes a quiet confidence. There is no arrogance – only competence. This confidence evolves through knowledge, experience and selflessness. The Blessed Entrepreneur is never too proud to ask for help or admit ignorance about a particular subject or situation. He or she is totally comfortable in his or her own skin. There’s no need to “put on airs” or pretend to be someone they’re not.

The Blessed Entrepreneur is the quintessential leader. This person is a role model and a collaborator. A command and control style is never utilized. Coaching is the approach most favored and a clear vision is continuously articulated. The Blessed Entrepreneur inspires members of the team to do better and be better. He or she is always looking for ways to recognize the accomplishments and success of others. An intentionally positive culture is developed and nurtured.

The Blessed Entrepreneur understands his or her priorities. Outside of a vocation, this individual has a strong focus on living a healthy lifestyle. This includes regular exercise, eating right and getting regular medical checkups. The Blessed Entrepreneur is aware that good health impacts all other aspects of his or her life. Similarly, this person also pays attention to the family unit, spending quality time with a spouse or partner, children, parents, grandparents and other family members. Most important of all, being fully present defines quality time.

The Blessed Entrepreneur is financially prosperous but not because wealth is his or her goal. Instead, a passion for a profession drives this person to excel and discover new opportunities. This passion unlocks a powerful creative flow that results in amazing success. And part of this success can be measured in a level of financial benefit that becomes a by-product of the overall effort.

The Blessed Entrepreneur embraces change and fearlessly pursues innovative solutions to problems that are faced. The prospects of change stimulate excitement and a desire to lead the process that enables an orderly transition. There’s no hand wringing about the past – only a positive outlook for the future with an expectation that every day will be even better than the last. This attitude converts to boundless energy that is infectious for all those with whom contact is made.

Finally, the Blessed Entrepreneur lives a life of service to others. He or she is always looking for ways to offer a helping hand without quid pro quo. There is no need or anticipation for accolades and recognition. The Blessed Entrepreneur has an innate ability to spot those who need assistance whether it be a colleague, a friend, a family member or even a stranger. This giving of one’s self may be small in nature or significant – it matters not.

Blessed Entrepreneurs lead complete and satisfying lives. They are committed to their aspirations which becomes inspirational for the rest of us.

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 Assertive (or Aggressive?) Entrepreneur

Dear Entrepreneur:

I watched you the other day as you “took command” of a situation involving a vendor who works with your company. Obviously, the vendor did not perform his service satisfactorily – you certainly let him know this in no uncertain terms. I did get a little concerned when I saw the veins begin to pop out in your neck. I’m sure glad I wasn’t on the other end of that call!

Sincerely – One of your employees

Just reading this feels a bit embarrassing. Have you ever known anyone like this? Some entrepreneurs pride themselves in being very direct and matter of fact. They pull no punches and sugarcoat nothing. They wear their bluntness as a badge of honor. Unfortunately, they have become confused about the virtues of honesty and transparency and feel the need to demonstrate these traits in an extremely intense manner. But to what end? Did this approach resolve the situation? Did it build a stronger relationship? Is the vendor more or less likely to want to go out of his way for the entrepreneur in the future?

This brings us to an interesting point of discussion. Is it better to be more assertive or more aggressive? When we’re assertive, we’re able to be direct and straight-forward without becoming angry. Being aggressive typically brings with it a sort of heavy-handedness that evokes negativity. Often, aggression is more a demonstration of power than anything else. It’s a real art to being able to deal with a situation assertively where everyone walks away with generally positive feelings – but the message has been clearly delivered.

What can we do to re-pattern our aggressive tendencies and convert them into a more positive and assertive approach? Years ago, I took a Caliper Profile. It’s a computerized test that identifies traits and tendencies and is an excellent tool for hiring people. On a scale of 1 to 100, my Assertiveness score was a 99 and my Aggressiveness score was a 92. I was told that this was a bit of a dicey pattern. I could just as easily flip from being assertive to being aggressive – and sometimes too aggressive. Knowing this, I’ve been working for years to try and tone down my aggressiveness. I’ve learned that I need to keep my temper in check and try and remain as James Bond-like as possible. Sure, that may sound corny, but the goal is to be unflappable and even keeled.

I try to remember to keep a smile on my face even when the bullets are flying at me. I attempt to stay on a fact-path and eliminate emotion from my conversation. Every once-in-a-while when someone else is being aggressive I’ll succeed in lowering the volume of my voice. In turn, the other person may begin to calm down and lower his or her volume as well. Once the temper is in check, being assertive is much easier. Clear and persuasive arguments can be made in a cool and calm fashion. Now I’m working more on the intensity I convey, particularly with my body language. When I’m feeling quite passionate or positive about something, I can sit forward in my chair and raise my voice a bit – even though I’m not at all angry. I have to try harder to be less animated which some people can misinterpret as aggressiveness.

We are much more likely to reach our goals when we replace aggressiveness with assertiveness. Then the badge of honor we wear is that of positive outcomes instead of trampled feelings.

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

The Modern Entrepreneur/Leader

I recently came across an article by Stefan Stern from the Financial Times publication dated November 10, 2008. “While cleaning out his attic, a British business leader stumbled upon some typewritten notes on leadership from the 1950s. ‘Leadership is the art of influencing a body of people to follow a certain course of action, the art of controlling them and getting the best out of them.’” Sounds kind of old-fashioned, doesn’t it? The “art of controlling them?” That’s an attitude that’s not likely to win many awards in this day and age. The article and this statement in particular got me to thinking about leadership. And because I’ve lived long enough, I’ve had the good fortune to experience many different leadership styles. So, here are some personal observations that have helped me develop my own leadership style.

Entrepreneurs are often “quick on the draw.” A team member asks a question or brings us a problem and our instinct is to provide the answer or solve the problem. Then we move on . . . quickly. In the old days, that would probably have been considered “leadership.” One of my goals is to develop a sustainable organization that is no longer dependent solely upon me. If I answer every question and offer every solution, how does this support others in their quest to step-up and become leaders in their own right? I believe that leadership involves leading people to answers and solutions rather than simply telling them.

I’ve heard certain pro athletes and a number of entrepreneurs who say it’s not their job to be role models. It seems to me that anyone who has the megaphone ought to savor the opportunity to set an example for others. Doing so also enables us to become more accountable to our team. Back to the sustainable organization concept for a moment – do I want to display anger; yell at people; exhibit boorish behavior, and generally put my ego front and center? When I model this way, what message does it send to up-and-coming leaders? Here’s the simple truth for me. I don’t want to show any sort of negative behavior for which I should apologize.

One of the toughest aspects of being an entrepreneur is communicating our vision to our team. Most of us have a vision of some sort locked away in our brains. I was asked for years by my teammates for my vision, but never could figure out how to articulate it clearly until recently. Having a vision and communicating that vision are two entirely different things. When I mentor other entrepreneurs, I ask them a very basic question. What does it look like when we get there? Focusing on this question eliminates the psychobabble and gets to the heart of the matter. In plain English it requires that we paint a word picture that everyone can understand. We should never forget that people are drawn to leaders who can express a strong and powerful vision.

As a leader, how much time do you spend working on your business rather than in your business? I can tell you that I love doing complicated real estate deals. Without question, that’s working in my business. It would be very easy (and profitable) for me to focus all of my time and energy on buying and owning apartment properties. But that doesn’t advance the cause for the sustainable organization that I have envisioned. Thus, I must spend significant time working on my business. This involves developing a wide range of strategic initiatives, cultivating and educating team members, and helping to define our mission. A great leader will spend far more time working on his or her business than working in it.

While there are many other modern leadership traits to be explored, the last one on which I want to focus is that of attitude. Leaders with negative attitudes generally produce negative results. Over the past four-plus decades I think I’ve become more and more positive and optimistic. I realized that it’s not much fun to work in a negative environment. And as a leader, if I’m down-in-the-mouth it’s pretty hard for that attitude not to become contagious. I’ve come to realize that there’s always a silver lining in every situation and it’s my aim to find it. This doesn’t mean that negative things won’t happen – they do. But the faster we can move on and regain positive footing, the faster we’ll get back on track. It’s my goal to be a positive and optimistic leader every second of the day.

Modern leadership still embodies ageless basics and fundamentals. But there are some “new age” twists that help propel us to new heights of success and create sustainable organizations in the process.

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.

Un-Stale Leadership Ideas

There’s an interesting article by Stefan Stern from the Financial Times publication dated November 10, 2008. “While cleaning out his attic, a British business leader stumbled upon some typewritten notes on leadership from the 1950s. ‘Leadership is the art of influencing a body of people to follow a certain course of action, the art of controlling them and getting the best out of them.’” Sounds kind of old-fashioned, doesn’t it? The art of controlling them? That’s an attitude that’s not likely to win many awards in this day and age. The article and this statement in particular got me to thinking about leadership. And because I’ve lived long enough, I’ve had the good fortune to experience many different leadership styles. So, here are some personal observations that have helped me develop my own leadership style.

Entrepreneurs are often “quick on the draw.” A team member asks a question or brings us a problem and our instinct is to provide the answer or solve the problem. Then we move on . . . quickly. In the old days, that would probably have been considered “leadership.” One of my goals is to develop a sustainable organization that is no longer dependent solely upon me. If I answer every question and offer every solution, how does this support others in their quest to step-up and become leaders in their own right? I believe that leadership involves leading people to answers and solutions rather than simply telling them.

I’ve heard certain pro athletes and a number of entrepreneurs who says it’s not their job to be role models. It seems to me that anyone who has the megaphone ought to savor the opportunity to set an example for others. Doing so also enables us to become more accountable to our team. Back to the sustainable organization concept for a moment – do I want to display anger; yell at people; exhibit boorish behavior, and generally put my ego front and center? When I model this way, what message does it send to up-and-coming leaders? Here’s the simple truth for me. I don’t want to show any sort of negative behavior for which I should apologize.

One of the toughest aspects of being an entrepreneur is communicating our vision to our team. Most of us have a vision of some sort locked away in our brains. I was asked for years by my teammates for my vision, but never could figure out how to articulate it clearly until recently. Having a vision and communicating that vision are two entirely different things. When I mentor other entrepreneurs, I ask them a very basic question. What does it look like when we get there? Focusing on this question eliminates the psycho-babble and gets to the heart of the matter. In plain English it requires that we paint a word picture that everyone can understand. We should never forget that people are drawn to leaders who can express a strong and powerful vision.

As a leader, how much time do you spend working on your business rather than in your business? I can tell you that I love doing complicated real estate deals. Without question, that’s working in my business. It would be very easy (and profitable) for me to focus all of my time and energy on buying and owning apartment properties. But that doesn’t advance the cause for the sustainable organization that I have envisioned. Thus, I must spend significant time working on my business. This involves developing a wide range of strategic initiatives, cultivating and educating team members, and helping to define our mission. A great leader will spend far more time working on his or her business than working in it.

While there are many other modern leadership traits to be explored, the last one on which I want to focus is that of attitude. Leaders with negative attitudes generally produce negative results. Over the past four-plus decades I think I’ve become more and more positive and optimistic. I realized that it’s not much fun to work in a negative environment. And as a leader, if I’m down-in-the-mouth it’s pretty hard for that attitude not to become contagious. I’ve come to realize that there’s always a silver lining in every situation and it’s my aim to find it. This doesn’t mean that negative things won’t happen – they do. But the faster we can move on and regain positive footing, the faster we’ll get back on track. It’s my goal to be a positive and optimistic leader every second of the day.

Modern leadership still embodies ageless basics and fundamentals that unlike bread, never grow stale. But there are some “new age” twists that help propel us to new heights of success and create sustainable organizations in the process.

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.

Just Say No to Consensus

Here’s a common scenario that is played out every day in conference rooms across the country. Devin is an entrepreneur who has assembled an executive team that consists of the COO, CFO, CTO, VP of Sales and Marketing, and VP of Product Development. The group meets weekly and the discussions are relatively polite and collegial. Devin works hard to avoid conflict and encourages the group to reach a consensus for decisions that need to be made. He believes that this approach has helped build a strong and positive culture for his organization. Unfortunately Devin is totally wrong!

There is a time and a place for consensus building, but it’s not right in Devin’s scenario. Instead, what Devin should be seeking is a healthy and robust debate where different arguments are vigorously presented. Then, once everything is on the table and all of the questions have been answered, Devin needs to make a decision. It’s up to him to decide what course of action will be taken. Too often, entrepreneurs are overly concerned about “keeping the peace” among team members. They are allergic to anything that might be perceived as “conflict.”

The problem with encouraging consensus building is that it also encourages a tendency to go along to get along. Author and management consultant Patrick Lencioni calls this “artificial harmony.” A strong organization needs a wide and diverse range of ideas to move forward. The first step is to discard the notion that conflict and disagreement are bad things. I believe that conflict and disagreement can be uplifting and beneficial – IF handled properly. For this to happen, team members must trust each other completely. This means trusting that what is said will remain confidential when required. This means trusting that no one is going to engage in personal attacks. It means trusting that backstabbing and triangulation are out of the question. It’s important to understand that establishing trust won’t happen overnight. It can take weeks or even months for full trust to develop.

Once trust has eventually been established, the leader must set the ground rules for engagement. This likely means that a protocol will be created for exchanging ideas. It likely means that all members of the team will be expected to contribute and participate. It means that debate and disagreement will be encouraged. And it means that everyone agrees to buy-in to the process.

So how does productive debate and disagreement occur? Each member of the team should present his or her arguments based in fact. The entrepreneur should allow for a free-flowing discussion but be prepared to call foul if the discussion veers off course into the area of personal conflict. Strong-willed team members should be encouraged to make an impassioned case for their positions. All team members should listen without interruption. These discussions may be intense – that’s OK as long as participants do not feel as though they are being personally attacked or their ideas denigrated. The lack of intensity during this process could be a signal that “artificial harmony” exists.

When the conversation has concluded, the entrepreneur has to step up and show real leadership. This means processing the various facts that have been presented and making a decision accordingly. Sometimes these decisions are extremely difficult – and that’s a very good thing. It means that the debate was compelling and strong arguments were made all the way around. It’s possible that the discussion will result in the need for additional information. But eventually when all of the facts are in and all of the points have been made, a final decision must be made. Ceding such a decision to a “committee” for consensus is not a display of leadership. The entrepreneur must explain the rationale behind the final decision and make certain that everyone feels that what they offered was sufficiently considered. Ultimately, everyone on the team must get on board and fully support the final decision. That doesn’t mean they have to fully agree with it – but they must be totally supportive. If a team member is not supportive, considerable damage can be done to the culture and to the process for making future decisions.

Great entrepreneurial leaders know how to foster healthy debate among team members and then make the final decision. A great team does not need to function with consensus, but does need to respect and support the final decision.

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 10 – Urgently Patient.

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.

100% TPR

At the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, all cadets learn many valuable lessons about life. One in particular seems extra important in this day and age. When something goes wrong – anything at all – a cadet is expected to state to a superior officer, “It was my mistake, Sir, and I take full and total responsibility. I made the mistake because . . .” It matters not that someone or something else may have caused things to go awry. Cadets are taught from the very beginning to own the results of whatever may be happening around them. I call this 100% Total Personal Responsibility – 100% TPR.

Think about how much finger pointing occurs in our daily lives. The excuse factory is operating 24/7 and works at full capacity to produce victim after victim. Few people are willing to stand up and proclaim 100% TPR. Thus, it’s refreshing to see that young men and women, who are choosing a career in the Army, are doing so with a mindset of personal responsibility. They truly own their lives. Entrepreneurs should take notice of this concept to understand how to become effective leaders.

Think about a variety of every day scenarios where we witness the blame game being played. A basketball team with a losing score believes that the officiating has been too one-sided. “It’s hard to win an “eight-on-five” game,” some of the players exclaim. There’s no doubt that blown calls are a fact of life in sports. Players that have 100% TPR aren’t going to point the finger at the referees though. Instead, they will stand up tall and say, “It’s my responsibility that we lost because I didn’t execute on offense like I should, and I allowed my opponent to get past me to the basket too many times.”

A small business is competing for a contract and loses. The vice president of sales is visibly angry and says, “The playing field wasn’t level. We should have won, but our competitor had an unfair advantage by making promises they won’t be able to keep!” Conversely, the entrepreneur with 100% TPR says, “We lost because we didn’t do a sufficient job of differentiating our product from the competition. I take full responsibility for that.”

The whole point is that as adults, we NEVER blame someone or something for our failures. We ALWAYS take 100% Total Personal Responsibility for everything that happens. You may be thinking that there must be circumstances that are out of our control where we shouldn’t be held responsible. For example, what about the guy who steps off the curb after checking for traffic and a crazy drunk driver mows him down at 90 miles per hour? How can that guy be at 100% TPR? Here’s the thing. That guy made the choice to be in that place at that time. That’s not to say that the choice was right or wrong – just that’s the choice he made. Perhaps he could have looked further down the street to see the drunk driver barreling toward the intersection and waited until the car passed. And don’t misunderstand – this isn’t to say that the drunk driver wasn’t responsible – he was absolutely the one at fault. But when we are at 100% TPR, we aren’t worrying about anyone else because we have 100% ownership of our lives.

Eliminating any and all thoughts of victimization is critical to living a life of 100% ownership. It liberates and empowers us, allowing for constant self-improvement and growth. When we blame others, we interrupt this improvement and growth process. In my business and in my life, I want to evaluate the risks and rewards and proceed based upon the information I have gathered. The choices that I make may be right or they may be wrong, but they are my choices and I own them, regardless of the outcome.

We can practice the concept of 100% TPR by stopping ourselves when we are in situations where blame might normally be the default thinking. Instead, we say, “I take 100% Total Personal Responsibility for what has happened. It happened because . . .” This affords critical analysis to determine the root cause for a failure and gives us the opportunity to learn how we can make different choices in the future. And remember, taking 100% TPR isn’t enough unless the second part of the idea is explored – “It happened because . . .” We must know what we could and should have done differently.

Success can come through failure if we are willing to take 100% Total Personal Responsibility. It can also allow us to model great leadership for the benefit of others.

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