An Entrepreneur’s Guideposts

Here are 13 concepts by which I live. They are my guideposts and serve as an Entrepreneur’s Primer. They’ve worked well for me, and I’d like to share them with you.

  1. Live today like you’re going to die tomorrow. It’s impossible to know when our “number” will be called. Why waste a single moment on that which is unproductive? And make sure to appreciate those whom you love – you will have regrets after they are gone if you take them for granted.
  2. What you think, will become reality. People who always have a positive mindset produce positive results and live a happy life. We can stack the deck in our favor if we train ourselves to reject negativity. Just as importantly, we don’t allow negative people to be a part of our lives. Our mind is more powerful than we can imagine, and we can use it to shape an amazing present and future.
  3. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. These are the famous words of Winston Churchill, and they ring true as much today as they did in the darkest hours of World War II. The key to perseverance is to make constant tweaks and pivots until what we are striving to accomplish manifests.
  4. Don’t take risk . . . manage risk. Taking risk is like gambling. Our businesses and our lives are too valuable to be betting the farm on Red 32. Instead, we identify the risks and create strategies to contain and mitigate them. Then we can proceed to launch new initiatives without fear.
  5. Laugh every chance you get . . . especially at yourself. It has been proven scientifically that laughter is healthy. Laughing many times every day is good for establishing a positive mindset. When we laugh at ourselves and can be self-deprecating, we show others that we are comfortable in our own skin.
  6. What you give will come back to you in amazing ways. We give because it makes others feel good and us too. And when we give without quid pro quo for the simple joy of giving, our life is fuller and richer. We also remember that gratitude is part of this equation and express our thanks to many people as often as we can.
  7. March to your own tune but do so with purpose. We avoid the herd mentality and are proud of our individuality. But we don’t do so simply to be different. We do so because we have a strong set of core values and a clear vision for our future. We aren’t worried about what others think so long as we aren’t stepping on their toes.
  8. Mistakes are simply the unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. I love this one! There’s no way to know if we are on the right track unless mistakes are made. If everything is too perfect, then it’s likely we aren’t stretching ourselves to be better. Rather than obsess over our mistakes, we figure out what there is to learn from them and then start a new experiment.
  9. Creativity is a way to express your passion. And passion allows you to see in color. Each of us has a creative streak – it may be buried deeper in some of us, but we all can innovate in some way. Amazing and wonderful things can come about because of the creative process and it’s likely that our passion will be stoked. Life is full of sunshine and light when our creativity is off-the-charts.
  10. The success of a career can be measured in the number of lasting relationships that have been collected and nurtured. I see relationship building as an opportunity to serve. When we are always looking to help others in a genuine manner without the thought of receiving anything in return, we move beyond the transactional aspects of an acquaintance into a true relationship. Putting Good out into the world through service is the Law of Attraction – and in turn, we will attract Good into our lives.
  11. Balance your life – emotionally, intellectually, financially, physically, spiritually and with your family. This one can be tough, especially if we really, really love our entrepreneurial adventure. Here’s a secret. Having this sort of balance has a giant payday. It helps us to avoid burnout and sets the foundation for greater stimulation of our creativity. Besides, who wants to be around a one-dimensional person anyway?
  12. Help others buy your ideas. Do we sell our products and services, or do we help others buy them? There is a massive distinction between the two. Helping someone buy is “customer-centric” and selling to someone is “product-centric.” We will have much more success if we focus on the customer and his or her needs. It’s quite possible our product or service isn’t right for him/her – and that’s just fine. We can then move on to help someone else with the buying decision.
  13. You can’t do this all by yourself. Develop a support network of colleagues, friends, and family. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely proposition. Being able to share success and failure with others is important to our mental and emotional health. Our friends and family provide safe refuge to which we can turn whenever needed. There is nothing gained by being the macho Lone Ranger . . . except loneliness.

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 Purposeful Entrepreneur

Allow me to introduce Colin Timothy O’Brady. Born on March 16, 1985, O’Brady was raised in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from Yale in 2006 with a degree in economics. After graduation he went on a trip to an island off the coast of Thailand. During a fire-rope jumping event he accidentally caught on fire and suffered second and third-degree burns to 25% of his body with the most damage to his legs and feet. Doctors said he might never regain full functionality of his lower extremities.

O’Brady defied the odds and completed more than 50 triathlons as a professional, between 2009 and 2015.  Then roll the tape forward to 2016 and enter the Explorer’s Grand Slam. The Slam involves climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents plus expeditions to both the North and South Poles. O’Brady launched this effort on January 10 and completed it on May 27, 2016, setting the record for the fastest time. This included climbing Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet. According to CBS News fewer than 50 people in history have completed the challenge and only two in under a year. He made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet) in less than 12 hours – a normal person takes six to seven days to climb it.

The extreme physical nature of this feat is beyond incredible. Imagine the stamina and endurance he had to have, not to mention the talent and agility it would take to conquer these dangerous towering peaks! But that pales in comparison to the mental focus and toughness O’Brady had to maintain. “I hope that people take away from this the power of the human spirit,” he said. “When you believe in yourself, and you dream big, that anything is possible.” The obstacles he faced were numerous. Fifty mile-per-hour winds, temperatures of -40˚ F., headaches (early signs of acute mountain sickness), icy conditions, a guide who suddenly left with his climbing ropes while on Mt. Elbrus in Russia in the middle of the night, and a cracked ice runway at the North Pole – just to name a few. Meditation was a staple for his mental health.

Colin O’Brady’s life experience offers a parallel to the life of an entrepreneur. Fortunately, we don’t have to face the same physical dangers, but the obstacles can certainly loom as large. Competitive pressures, cash flow (or lack thereof), recruiting talent, legal issues, unhappy customers, production problems, product problems, regulations, difficult economic conditions, and maturing bank lines can add up to a challenge as daunting as a cracked ice runway at the North Pole.  

To thrive and succeed we need more than perseverance and resilience. We need a Mt. Everest mindset. Just trying to “muscle” through often is not enough. A steadfast belief in a strong sense of purpose is a great place to start. For Colin O’Brady, he had been told that he might have difficulty in walking normally after his horrific accident in 2007. This provided a level of motivation that propelled him well beyond simply walking normally. Instead, he set out to do something no other human being had ever done before – and he did it.

What is our sense of purpose? If it’s only to make a lot of money we may not be able to reach the summit. On the other hand, if we are driven to change the world in a profound way, our entrepreneurial endeavors may have a much better chance for success. We’ll press on through the pain and suffering. We’ll become calm as 50 mile-per-hour winds hammer us with metaphorical ice and snow. I submit that without this strong sense of purpose, we cannot muster what it takes to achieve the Grand Slam of whatever we are undertaking.

We can have a successful entrepreneurial career playing it safe – and there’s nothing wrong with this. However, if we want to dream big dreams . . . and realize them, we’ll need to have a Mt. Everest mindset. It will be incumbent upon us to find that deep-rooted sense of purpose that drives us upward and onward. Have you discovered your strong sense of purpose, and do you hold a steadfast belief in it?  

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 Disappointed Entrepreneur

Every entrepreneur will experience disappointment at one time or another – that’s a fact. We tend to be optimistic and visualize very positive outcomes. Of course, not every outcome is realized exactly the way we anticipate. To succeed we need to have a heavy dose of resilience. But there’s more to it than just the ability to bounce back.

Once upon a time we had a very large deal blow. It involved the sale of several apartment properties and would have resulted in a very large financial gain after holding these properties for nearly 20 years. The buyer had made a preliminary inspection of the properties, and a purchase and sale agreement had been executed by both parties. Then the buyer claims that our broker misrepresented an element of the transaction that would ultimately result in a substantial reduction in the price – something we were unwilling to accept. We believe that the buyer never intended to pay the agreed-upon price and was starting the process of “chiseling” once the documents were signed.

This wasn’t the first time we’ve had a deal blow up and it certainly won’t be the last. And it isn’t the first time that a buyer acted less than honorably – nor will it likely be the last. Our initial reaction was one of disappointment. It would have been wonderful to monetize an investment that was many years in the making, and we would have disposed of some smaller assets that no longer fit our strategy going forward. Naturally, resilience kicked in and we didn’t shed any tears over this situation. The broker went back to the drawing board and worked to find another buyer. Here’s what may be a surprise to you though – our mindset in the moment.

After I understood the transaction wasn’t moving forward, I was excited in a positive way. Why? Because I tend to look at situations like this as a sign that “something better is in store!” Yes, we would have had a very favorable result had we closed the deal. But I’m convinced that there’s something much bigger and better to come from this.

Some may snicker and laugh when they hear this. They might say that this is simply naïve and wishful thinking. I would tell them that I’ve been living my life this way for 45+ years and more often than not, I’m right. Here’s why. By knowing and believing that something better is in store, I’m telling my creative juices to kick into overdrive. In the case of this apartment sale, our broker might come up with another buyer. Yet I have an idea that will require a bit more innovation and take a bit more time, but the result could be even more profitable than originally planned. And it jazzes me to develop and execute the strategy necessary to make this happen.

A more conventional approach might be to lament the loss of the original buyer. It might be to play the victim and become angry that the original buyer was less than honorable in his dealings with us. We could be mad at the broker for his misstep in the way he worded the offering document that purportedly caused the issue in the first place. But what purpose is served with all the negativity? The fact remains that the buyer backed out. The choice is ours as to which fork in the road we take. The one that leads to an even greater success or the one that leaves us wallowing in misery and limited thinking.

When we realize that our entrepreneurial lives are continually unfolding as a series of opportunities, we never look at unexpected outcomes as setbacks. Instead, they give us a chance to use our skills, our resilience, our experience, and our creativity to achieve even better results than we initially sought. Allowing negative thoughts and emotions enables limitations on our creativity. What might otherwise be viewed as a disappointment is simply a nudge to adjust, modify and tweak in such a way as to eventually win a better prize.

Entrepreneurs need a baseline level of resilience to survive. Seeing greater opportunity in what others might term as failure is a step beyond resilience. And knowing and believing that something better is in store enables us to thrive in amazing ways.

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 Insecure Entrepreneur

Let’s go exploring. Let’s explore the mind of an entrepreneur. What types of thoughts are entrepreneurs thinking? The answer may surprise you. Many people see entrepreneurs as self-confident, assertive individuals who always have it “all together.” Look at the roster of famous entrepreneurs – Sir Richard Branson, Mark Cuban, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg. Certainly, no shrinking violets in this bunch!

So, we’re all like this star-studded list of entrepreneurs – right? Well . . . maybe not so much. All that moxie and nerves of steel gives way to self-doubts and uncertainty. Am I a fake? Am I not good enough? What if I fail and lose all my money? No one likes me or my idea. These thoughts are insidious and destructive. And yet we think them anyway.

We’ve all heard the “fake it till you make it” mantra. This implies that an entrepreneur is continuing to perfect his or her product/service while still pulling out the stops to sell it. Products and services are iterative and there will always be newer and better models. Our entrepreneurial insecurities emerge when we worry that there may be flaws in the current version that cause such a strong level of customer dissatisfaction that our whole enterprise bombs. This is where the “fake it” part of the equation can spill over into our psyche and cause us to question whether we really know what we’re doing.

“What if I’m not good enough?” Often, we’ll see other entrepreneurs who seem to be riding the wave. Everything is going right for them, and we surmise that they are on top of the world. Perhaps we’ve just suffered a setback of some sort. We look at the competitive landscape and begin to wonder if we’re losing the race. This feeling intensifies as this cycle persists – others seem to be winning and we aren’t.

It’s 3:00 AM and we wake up in a cold sweat. Our hearts are pounding and we’re a bit disoriented. We’ve just launched a major project that by our assessment, involves more risk than we’re used to taking. Then the mind games begin. We see the endeavor cratering which will cost us a lot of money . . . not to mention reputation. This is followed by the thought that we’re losing our mojo and our business will eventually fail. Ultimately, we declare bankruptcy, lose our house, are divorced by our spouse, and end up living under a bridge!

Finally, some of us may be feeling rejected. Again, we may have been told “no” so many times that we begin to wonder what is wrong with us. Is there something about our personality, the way we look, the things we say or the way we act? Maybe it has something to do with where we live, the car we drive, the people who are our friends or even where we went to school. Our natural reaction is to feel hurt and maybe even victimized.

Entrepreneurial insecurities are understandable but unproductive. It’s important that we recognize them; resolve them as quickly as possible and move on. Allowing them to fester can be a slippery slope to some serious career or life-threatening behaviors. Drug and alcohol abuse, deteriorating health, extramarital affairs, gambling, physical and psychological abuse of loved ones and even suicidal tendencies are some of the more prevalent examples.

We entrepreneurs thrive when we have a healthy self-image. Developing great resilience is critical to our success in this arena. Smoothing out the ups and downs of our fast-paced lives is also a step in the right direction. Earlier in my career I would experience the euphoria of winning to the fullest. But similarly, I would experience the depression of losing to the fullest as well. These wild emotional swings would result in my feeling on “edge” much of the time. The feeling of victory was fantastic, but I always wondered when the other shoe was going to drop.

I’ve learned to moderate my emotions. When I am part of a winning experience, I know I’ve been there before. And it’s the same with the losses. I know what it takes to achieve victory and I know what to do to avoid defeat. Some of this is simply age and experience. But I believe most of it is the mindset I have chosen for myself. The key word in the previous sentence is “choice.”

We can avoid the pitfalls and traps that are set when we have entrepreneurial insecurities. This is accomplished by celebrating our success not by spiking the ball in the end zone, but through understanding exactly how we won and replicating it over and over. Steadfastly focusing on our vision for the future is paramount to warding off negativity and self-doubt. Above all, we build our resilience by maintaining our optimism and positive attitude, no matter what.

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 Hustling Entrepreneur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Law of Attraction and the Entrepreneur

Gil Penchina is a 25-year angel investor in start-up companies. He was one of the earliest members of the eBay team and has invested in unicorn companies such as LinkedIn, Dollar Shave Club, PayPal and Cruise Automotive. I heard him tell a fascinating story about what he sometimes does when he’s traveling. He posts on Facebook that he’ll be away and offers his apartment to whoever wants it. Total strangers are often staying in his apartment – and have been identified not through a formal Airbnb arrangement! He’s done this 15 or 20 times and simply asks that the apartment be left clean, and the bed linens and towels put in the washing machine. Only once has he been burned and that was by one of his cousins. Why would he do this? As Gil tells it, he believes that people are inherently good, and he doesn’t believe they will harm his property.

How many times do we “look for trouble?” Do we have expectations that someone is going to try and take advantage of us? I’ve known many people who always have their guard up. They truly believe that if they don’t aggressively take protective action that they are going to be screwed. I’ve worked with people who spend more time trying to figure out how they are getting the short end of the stick in a transaction than time spent figuring out how to optimize the deal. Guess what? This mindset can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I believe as does Gil, that most of us operate in good faith. Sure, there are bad people in the world – I’m not naïve enough to deny this. But the number is infinitesimally small, and I will do nothing to seek them out. I’ve said it many times that I’m going to put as much Good out into the world with no expectation of getting anything in return. What I’ve always found is that Good comes back to me, often beyond my wildest dreams. While there’s no quid pro quo for specific actions, I know that as I am doing Good, I will attract Good into my life. This is applicable to business, personal relationships, our health, and all other facets of our existence.

Let’s be clear about something. This isn’t about blithely skipping down Candy Cane Lane oblivious to obstacles and pitfalls. When we believe in all Good, we manage risk such that we aren’t worried about bad things happening. Why? Because we have a mitigation plan in place that we methodically work through if the unexpected occurs. Simply planning for risks does not mean we think they will come to fruition. It gives us the peace of mind to know that we can successfully deal with them and allows us to devote our time and energy to the positive aspects of whatever we are doing.

In my 46+-year career I can count on one hand the number of times someone has maliciously taken advantage of me. Conversely, I know many businesspeople who are constantly embroiled in lawsuits and always complaining about how awful others are to deal with. I guess I must be running in the wrong circles because I just haven’t encountered that many of those kinds of people.

Several years ago, we were purchasing an apartment property and placed a large amount of earnest money in escrow. During our due diligence process, we found some issues that were unacceptable, and we informed the seller that we were cancelling the contract. The seller wanted to fight over returning our earnest money and we spent a few dollars on lawyers before settling with him. He received less than 50% of the earnest money and we moved on. All of us believed that the seller was acting in bad faith, and we could have endured a long protracted legal battle and won. But to do this would have required a huge expenditure of negative energy and prevented us from pursuing other positive opportunities. It turned out to be a minor blip in our process and was soon forgotten.

The Law of Attraction is a powerful force in our lives. When we think positive thoughts and do good things for others, we attract the same for ourselves. Negative thoughts and negative actions are also attractors. The choice is easy to make.

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 Entrepreneurial Gold Miner

Have you ever watched the TV series Gold Rush? It’s a lot of fun to see different miners interact with each other; spend a lot of money and fight amazing odds to discover GOLD! They are grizzled guys and gals who brave the harsh Alaskan elements to find the elusive precious metal . . . and of course, smile (or snarl) at the TV camera.

If you watch very many episodes you will be led to believe that it is very, very difficult to succeed in finding gold. I disagree. In fact, I believe that every one of us already owns a gold mine. You may think this is a metaphorical reference and that’s partly true. But there is a literal aspect to this concept that I will explain in a moment. So, what is this gold mine that each of us owns and where do we find it?

If you’ve read my blogs over the years and listened to my podcasts, you already know that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool advocate of maintaining a positive mindset. I believe that there’s a positive energy flow in the world into which we all can tap. When we worry; when we think negative thoughts, and when we act in ways that are hurtful to others, we block that positive energy flow. Then we wallow in our fears, our hurt, our frustrations, and our misery – a process that feeds upon itself. And at the end of the day where are we?

Eliminating negativity is critical to discovering our gold mine. Being in a positive place all day, every day, allows us to harness the amazing power of passion and creativity. Do you ever feel stuck in place, spinning your wheels and not moving forward? You may be stuck right on top of your gold mine, and you don’t even know it! So, what to do? First, start with developing a meditative practice. Meditation is simply the act of dumping the wastebasket of stuff that collects in our minds. When we become quiet and discard the noise and negativity, we create a vacuum. But nature abhors a vacuum and what comes next is the exciting part. For me, a torrent of creative ideas begins to flow.

I want to support those creative ideas in every way possible. I do this with positive affirmations. If you want to become an expert at this, develop a positive affirmation that rings true for you. Then say it 100 times each day in blocks of ten. “Wonderful things are happening in my life right now!” is an example of a positive affirmation. Say it with gusto and different voice inflections. If you do this for a week, your conscious and subconscious mind will believe it.

When negative thoughts creep in, we recognize them and release them. One way to do this is to keep a journal in which we record our negative thoughts. We transfer them out of our minds and onto paper (electronically works too) – and we leave them there. At some point we might revisit them to determine what prompted the thoughts in the first place. But most importantly we get them out of our heads as fast as possible.

So, where’s the gold? Here’s an example of how I found my gold mine. Several years ago, I was speaking with a broker about listing for sale a property that we own. The property was purchased a few years earlier and we knew it was going to have an excellent valuation – we just didn’t know how valuable it was going to be. In the process, I remembered that many years ago, we sold an apartment property and completed a tax-deferred exchange for a couple of drug stores. Frankly, I figured that this was simply a process of protecting the tax positions for our investor limited partners. I never thought that we’d realize any value as general partners. While speaking with the broker, I mentioned that we owned the drug store properties as well. He responded by telling me that the market for this type of property has changed dramatically over the years. On a whim, I had him analyze the properties and he came back with an eye-popping valuation. We listed those two properties as well and cashed significant checks from the resulting sale.

I truly believe that by maintaining a positive mindset, a creative spark stimulated me to mention these properties to this broker. Up until that point I had completely written them off as having any value for my partner and me. By tapping into the flow of positive energy we discovered another vein of gold in our mine. I can tell you that this is not an isolated incident. It happens all the time.

The calculus is simple. An enduring positive mindset allows for the flow of creative ideas that in turn helps us find the gold mines that are ours to claim.

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 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 Undaunted Entrepreneur

Have you ever felt like your back was against the wall? And I’m not talking about a looming deadline to renew a driver’s license. No, I’m referring to a true-life Indiana Jones sort of experience. You’ve stepped into a room and activated some sort of an ancient counterweight that causes the floor, ceiling, and walls to shift and begin to close in on you. There’s seemingly no way out and you can either await your doom or “MacGyver it” and improvise a solution. I apologize – sometimes my metaphors can really become convoluted. Indiana, meet MacGyver. Perhaps you’re running low on cash – in your business or personal life. Maybe your top three team members have just announced they are setting up shop across the street and will become your competitor. Or your top three customers have determined that they will be purchasing 75% to 90% less of your product.

Human nature might say that a panic attack is in order, followed by a bottle or two of something at least 100-proof. We’re at a loss in terms of how to react. Some might call this a state of shock. While all we may want to do is run and hide, that’s simply not an option. And we really aren’t receptive to the notion espoused by a parent (or a coach) at some point in the past – “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Instead, we look at the wall that seemingly has no way over, under or around, and completely shut down. Except there’s one thing . . . we cannot shut down. Period. Ultimately, we develop a special kind of spirit. I call it “undaunted spirit.” In our hearts we truly believe that nothing is insurmountable. This isn’t just a conscious state of mind – it’s a knowing at the very core of our being.

So exactly how do we achieve this undaunted spirit? We can’t just snap our fingers and manifest it. It requires daily preparation and practice every chance we get. Undaunted spirit isn’t something that flips on and off like a light switch. Once we have it, we always want to maintain it.

Step one is to make a game out of solving problems creatively. Entrepreneurs are often quick to solve a problem and move on without giving much thought to all the different solutions that might be available. We usually go for the most intuitive, expeditious and least costly. But doing this deprives us of the opportunity to look at a whole host of other ideas. The entire point in doing this is to help us realize that there are usually many different options from which we can choose. It may be obvious that if kids are tracking a path through our yard after school, we plant a couple of thorn bushes to dissuade this behavior. If we slow down and think about it, there may be other solutions that are equally workable or even better. Maybe we could have the lawn sprinkler system set to come on as school is dismissing. Using everyday issues like this to practice creatively identifying multiple solutions prepares us for the Tuesday when we learn that there’s not enough money to make payroll on Friday.

Step two is to do whatever it takes to stay positive every minute of every day. I’ve said it before – negative thoughts and negative energy never solved anything. Worse, they block the flow of positive energy that delivers creative solutions. Practicing maintaining a positive mindset in our everyday life prepares us for the day when the “you-know-what” hits the fan.

Step three is simple – stay calm. I remember years ago I was flying my airplane and practicing approaches in unstable weather. I was instrument rated and wanted to get some real-life experience in more difficult conditions. A storm was moving in, and I was near the airport when suddenly I was caught in a strong downdraft. I was going straight down, and I mean STRAIGHT DOWN. Charts and pencils were flying around the cabin – and just as quickly I was caught in an updraft and going straight up, and I mean STRAIGHT UP! I will confess that there was moment of “pucker factor,” but I had practiced staying calm and the practice took over. I knew I just had to fly the airplane and not worry about anything else, and by remaining calm I was able to make it through a scary situation unscathed.

Creatively identifying multiple options; fiercely maintaining a positive frame of mind and keeping calm helps us develop undaunted spirit. Then like a magician, we are able to pull the rabbit out of a hat whenever the need arises because we know that no challenge is insurmountable.

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.