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.

Sabotage?

We’ve all seen the World War II movies where U.S. soldiers crept behind enemy lines and blew up bridges, tunnels and other elements of infrastructure. We hold our breath as our boys used cunning and guile to defeat the Germans at every turn. This was classic sabotage at its finest.

Would you believe that entrepreneurial leaders can sometimes be saboteurs too? Are you wondering how? Consider this. Nathan owns an internet marketing company with 24 employees. He has a couple of up-and-comers on the team. Nathan is a strong, hard-charging Type-A personality and is quite a taskmaster. He seldom expresses his gratitude to his rising stars. Instead, he can be hypercritical at times. Nathan claims that he is simply trying to push his best and brightest to excel. Because of his sense of urgency he tends to issue instructions in a rapid-fire manner. When mistakes are made, Nathan becomes impatient and can even unleash a tirade that is directed in a very personal manner. His colleagues do not want to bring him bad news – it’s not that they don’t want to let him down, but because they fear his wrath and tantrums. On the other hand he can be witty and charming. And his company has achieved enormous success.

By contrast, Amanda started a consumer products research firm while she was in college and has watched it grow over the past five years to 35 employees. Amanda is also a high-achiever and a similar Type-A personality. She sets lofty expectations for her team and they respond by meeting or beating their goals every quarter. While it’s clear that she’s the boss, team members love Amanda’s collaborative style. Even when a mistake is made she remains positive and upbeat while counseling the errant employee. Amanda never berates anyone and is always supportive. She’s no pushover either – if certain employees continue to underperform she will show them the door. During a 360 review, the most common statement made about Amanda is, “I always feel that she values my contribution.”

The difference in leadership styles between Nathan and Amanda is very stark. They are both generating eye-popping results, but their paths are totally divergent. Nathan is a saboteur and is succeeding in spite of his approach . . . for now. But like a Roman candle that pierces the night sky, eventually it flames out and disintegrates. Nathan’s company is always in a state of upheaval. Drama is occurring at every turn. Employee turnover is high and if it weren’t for his two blossoming lieutenants keeping everything together, the whole enterprise would blow up. When the boss constantly undermines his team the implosion clock is ticking.

Strong leadership – the kind demonstrated by Amanda – begins and ends with positive encouragement. A calm sense of urgency replaces the chaos, and team members do not fear for their sanity (or safety!) when a failure is experienced. The basic premise is pretty easy to understand. Are people more motivated to succeed in an upbeat and encouraging environment, or one that is negative and subjects people to personal embarrassment?

The legendary Steve Jobs of Apple fame was an awful boss. Ramon Henson, an instructor of Management and Global Business at Rutgers Business School wrote this about Jobs in 2011. “It is well-known that Steve Jobs could be arrogant, dictatorial, and mean-spirited.  Despite the observations of some about Mr. Jobs’ arrogant style, I believe that he had at least three qualities that great executive leaders have: a clear vision, a passion for the company and its people, and an ability to inspire trust.  This is what I would consider his leadership character. In fact, Mr. Jobs not only had a vision, he made sure that everyone in the company bought into that vision, and this created a ‘higher purpose’ for the company that really excited Apple employees. Of course, his passion for the company and its products is legendary. And employees trusted Mr. Jobs – not because he founded the company but because he showed time and again his competence in many areas, especially product design and marketing.  And because employees saw – through his behavior – that Mr. Jobs was not driven by his own ego or by some self-interested needs (like the outrageous pay packages of some executives), they trusted him. So if Mr. Jobs was at times arrogant, even nasty, employees viewed these behaviors in the context of these underlying qualities.”

I believe Steve Jobs was an anomaly as a leader. That Apple achieved great results while enduring his leadership style is a testament to this outlier notion. In other words, “don’t try this at home.” The probability of success is exponentially higher when creating an environment of positive encouragement than one of daily sabotage.

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 58 – The Really Big Bus.

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.

Old-Fashioned or New-Fangled?

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 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. But there are some “new age” twists that help propel us to new heights of success and create sustainable organizations in the process.

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 19 – Charm School.

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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Oatmeal on the Floor

I’ve been watching with great interest as my 2½ year-old grandson and his 11-month old sister explore their relatively new lives. Building an entrepreneurial business is a lot like raising a child. There’s a tremendous amount of nurturing required. Let’s look at the parallels.

My grandson is prone to tantrums which come with the territory during the terrible twos. Usually this happens because he’s frustrated or doesn’t get his way. In a growing business we can feel extreme frustration when things don’t go our way. We may have a tendency to take out our frustration on others in the form of an adult tantrum – possibly we say or do things that are less than kind. I also notice what happens when baby sister picks up one of his toys. Now, this may be a toy that he hasn’t touched for weeks, but if she latches onto it he suddenly wants and needs it right then and there. He’ll push her and she’ll push him – and trust me, she’s a strong little cuss! In our entrepreneurial endeavors we may regularly experience conflict with others who see things differently. As with children it sometimes seems like all we do is attempt to resolve such conflicts.

Do you want to talk about hyperactivity? I’m an expert on this subject. When you look up the word in the dictionary, my grandson’s picture is there. He and his sister are both afflicted with this tendency. They are all over the place all of the time. He’ll put together a couple pieces of a puzzle, then zip over and ride his tricycle, then run upstairs and bang on his drum set (a hand-me-down from his older cousin who received it from yours truly – kind of a Karma thing). Baby sister is motoring around and climbing on everything during every single waking moment. Think about the entrepreneurial environment. It’s hectic. The pace is frenetic and we’re constantly putting out fires and incubating new ideas – all at the same time. The downside of course, can be a lack of focus and a failure to complete tasks and projects.

Kids make ginormous messes. When I visit at my daughter’s house I’m always struck by all the “stuff” that is strewn about. At our home I watch these kids drag things out of the toy box and leave them in their wake as they move on to the next “thing.” Fortunately we have fewer “stuff” items at our home, but there’s no question that the little munchkins can actually pull everything out and cover the floor in a matter of seconds. And when it comes to eating, that’s a whole other story. There’s no other way to put it – it looks like a daily occurrence of an Animal House food fight. There’s oatmeal on the floor, eggs on the walls and cheese stuck to the ceiling! Our businesses may look the same way. Building an entrepreneurial organization is a messy proposition. Things break. The prototype product we created isn’t the sleek game-changer we had anticipated. Systems and processes are half-completed and sometimes customers are less than pleased.

For all the trials and tribulations of raising children, there are many rewarding moments. Watching my grandson take his first few steps and become more confident every day thereafter was pretty cool. Listening to a 2½ year-old sing the “ABC Song” perfectly is a proud moment. Seeing the smiles and hearing them lovingly call me “Poppa” melts my heart. I guess it’s true what they say about grandkids being the reward we receive for not killing our children. Likewise, our hearts sing when things come together and we actually take three steps forward as entrepreneurs. Oh sure, there will be two-step-backward days as well, but the net effect is positive. How do we make sure that the rewards are always there? Like parents, we remain committed to building our business just like we’re committed to raising our kids. We learn how to be patient. We learn how to be positive. And we learn how to celebrate the victories along the way.

When we grow an entrepreneurial business we know there’s going to be oatmeal on the floor. But if we are committed, patient, positive and celebrate success, eventually our baby will grow up and make us very proud.

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.

Messy Baby

The E Factor

Here’s a simple test. Do you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to tackle the day ahead? Does your brain function in overdrive with an idea a minute? Are you ever bored? Are you able to stay in “the zone” from a productivity standpoint for long periods of time? Do you experience endorphin rushes at times other than when you are exercising? Are you almost always in an upbeat mood no matter what? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions except for being bored (and answered it “no”) then you are experiencing the “E” Factor.

The E Factor is a major ingredient in the recipe for the success of an entrepreneur (and everyone else for that matter). The E Factor is . . . Exhilaration! Exhilaration is the energizing excitement that puts an exclamation point on our lives. There’s no drudgery in Exhilaration. There’s no exhaustion in Exhilaration. There’s no negativity in Exhilaration. There’s nothing boring about Exhilaration. Exhilaration is all about positivity, optimism, the glass is overflowing (as opposed to half full), fireworks-on-the-4th-of-July, the sun is always shining and everything WOW!

From personal experience I can tell you that my life is so much richer and fuller as a result of reaching and staying in a state of Exhilaration. The little setbacks along the way that might throw others for a loop are mere speed bumps for me. My existence goes far beyond my vocation and has become totally holistic in nature. I know this may sound corny, but I truly am in love with life and life is in love with me.

How do we reach and stay in a state of Exhilaration? There are three steps that have worked for me. First we must make serious choices about how we think. If you read my blogs regularly, you know that I constantly talk about how much of a difference our mindset can make. We all know this for the most part, but it’s not always easy to remember. Maintaining a positive state of mind is absolutely and totally critical to the E Factor. We must recognize when we are starting to veer into negative thinking; stop and release the negative thought, and replace it with a positive thought. I have found that a positive affirmation said over and over is a perfect replacement for a negative thought.

Second, we deserve to live our passion. I realize that sometimes there needs to be a ramp-up process to reach this passion. My passion isn’t just what I do for a living. My passion is the way I live. It’s filled with many things for which I have a passion including my relationships, my philanthropy, my health, my creativity, my faith and many more elements. I’ve said numerous times that passion is what allows us to see in color. Just because we may not be totally passionate about our careers at the moment doesn’t mean that there aren’t many other aspects to our lives for which we can have passion. And with respect to our careers – we should have a step-by-step plan that provides the light at the end of the tunnel for when our career does become our passion.

Finally, we must practice intense gratitude. Being grateful for what we have and what we receive keeps the energy channel open for us to receive more good in our lives. When I think back over the years about all the wonderful people who have done wonderful things for me, my gratitude needle explodes off the meter. Saying thank you isn’t enough. Doing good things for other people is an expression of our gratitude that recognizes what others have done for us. It’s a bit of a pay-it-forward mentality.

We can live in a state of Exhilaration if we choose to do so. It’s as simple as that. And to achieve the E Factor we must be positive, passionate and grateful. Enjoy the fireworks show!

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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Beam Me Up Scotty

Did you know that Michael Jordan was cut by his high school basketball team because it was determined that he lacked skill? Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times in his stellar career. Winston Churchill flunked sixth grade. Elvis Presley was once told that his career was going nowhere and he should drive a truck. Authors Stephen King, John Grisham, Theodore Seuss Giesel and cartoonist Charles Schultz were all rejected more than 85 times before being published.

What do all of these famous people have in common? They all are or were extremely self-confident. Successful entrepreneurs need a healthy dose of self-confidence. Without it the chances to achieve our goals and objectives drop precipitously. We also must guard against misunderstanding confidence for arrogance. Arrogance is actually overcompensation for a lack of confidence.

So how do we go about building self-confidence? Allow me to share my experience with you. Early in my career I struggled in this department. I graduated from college at 21 years of age and immediately began working for the company I’ve been with ever since. I thought I was pretty confident when I was in school but in the real world I discovered a lot of self-doubt. It didn’t help that I was told that I was just a punk kid who didn’t know anything. This statement was reinforced for a number of years – and I let it get inside my head. Eventually I came to realize that with a few years of experience under my belt and some creative successes along the way, I really did know what I was doing.

Here are some ideas. Repetition is extremely important. Identify one or more things that you feel less confident about and do them over and over again. Perhaps it’s public speaking or maybe it’s interacting with lots of other people in a large group setting. Set standards for what you believe to be “good” or “great.” Try and consistently perform to those standards and when you do, congratulate yourself. Own your mistakes and setbacks. Resist the temptation to blame others or play the victim. When we focus on how we can improve and do things differently the next time, we build confidence for our next encounter in a similar situation. When we celebrate the success of others – including our competitors – it’s a demonstration of confidence. When we criticize others – including our competitors – it’s not. When we’re not afraid to be wrong, that’s evidence of self-confidence. Being defensive and making excuses is not. Being positive and humble are definitely traits of self-confident people.

Self-confidence can ebb and flow. Our goal is to be more consistent with our confidence. But just because we have moments of doubt or fear, doesn’t mean we’re losing our mojo. When we can take a deep breath and understand from where the doubt or fear is coming, that’s a way we can regain our confidence.

Self-confidence enables us to eliminate thoughts of lack and limitation and know the truth about ourselves. In so doing, we can shoot for the stars and realize our true potential. Beam me up Scotty.

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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A Positive Rₓ

Question: Some of my friends and co-workers seem to be sick all the time. I don’t have time to have the flu or whatever else is going around. How much illness is in a person’s head?

Answer: More than you might imagine. But first, understand that this is too complex of a subject to generalize. It’s tough to see how some infirmities are anything less than real. But you’ve heard it said many times before how powerful our minds can be. And I do believe that the mindset we have makes a big difference in whether we are sick or not.

Here’s the simplest way that I can boil it down. How often do we respond when someone asks how we’re doing, “I’m OK though I’ve been fighting this cold for the past few days?” In some cases we might even tell ourselves or someone else that we’re sick. This may reflect how we feel at the moment, but it goes a lot deeper than that. What we are actually doing is affirming sickness. So when we say, “I’m sick,” guess what – we may eventually become sick or continue being sick if we truly are. So you say, “But I’m just stating the obvious!”

Here’s where it gets interesting. When we affirm something – and really believe it – the probability increases for our affirmation to become a reality. Why then, would we want to increase the probability for our reality to include being ill? Words have power and our thoughts are even more powerful. When we speak words that come from our thoughts we are giving a great deal of power to what we say and what we believe.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve been blessed with a very positive mindset. I’ve noticed over the years that the healthier my lifestyle has become, my attitude has become more positive as well. Good health and a positive frame of mind are two extremely important traits for entrepreneurs. I’ve lost weight by changing my eating habits which has transformed into a new lifestyle. I stopped smoking pipes and cigars years ago. I’ve become addicted to a six-day-a-week physical fitness routine. And I meditate on a daily basis. The result is that I feel better than I have in many years; my outlook is almost always positive, and I won’t allow sickness and disease into my body.

You may think that this sounds a bit woo-woo, and maybe it does. But I’m a walking testament to what can happen when we affirm good health and really believe it. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. And so does our mind.

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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