The Superhero Entrepreneur

Superheroes are known for their superpowers. Superman could fly and possessed incredible strength. Captain Marvel could levitate. Wonder Woman had x-ray vision. Hercules could self-heal. Iron Man could become invisible, and Stretch Armstrong was a shape shifter. Cartoon characters are bestowed with amazing superpowers and always seem to find themselves in situations that call for the use of those powers specifically unique to them.

Successful entrepreneurs also have their own unique superpowers. Discovering and utilizing such powers can lead to some amazing results. As we progress through our careers, we become more and more aware of our superpowers. The earlier in life we can discern our special abilities, the sooner we’ll be able to focus them and realize our full potential. Just like most of the superheroes, we entrepreneurs can’t lay claim to all the superpowers which is why we need to understand what ours is and how to use it. Here are a few ideas on the subject.

Creativity and Imagination are foundational superpowers for many entrepreneurs. Probably one of the most creative individuals ever to walk the planet was Steve Jobs of Apple fame. Jobs had a vision that was unmatched, and he transformed society by imagining things that had never been done before. He envisioned the iPhone to have on-screen features rather than the old buttons that were used on other cell phones.   

Tesla’s Elon Musk exemplifies the superpowers of Perseverance and Resilience. Another of his enterprises is a company called SpaceX which is attempting to commercialize space travel. Even though there have been countless setbacks including rockets that failed to function properly or exploded in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015 and 2016, Musk continued to stay the course to reach his goal of making space travel affordable and colonizing Mars. And SpaceX has had numerous successful launches since the earlier failures.

McDonald’s would not be the company it is today had it not been for its founder, Ray Kroc and his superpowers of Optimism and Ambition. Very early in his career he met Earl Prince, the inventor of a five-spindle milk shake machine called the Multimixer. He spent 15 years selling the machine to a variety of customers including two brothers in San Bernardino, California. Dick and Mac McDonald entered an arrangement with Kroc to expand McDonald’s beyond a single restaurant and the rest is history. Because of his Ambition, Kroc was able to effectively push the expansion plan. And his Optimism was contagious and enabled others – franchisees, suppliers, bankers, and investors, to believe in him and his plan.

When we think of Amazon, we understandably think of its founder Jeff Bezos. Here is a man who is not afraid of failure because his superpower is seeing the world as a laboratory in which to Experiment. Is there any doubt that he’s done exactly that? He started selling books online, and today sells EVERYTHING through the Amazon website. In addition, Amazon Web Services, is a subsidiary that provides a cloud-based computing platform to the business community. Bezos convinced investors to back his approach of experimentation from Amazon’s launch in 1995 to 2021 when it achieved annual sales of $469 billion. He advises entrepreneurs to focus on process not failure, and further to “deconstruct products, processes and ideas.”

Building and serving Relationships are Reid Hoffman’s superpowers. Hoffman was the COO of PayPal and co-founder of LinkedIn. He likes to build deep, long-term relationship that give insider knowledge. Says he, “If you reverse engineer the relationships of many successful entrepreneurs as I have, you will realize that many people work with the same people over and over in their careers.”

What is your superpower? Once you find it, focus on it, refine it, and exploit it. It may not enable you to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, but it may be just what you need to build a successful and sustainable organization.  

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 “Say No Quick” Entrepreneur

There are very few things in life that I truly hate. We optimistic entrepreneurs are upbeat and resilient. But there is this one thing. Let me set the scene and see if you share the same disdain as do I. You reach out to a prospective customer and actually snag a meeting. Arriving early, you are well prepared and have done considerable research on this person and his company. No question will go unanswered, and every key point will be covered. The meeting seems to go well, and you get positive though non-committal feedback from the prospective customer. As you wrap up you hear those 11 dreaded words . . . “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

Naturally you are polite when you are told this, but you leave indicating that you’ll check back in a week – the customer smiles and nods. Of course, you send a nice thank you note, and a week later you are in follow-up mode. You call and leave a voicemail message. You e-mail and re-state your interest in working with this individual. There is no response. Another week goes by with another voicemail and e-mail. The third week you actually reach the customer when you call, and he tells you how slammed he’s been; asks a question and says he’s still thinking about it. But there’s hope isn’t there? He asked a question – that seems to be a sign that he’s interested.

You know the rest of the story. After an interminable period of time, you somehow learn that he actually committed to buy the product from a competitor – weeks ago. This is a locker-kicking, punching-the-wall moment of frustration. The age-old question spews from your lips, “Why couldn’t he just say NO?!”  

Whether or not we’re entrepreneurs, we’re always going to find ourselves in situations where we need someone to say yes or no. It doesn’t seem like these answers should be hard to provide. And yet there apparently is a great deal of indecision in the world today because getting to yes or no is a great struggle for some. Why? What’s the point of the “string-along?” Often it may be that a person is concerned about hurting someone else’s feelings by saying no. It’s true that a person may need to consider his or her options and truly contemplate before providing an answer. But that’s no reason for not responding to phone calls and e-mails.

Having dealt with this issue for many years, I’ve resolved not to treat others in similar fashion. When I’m called for a meeting, I will try to quickly determine if I have an interest in what the other person is offering – now or ever. If I’m not interested – ever – I’ll tell the other person and refuse the meeting. It’s a quick “no.” If I’m not interested now but might be in the future, I’ll say this, “I can tell you that I’m not interested right now. However, I’m happy to take the meeting because I want to learn more about you and your product for future reference. It certainly helps to build a relationship.” The other person knows exactly where I stand and can decide herself if she still wants to schedule the meeting. If I go through with the meeting and don’t want what is being offered, I will say “no” on the spot. If I truly need time to contemplate, I’ll tell the other person that I need to do so and will provide a firm date for follow-up.

Here’s one more thing about a “no” answer. Many of us learned that when we’re told no, it’s simply a plea to be “sold” some more. I think this is still true but with a twist. If I say no – never, that’s probably what I mean. But if I say no – not right now, that could very well mean that I’m a “yes” in the future. There’s no harm in building relationships and keeping our name in front of someone with whom we want to do business. Being in the right place at the right time is a real art. Through relationships the odds of being in this position are vastly improved.

We’d much rather hear a quick no than be strung along through indecision or sensitivity for our feelings. Giving no as an answer allows the other person to move into a longer-term relationship-building mode and enables him or her to pursue other prospects without wasting time.

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 Mistake-Admitting Entrepreneur

Crows are remarkably intelligent and can live 20 years. They typically have a wingspan of more than three feet and weigh nearly three pounds. A crow can fly up to 60 miles per hour and have been found as high as 14,000 feet in mountain ranges. Being smart, fast, and able to fly to great heights make them particularly hard to catch. A few years ago I had to catch one so I could eat it . . . metaphorically speaking of course.  

To be a successful entrepreneur we must have an acquired taste for crow. We have all heard the saying “to eat crow” which connotes humiliation and having to admit the making of a mistake. Sometimes our ego gets in the way and we do everything we can to avoid admitting that we made a mistake. We may point the finger at others. Or we may try and cover up the mistake hoping that its results will somehow vanish into thin air. I can tell you that all these tendencies are mistakes.  

One of our companies is involved in acquiring apartment properties across the country. We sold two such assets within a much shorter holding period than we had initially projected because of an opportunity to generate substantial profits. Members of our team prepared a detailed spreadsheet that showed how the sale proceeds would be distributed. These were large and complicated transactions with several tranches of equity provided by different investors. I was pleased to call two such investors to deliver the good news that they would be receiving a significant multiple of their original investment. Needless to say, they were thrilled.

Within days, I received a call from my partner who oversees our apartment acquisition business unit. Apparently, there was a bust in the calculations and these two investors would be receiving less than what I had told them. They were still receiving a substantial gain on the sale, but not quite as much as the expectation I had set. The mistake was honest and unfortunate, but it still had to be acknowledged. Thus, I went about the task of eating crow.

I called both investors and said the following, “I’m sorry to tell you that the distribution figure I provided the other day was erroneous. We made a mistake in calculating the sale proceeds and your new amount is $X. Happily your profit is still much greater than we projected when you made your investment three-and-a-half years ago. I wanted to get back to you as soon as I learned of the error and I hope that you will still be interested in looking at future investments with us.”

Because we are a team, I did not point a finger at the person who was responsible for the calculation. Instead, I said that “we” made a mistake. I did not make up an excuse for what had happened. Simple but painful. The result was an expression of understanding on the part of both investors. I am sure they were disappointed but there were no angry words and in both cases an indication of interest in looking at the next deal.

Relationships are built on trust and can be strengthened in situations where things do not go as planned. But this happens only when honesty and transparency are the top priority.

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 Enamored Entrepreneur

Let me set the scene. You just hired a young new hotshot. This person has had a meteoric career to date, and you spent months recruiting him. He went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree and Stanford for an MBA. Right out of the blocks he has been hitting it out-of-the-park for you. His creativity and innovation are off the charts and he’s a real charmer. Everyone loves him and he is generating one success after another. What a dream situation – right?

There is no doubt that this is a dream situation. However, there’s also danger lurking. Why? Whenever we become enamored with someone, we run the risk of being blind to their shortcomings, and we all have shortcomings. Further we also may not be looking critically for coaching opportunities which shortchanges our new team member. How is it that we smart entrepreneurs fall into this trap? Actually, it is very easy. Perhaps we had a less than satisfactory experience with someone our new hire has replaced. Or we may never have had talent like this in the organization before. It is very refreshing to have a smart person in our midst that can seemingly do no wrong. We never want the honeymoon to end, nor do we want to throw cold water on our new team member, lest we demoralize him or her early in the game.

Over the course of my career I have seen plenty “golden haired boys and girls.” And after a while, the luster wears off a bit. Always. By no means does this indicate that we made a poor hiring decision. Walking in the front door for the first time, seldom is anyone really as good as they may seem – a fact for which we need to be reminded periodically. It is all about setting expectations. On Day One we are well-served to establish an understanding with our new team member whereby we will be providing continuous feedback. This will include both praise as well as constructive coaching. And, we must have a mindset that no matter how wonderful this individual might be, there’s always room to help him or her become better.

Here is how we might create a feedback process that works well for all parties. During the first 90-days we hold a short weekly meeting with our new teammate. We will structure it into four parts. First, we share our positive observations about what this individual has done well during the previous week. If something notable has been accomplished, we celebrate accordingly. Second, we share one or more areas where we would like to see more progress. This does not necessarily mean that we are being critical, but we should not hesitate to offer constructive criticism if warranted. Third, we provide information that may be pertinent for the coming week. Perhaps we want to lay out some new objectives, or maybe there is some company information to be conveyed. Finally, we allow time for our team member to ask questions or offer any observations he or she might have. After 90-days these meetings may be less frequent. The bottom line is that our rising star is conditioned to receiving feedback and we have been able to build a strong relationship from the very beginning.

Maintaining an objective perspective on new team members – especially those who show great promise – will help turn good talent into franchise-quality players. And it helps us remember that we can always be better tomorrow than we were today.

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 “Right Way” Entrepreneur

I have written before about the sales mindset. But I would like to expand on this subject with some additional thoughts. Entrepreneurs are always selling whether it is raising money, peddling a product, or convincing a new team member to come on board. We have all heard the adage, “he could sell ice to an Eskimo.” This conjures up an image of a slick, fast-talking huckster who cons his “marks” into purchasing something they really do not need. Obviously, this is the antithesis of how we want to be perceived as entrepreneurs.

I am trying to expunge the terminology of “selling” from my vocabulary. Why? In my opinion the traditional notion of selling is product-based. In other words, I have a product and I am going to do everything I can to convince you to buy it. What goes unsaid here is, “I’m going to do everything I can to convince you to buy it whether you want it or not.” Maybe this is just my personal bias, but I have observed others over the years that act in similar fashion when they get into the sales mode. Instead of “selling to” I’ve moved into a “buying from” mindset. I submit the following:

  • When we sell something to someone else, we’re product-focused.
  • When we help someone buy something, we’re customer-focused.

The difference in these two approaches is night and day. When we help someone buy, the product takes a back seat. We are more interested in building a relationship and creating trust with someone else. We are more interested in understanding exactly what they need. Through this discovery process we may find that our product is not best suited for this individual. But that is OK because we are helping them buy what they need – not what we want them to have. You may be thinking, “This flies in the face of so many of the selling techniques that are time-tested and proven.” And you may be right. But I am willing to wager that an entrepreneur who genuinely wants to help people buy what they need is going to win far more often than a salesman who just wants to move product. When relationships take precedence, they can produce unanticipated results. I have experienced numerous instances where I determined that what we were helping a customer buy was not right for him or her. But it was clear that the relationship was more important than the sale. And ultimately, we received referrals from those customers that did result in someone else buying from us.

When we absolutely must make the sale, we are less likely to focus on the customer. We are desperate to close the deal. One of my colleagues told me about an encounter she had with an individual who had called her to set up an introductory meeting. From the outset he was selling. He made no effort to learn more about her and establish a rapport – much less build a relationship. He made no effort to understand what she needed to purchase. He simply launched into his pitch and barely took a breath. By the end she was worn out listening to him and told me how off-putting the whole encounter had been.

There are some very simple rules that we can follow to ensure that we avoid the “selling to” approach.

  1. Always start the process by asking questions of the customer. This will help to establish a rapport and to determine his or her needs.
  2. Eliminate the terms “sales” and “selling” from our vocabulary.
  3. Genuinely care about the customer and find a way to meet his/her needs even if it involves a product that is not our own.
  4. Make certain that it is clear to the customer that it is his/her best interest that we have at heart and not our own.
  5. Remember the only way to develop long-term satisfied customers is to help them buy what they need. And the endorsement of long-term satisfied customers is worth its weight in gold.

When we always focus on the customer, we win. Sometimes this requires us to look past an immediate transaction. But it will always pay big dividends in the end.

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 “Loyal-to-a-Fault” Entrepreneur

Think about how much loyalty is a part of your life. How loyal are you to others? And how loyal are they to you? Do you have loyal customers; loyal partners; loyal employees, loyal friends and loyal family members? Loyalty is a strong and positive quality. It’s a key element in building and maintaining relationships. So, everything must be peaches and cream, right? Ah, but there’s a bit of a dark side to loyalty.

You probably have heard the term, “loyal to a fault.” This is when we may be too loyal to someone else and that loyalty clouds our judgment and may even be damaging to our business. Whether or not we’re being too loyal can be a tough call. It requires us to be very objective about a particular person and their performance. This can be exceptionally difficult for anyone and nearly impossible for someone who places a very high value on the loyalty trait.

Here’s a scenario that may be familiar. Perhaps it’s even happened in your own organization. A high-level executive has been with a firm for 30-years and reports to the founder and CEO. This executive is part of the CEO’s inner circle and his advice and counsel are often sought by the CEO. Unfortunately, this executive is also a flaming jerk. He’s very nice and thoughtful to other senior level executives, but when it comes to those who don’t have as prominent a position in the organization, he can be unreasonably demanding and thoughtless. Because of his tenure with the CEO, his behavior is tolerated. The employees of the firm have learned to steer clear of him and know that he is “protected” by the CEO. Complaints were lodged about him in years past but it’s well-known by everyone working for this company that he will always get away with whatever he wants.

If asked about this high-level executive, the CEO would undoubtedly say, “I know that he can sometimes be a bit abrasive, but overall he’s done a great job for this company.” The CEO might also say something like this, “He and I were fraternity brothers and he’s always had my back.” Sound like something you might have heard before? In this situation, many of the employees of this company have lost respect for the CEO because he won’t fix the problem. If this was a family business, it could very well be that the CEO and high-level executive are related – brothers perhaps. The bottom line is that the organization cannot function effectively because the CEO has misplaced loyalty to a problem individual.

As entrepreneurs we must learn how to maintain our objectivity, especially when it comes to employees and team members who are key to us. We have to be able to separate our feelings of loyalty from what is best for our organization. Loyalty can easily become a blind spot for us unless we have a method to deal with it. In a larger organization this can be done through a human resources department. The HR director must be given permission by the CEO to lay the facts on the table about each and every employee. In a smaller firm, it may be helpful to hire a consultant who can facilitate the performance of a 360-degree review of senior executives or even all members of the firm. In both cases, the HR director or the consultant should provide an honest perspective to the CEO that one of his or her reports needs to be coached, disciplined or even dismissed.

Loyalty is generally a good thing. But when there’s loyalty to a fault, we need to be willing to listen to someone tell us when we have a problem. And then we must deal with it accordingly.

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 Cold Calling Entrepreneur

My cell phone rang the other day. The person on the other end started by introducing himself but did not speak clearly so I couldn’t catch his name. He immediately launched with a hearty, “Mr. Harris, how are you doing today?” This sort of greeting is always a warning signal for me that someone is going to try and sell something. Being a polite person, I responded by saying that I was fine. Before I could say anything else, he began reading from his script. He was peddling the most amazing product since the invention of the light bulb and it was going to save me millions of dollars . . . or something like that. This guy literally filibustered for more than 30 seconds without taking a breath. He obviously had a lot of practice doing this.

Does this sort of old school cold calling really work? Perhaps it does to a point, but I question whether it is the most effective approach. Let’s examine all the ways I found this conversation to be off-putting. #1 – Failure to speak clearly – the fact that he spoke so fast that I couldn’t understand his name was certainly not the right way to get started. #2 – Cliché greeting – asking how I was doing is incredibly trite and inauthentic. #3 – No need-determination – this was at the heart of his ineffective approach. He arrogantly assumed that I needed his product or service and made no attempt to validate this assumption. #4 – Reading from a script – I had no confidence that he understood what he was supposed to be selling. After listening to him tout his product for a while I finally interrupted him and said, “I’m not interested, thank you.” And then I hung up. I wonder how many times this happens to him every day.

This type of cold calling utilizes a classic high-pressure technique and I’m surprised that in today’s business world there are still companies (and salespeople) who use it. Cold calling can be a thankless task yielding poor results except for a high degree of discouragement. Cold calling should be less about the product or service we are selling and more about building and collecting relationships that we can serve. The problem is that many companies still expect salespeople to meet quotas and apply extreme pressure to sell, sell and sell. The alternative (and much more effective) approach is to call without making any attempt whatsoever to sell anything. Instead the call is to introduce one’s self and build a rapport with the customer. This process includes attempting to understand how the customer does business and to identify his points of pain.

I would begin a call like this by indicating that I’m not calling to sell anything. This statement is usually somewhat disarming and increases the chance for a customer to stay on the phone. Instead, I’m doing some research to learn more about how customers are dealing with a certain issue. If my product is inventory management software, I’m going to ask open-ended questions that get the customer to talk about what problems he might be experiencing with his current inventory management system. And I’m going to carefully listen to his responses and ask pertinent follow-up questions based upon what he has told me. I will not read from a script. Once I have a greater understanding about my prospective customer and his needs, I’m going to thank him for his time and hang up.

I’ll follow-up with a handwritten note expressing appreciation to the customer for his time. Very few people write notes anymore. I won’t send it by e-mail because I won’t stand out as much. I may wait several days and send him something relating to the conversation we had – perhaps it’s an article that is applicable to his situation. But I’m still not selling him anything. Instead, I’m working to build a relationship. By the time I call him again, he knows who I am. And there’s a reasonable chance that I’ve differentiated myself from the high-pressure cold callers he hears from every day. When I finally call him days or even weeks later to help him buy my product, it’s now a warm call.

Effective selling isn’t about the product we’re pushing. It’s all about the customer and his or her needs. And while this premise seems so basic, it’s not practiced extensively. Thus, when we take the personal approach rather than the product approach, we have a real opportunity to stand out from our competition.

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 Wealthy Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship has long been the proven path to wealth – great wealth in fact. For decades we’ve heard the rags-to-riches stories about men and women who have had an idea and built a successful company around it. I don’t need to cite these examples because you have already heard them over and over. Normal, ordinary people have become billionaires and centimillionaires through their entrepreneurial endeavors. But I want to focus on wealth differently in this blog.

Early in my career my focus was on making a lot of money. I don’t think I was a whole lot different than many other young, driven, Type A people. I went about my business always checking my bank balance and trying to figure out how to add another zero or two. And the harder I tried, the more elusive the result seemed to become. I scrimped and saved and eventually enjoyed a nice material lifestyle – but the big dollars that I coveted never seemed to come.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when the shift occurred or what triggered it, but one day I found myself less obsessed with the end result (a large net worth) and more focused on the process of what I was doing and the joy it brought me. The money and wealth accumulation became secondary to actually building the business with my partners. Once I did this, the dollar rewards appeared – and sometimes in ways I’d never dreamed. There’s a constellation in the night sky that illustrates this perfectly. When we try and look directly at the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters) it’s hard to see all the stars. But when we focus on a nearby star or constellation, the Pleiades can be vividly seen in our peripheral vision. In other words, trying to see the Seven Sisters head-on is frustrating and nearly impossible with the naked eye. But when our focus is elsewhere, the star cluster comes into view with greater clarity. This became a perfect metaphor for my situation.

Along the way I have discovered there are many more elements to wealth than simply money. The entrepreneur who thinks that life is only about making tons of money is going to miss many opportunities to become fabulously wealthy in other ways. Let’s explore some of these possibilities.

At this stage of my life I value the relationships with which I’m blessed as much as the dollars that come my way. I’ve long believed in collecting as many relationships over the course of my life as possible for the purpose of serving others. These relationships have been developed without quid pro quo. In other words, I serve my relationships without any expectation of something in return. The results have been incredible with countless friends and acquaintances whose lives I have hopefully impacted in a positive way. I consider myself wealthy beyond my wildest dreams through the knowledge that I am helping so many others.

Another aspect of wealth for me is the pride of accomplishment. Yes, I’m extremely proud of all that I’ve accomplished whether it be in my career, civic activities or avocations. This pride is not something for which I need to be recognized outwardly. Instead, it comes from the satisfaction of knowing that I succeeded at something – often something very difficult. Over the years, this success adds to my overall wealth of being.

I am a very wealthy man when it comes to the diverse and active life I’ve led. I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced a day where I’ve been bored. My waking hours are filled with creativity and new experiences. I always see life in full and glorious color. There is no such thing as monotony in what I do. Also, my health is my wealth. I was adopted and have no idea my genetic history. So, I have worked very hard to maintain great health as though I am constantly at risk. Exercise, eating right, maintaining an optimal weight level, and regular consultations with medical professionals has enabled me to remain vibrant and physically fit.

Finally, my family is a huge source of my wealth. I’m blessed to have had a nearly 50-year relationship with my wife; two amazing and talented daughters and a son-in-law; three beautiful grandchildren, and a host of cousins and in-laws. Unfortunately, both sets of our parents are gone, but we had wonderful relationships with them while they were alive. Love abounds every single day and has generated pleasant memories that will last a lifetime.

Truly, I believe that I fit the definition of the Wealthy Entrepreneur. Money is a part of the equation but there’s so much more including relationships with friends and acquaintances, pride of accomplishment, a diverse and active life, great health and an incredible family. I hope that you too can enjoy such bountiful wealth!

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 Triangulating Entrepreneur

Allow me to set the stage. Don, Shirley, Frank and Jessie all work for the same company. They are peers and interact on a daily basis. Let’s pull back the curtain momentarily and observe what is happening.

Shirley has stopped Frank in the hall. They have an exchange that goes like this.

Shirley: “Frank, you won’t believe what Don did. I’m so frustrated with him! He was supposed to prepare graphs for the PowerPoint slides to insert into the Magruder presentation and he totally blew it off. How are we going to get these graphs?”

Frank: “Wow, Shirley! It’s incredible that he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. You know, he’s done that before. What a bozo!”

Later, Frank runs into Jessie and their conversation went like this.

Frank: “Jessie – Shirley told me that Don completely booted the graphs for the Magruder presentation. She’s about to blow a gasket. I wonder if Don should even be on our team.”

Jessie: “That’s awful! Don seems to have a history of doing things like this. He’s being extremely selfish and doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”

What is happening here? I call it The Bermuda Triangulation Effect. The Bermuda Triangle is a region covering roughly 500,000 square miles in the Atlantic Ocean where ships and aircraft have seemingly vanished without a trace. In other words, it’s akin to a mysterious black hole, sucking in the unsuspecting. Unfortunately, there’s no mystery to The Bermuda Triangulation Effect. Triangulation is a no man’s land where different parties whine, moan and groan about another party without speaking directly with that party. In our example Frank, Shirley and Jessie are triangulating about Don and the problems he has caused. Yet, no one bothered to talk to Don about the issue.

Triangulation is bad for business and bad for relationships. It’s pure poison and can dramatically and adversely impact the chemistry of a team. Why does all this grousing happen among teammates in the first place? I believe that it’s indicative of a team that does not hold mutual respect as a cornerstone. Team members also don’t trust each other to the point that they can have conversations directly with the party who is causing issues. I’ve heard many people explain that they feel like such a conversation could be confrontational and they want to avoid conflict.

Here’s the truth. Entrepreneurial leaders must take all steps necessary to eliminate triangulation. This starts with identifying clear roles and accountabilities for each team member. And everyone must clearly understand how they are accountable to each other. This accountability should include a process for addressing issues and concerns that are encountered from time-to-time. Team members should understand that it is incumbent upon them to speak directly with another team member should a challenge arise with that individual. Discussions among peers should be taboo as they are counterproductive and accomplish absolutely nothing. And team members should be discouraged from trying to resolve their issues via e-mail. E-mail is a one-dimensional form of communication and is one of the worst ways to try and sort out problems within a team.

Team members should be educated on how to speak directly with another team member in what might be perceived as an uncomfortable situation. Had our fictitious team been properly educated, the following exchange might have occurred with Shirley going to Don directly.

Shirley: “Don – I was looking for the graphs that you were preparing and found that they weren’t in shared folder. I need to drop them in the PowerPoint for the Magruder presentation. When do you think you’ll have them ready?”

Don: “Shirley – “I’m so sorry. I spent the night in the emergency room with my daughter and wasn’t able to finish them like I promised. I’ve been working on them and will have them completed in about 30 minutes.”

Shirley: “I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. I hope she’s OK. If you need any help, just let me know.”

No triangulation occurred. The team continued to move forward to achieve its goals. Feelings weren’t hurt and time wasn’t wasted with angry chatter.

As entrepreneurs we must endeavor to create a culture of mutual respect where team members are totally comfortable having conversations of all sorts with each other. Stamping out triangulation should be a priority to this end.

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 Zone of Doom

What do we dread most in our business and personal lives today? No, it’s not losing. When that happens, we simply pick ourselves up and go after it again. And it’s not being overwhelmed by our workload. We solve this with a few adjustments to time management and delegating to other team members. Our biggest “dread” is insidious and frustrating beyond belief. Here’s an example of what happens. We’re attempting to do business with someone. We’re past the cold calling stage and actually have been interacting with other party. We send an e-mail and wait a day or two. Then we call and leave a voicemail. Perhaps we even send a text. A week goes by with radio silence. We’re officially in the Zone of Doom.

The Zone of Doom is the black hole of non-responsiveness. Unfortunately, it’s become an epidemic. With caller ID many people simply ignore calls from those of us with whom they do not wish to speak. Blowing off e-mails is even easier. I know I sound like an old geezer, but when I was growing up in the business world, I quickly learned that protocol dictated the return of every phone call the same day or next morning. We didn’t have e-mail back then, so letters and memos were the standard for written communications. The expectation was that the response be immediate. There never was any thought of not responding at all. In fact, when someone slipped and failed to provide a timely response, the word usually got back to corporate leadership and there was hell to pay.

The biggest challenge relayed to me by members of our team is that their interactions with so many people outside the company are one-way. Simply trying to reach people is so much harder than ever before. Long ago, I resolved not to fall into this category. I think I’m about 95% true to this resolution. I do return my phone calls in a timely fashion – though I will admit that there may be a cold call here or there from a salesperson that I miss. I believe most people will attest to the fact that I usually return all my e-mails the same day if not the same hour.

So how are we supposed to deal with the Zone of Doom?  How are we supposed to do business when people are so unresponsive? There’s no question that failure to respond is not acceptable. But we must ask ourselves what might be the root cause for our receiving the silent treatment? This goes beyond the fact that people are busy. It all boils down to priorities. Think about how we develop our own set of priorities. What goes at the top of the list and what goes at the bottom? I find that the things that are most important are those which are most impactful to my business and my life. It’s a pretty good bet that others set their priorities in the same manner. When I’m trying to reach someone else, I try to bear in mind whether communicating with me will make that much difference to the other person. There’s the word . . . difference.

We must be able to differentiate ourselves when competing with someone else’s priorities. Is what we are attempting to communicate really that important to them? If not, then what can we do to push it up toward the top of the ladder. This is where relationship building becomes so important. I’ve written many times that relationships are all about service. I’ve found that the harder I work to establish and serve a relationship the more likely someone will reciprocate my attempt to communicate. You may be thinking, “How can I possibly build and serve relationships with everyone with whom I come into contact?” No one said it would be easy. Relationships take time to build and there’s no time to waste. Any and every little thing that can be done to help someone else builds that relationship. Many businesspeople seek to establish relationships to benefit themselves. If we do it differently and make every attempt to help others, our efforts will be recognized as genuine and authentic.

We can avoid the Zone of Doom by building relationships for the purpose of serving others. And through our relationships, we move up the priority list of those we are serving.

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.