Permanent Footprints in the Sand

My mother used to cite an old saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” We entrepreneurs should heed Mom’s advice. One of the most challenging aspects of building a business is interacting with our team members. There are people who are extremely committed and dedicated. Others are sleepwalking through the day for the sole purpose of collecting a paycheck. And there are many more who are somewhere in between.

As frustrating as it may be at times, I’ve come to realize that the “honey” approach is definitely the most productive. Helping build people up is much more gratifying and yields far better results, than tearing them down. Let’s focus for just a moment on the notion of “tearing them down.” It’s obvious that a boss who yells, screams and belittles his employees is “tearing them down.” But there are also other behaviors that fall into this category even though they are less apparent. For example, triangulating about another person can be just as destructive as making derogatory remarks to their face. Triangulation in this context, means talking with someone in a negative manner about another person. This does nothing to advance the cause and can likely get back to the person who is the subject of the conversation. Another example is actually an act of omission. This is where we know someone could perform better if we offered our assistance, but we decline to do so. Finally, the entrepreneur who is constantly critical about everything someone does is certainly not building them up.

The central premise for how we go about building others up is really quite simple. We think about how we would want to be treated and then do so for the other person. As long as we keep this foundational element front and center, we will be well on our way to being a positive force in the development of our team. Often this will require keeping our emotions in check. When things go off the rails do we automatically look for someone to blame? Or do we take a deep breath and look for the opportunity to coach? An added benefit is something else I’ve discovered. When members of the team don’t have to live in fear of making a mistake, they are much more likely to own it when they make one and much more inclined to share bad news in a timely and truthful manner.

Somewhere I read that we should offer five compliments for every one criticism. I’m not sure of the scientific basis for this ratio, but the intent makes sense. People always value feedback – especially when it’s positive. My middle school grandson is a case in point. All children at this stage of life tend to be insecure. I spend a great deal of time praising him for his accomplishments and encouraging him when he fails. Rather than be critical of his shortcomings I ask him how he might do something differently the next time. I make sure he knows that I believe in him and know that he can accomplish whatever he sets out to do. I’ve watched as he’s become more and more confident as he gets older.

The concept is no different with our adult team members. The more of a positive approach we take, the more likely we are to realize the right kind of results. This is particularly true with Millennial team members. We’ve found that Millennials place a high value on coaching and mentoring. This is a clear signal that the command and control managerial style of the past does not work for them. They are looking for a collaborative relationship with their teammates as well as their managers. And what a terrific opportunity this is for us to learn how to work on our “build them up” skills.

“Building them up,” means asking permission to offer constructive suggestions. It means making recommendations rather than issuing orders. It means explaining the bigger picture when assigning a project and it means making certain that the team member understands what value his or her participation brings to the overall effort. Accusations are out. Clear and direct communications are in. Brutal honesty is out and warm candor is in. Celebrating success and constantly expressing gratitude are definitely in.

When we look for ways to build others up our lives are enriched and our enterprises will thrive. This is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to others and will leave permanent footprints in the sand that represent the time we spend walking this planet.

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 118 – Celebrate Good Times.

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.

Footprints in the Sand

Much has been written about legacies. I’d like to explore the topic as well, but with a bit of a different slant. One of the first questions usually asked is, “How do you want to be remembered after you are gone?” Does the name Daniel K. Ludwig mean anything? How about Oliver H. Payne or Donald Fisher? All three of these people were billionaires. Ludwig (1897-1995) was a shipping magnate; Payne (1839-1917) was a partner with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, and Fisher (1928-2009) co-founded The Gap clothing chain with his wife. The point is that each was a very, very successful and rich man and yet most of us probably never heard of them. So much for wealth in itself being a legacy.

Here’s the thing. After we’re gone almost every single one of us won’t be a passing thought for our descendants, much less for the public in general. Of course our immediate family will remember us . . . for a while. My dad has been gone since 1988 and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. But I doubt seriously that either of our daughters does. Is this sounding macabre or depressing? It shouldn’t. It’s just the way life is. Memories of our walk on this planet are like footprints in the sand. They are there for a fleeting instant and then they are washed away.

I personally don’t care if I’m remembered at all. But here’s the silver lining in all of this. We can live on forever through the good work that we do today. A couple of things matter to me the most where legacies are concerned. First, I want to make sure that the companies that I have helped to create exist for the long term. There are hundreds of families whose loved ones are my team members. It is important to me that these families live and thrive long after I’m gone. Building a sustainable organization is the linchpin for making this a reality. This means that our corporate infrastructure must be robust; our financial condition strong; our core values are constantly at the forefront, and we remain committed to our long-range vision.

The other aspect of the legacy I wish to leave involves philanthropy. I don’t want a building, a street or anything else to be named after me. My wife and I are committed to investing some of our hard-earned dollars in philanthropic causes that help other people. Educational scholarship programs that provide funding in perpetuity are one of the steps we’ve taken in this regard. Helping other entrepreneurs build their own sustainable companies through mentoring is another passion of mine. And I’m not interested in waiting until I die to begin realizing the results of our philanthropic efforts. I want to see the results today – not decades from now after I’m dead and gone (and can’t witness the results then anyway!).

The legacy we choose to leave is very personal for each of us. I’m not about to pass judgment on these choices. However, one thing that is for certain is that it’s unlikely that any of us will be remembered a generation or two after we’re gone. So it probably makes sense to think about making our mark on the future in a way that will be more enduring than our name and our face.

We will be remembered not for who we are today, but for how we benefit mankind tomorrow. The choice is ours whether this memory will be footprints in the sand or permanent stepping stones to a better world.

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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Making the Distinction

There’s a lot of talk these days about mentoring. Many members of Generation X and Generation Y (Millennials) have told researchers that having a mentor is of high importance to them. As a Baby Boomer, I take great pleasure in being called upon to mentor other entrepreneurs. But as the CEO of our family of companies, I made the mistake of also thinking that I could be a mentor to some of the up and coming leaders in our organization. This realization has just recently become apparent to me and its subtlety is what tripped me up.

By my definition, a mentor is an advisor and nothing more. The mentee can take what the mentor offers and do with it what he or she wishes. A mentor typically has no “skin in the game” where the mentee is concerned. As a result, the mentor is able to freely dispense advice and opinions without an agenda. CEOs should not try to be mentors within their own companies. Why? Because they clearly have an agenda which is first and foremost shaped around what is in the company’s best interest. In my experience trying to be a mentor to a handful of leaders in our firm has not worked effectively. They are deferential to a fault because I’m the CEO. They listen to what I have to say differently than if I were outside the organization. For example, when I challenge them with a particular question or premise, they take it as gospel. The relationship of the CEO to any member of the team is going to be such that a true mentoring relationship will be very difficult.

So what is an appropriate role for a CEO to play in developing leaders within his or her company? I have found that becoming a coach is the right path to take. Let’s use sports as the metaphor here. The coach is a teacher. He/she may call the plays from the sidelines until a sufficient level of expertise and trust is developed with the players to allow them to call their own plays. A coach should be wise and compassionate; yet there are times when he may be appropriately demanding and exacting.

Gen Xers and Millennials are well-served to understand the distinction between coaching and mentoring. I believe that a future leader should have both. Find a mentor who is older and has plenty of experience outside the company. By building extensive relationships throughout the community, one can usually connect with someone who may be willing to serve in a mentoring capacity. Then, try and establish a coaching relationship with a superior inside the company, assuming that the individual has a coaching personality. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case with certain people in positions of authority who are insecure and have power issues. I submit that it is healthy for the organization to move away from the boss-employee mentality and develop an attitude of coach-player.

CEOs and members of their teams can be fulfilled by a healthy coaching relationship. And an outside mentor can be the icing on the cake.

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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That Queasy Feeling

Question: As an entrepreneur, I consider myself to be a pretty easygoing person. But there are times and situations where my interaction with others can become pretty intense. How can I avoid these situations?

Answer: You can’t avoid them but you can change the way you feel about them. What you have described is confrontation. Many entrepreneurs don’t deal well with conflict and confrontation and attempt to avoid them at all costs. Often this makes the problem worse. By avoiding dealing with a particular situation that could result in a perceived confrontation, we may be giving tacit approval to bad behavior on the part of someone else. Or we may not be resolving a particular situation that could become poisonous for our organization. This doesn’t just apply to the business world, but to life in general.

Why do we try so hard to avoid conflict? Are we afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings? Are we concerned about our own image? Does it make us anxious when we’re in the middle of a disagreement? Is there a chance that a relationship could be damaged? It’s true that all of these things could happen . . . if we believe they might. But what if we changed our attitude and didn’t view them as truths?

Suppose instead, that we look at a potential conflict or confrontation as an opportunity to accomplish several things. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to truly understand someone else’s point of view. Maybe it’s a chance to learn of a new idea or a new way to accomplish something. It could also be an opportunity to strengthen a relationship. Conflict will occur only if we believe that it will and allow it to be so. The key to the preceding statement is keeping an open mind.

I’ve encountered plenty of confrontational situations over the years and in many cases I dug in my heels and probably caused the conflict to intensify. More recently I’ve taken a different approach. Over time, I’ve found that it has gotten easier to open my mind and truly listen to someone else rather than being loaded for bear. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t intense conversations however. For example, if someone isn’t performing to expectations, this can’t be ignored. In these situations I’ve taken more of a mentoring or coaching approach rather than just having harsh words with the other person. Instead, I’ll start by asking them if they believe they are meeting the expectations. Often they’ll admit that they aren’t and we can move quickly into the coaching process. If they don’t make such an admission, it’s my duty to show them where they are falling short and make recommendations for improvement. Notice my wording here. At no time do I feel as though I’m in conflict with the other person.

We can avoid confrontation by changing our mindset. If we think a situation will be confrontational, it will be. But if we view the situation as a positive opportunity to have an open mind and reach an agreement with another person; or if we can turn an intense conversation into a coaching opportunity, then we can avoid that queasy feeling altogether.

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.

queasy feeling