Little Steps to Sweet Success

A friend of mine has a company he started several years ago and he’s on an unbelievable roll. If he’s not there already it won’t be long before his top line revenues exceed nine figures. When I first met him his business was grossing nearly $10 million. Not only has he seen a gigantic increase in his sales, but his profitability is off the charts. I fully expect to read about him in Forbes one of these days. How has he done it?

My friend is not a particularly flashy guy. He didn’t design fancy strategies or engage in crazy risks. Instead, he concentrated on taking little steps. You or I might see them individually as pretty mundane. But when viewed collectively these small steps have become giant leaps, propelling his organization to dizzying heights. What have I learned over the years about how my friend has built such a successful company?

In the early days my friend was the classic bootstrapper. He literally did everything. He and one key associate were the “executive” level management. They paid attention to the little details and obsessed over their customers. I remember urging my friend to spend more time working “on” his business than “in” it. Over time he took this to heart and began to be more strategic. But initially he was the chief cook and bottle washer as well as the CEO.

Also in the beginning, this man was allergic to debt. He re-invested his profits and made sacrifices to get through the leaner times. I suggested that he procure a line of credit to which he responded, “Why? I don’t need it.” I explained that at some point in the future he would need a lending relationship with a bank and that he should establish it sooner rather than later. He could borrow against it and then pay it right back if that would make him feel better. Ultimately he did obtain a line of credit and it was eventually quite helpful in accelerating his growth.

My friend was very particular about the business he would take. There were opportunities abound, but he showed great discipline in staying in his lane. He did not set out to be the biggest company in his industry, nor did he care if he developed a national footprint. By only taking assignments that he knew he could handle, he avoided the pitfalls that many entrepreneurs have made (including yours truly) by gobbling up every piece of business they could. At first I thought he might have an affliction of limited thinking. But I was wrong. Though it wasn’t articulated, it was obvious that he had a winning formula that was taking shape as a result of his intuition.

Over time, my friend learned how to scale his company. He gradually created the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of more and more customers. Today he hires more than 50,000 people a year to staff the industrial operations of his customers. He attributes his continued growth to his ability to identify and value talent. The “value” part is especially intriguing. He genuinely cares about the team he has assembled. It would be easy to view 50,000 workers as a commodity. But he doesn’t. My friend goes to great lengths to make certain that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.

Above all, he’s played it straight as long as I’ve known him. He makes certain that he only hires team members who are legal and I’ve never seen him cut corners. Over many breakfast meetings and other encounters, I’ve observed this man to be grounded in principle and integrity. We’ve all heard about high-flying businesses that came crashing down when it was revealed that they had been involved in some form of cheating. My friend is Mr. Straight Arrow and has marched to that tune from Day One.

Overall, I think I can ascribe his level of success to his ability to execute. Some leaders are born to perform – my friend seems to do so effortlessly. I’m sure he’s stubbed his toe along the way. But I’m not aware that he’s made any major mistakes that would have jeopardized his future. I can’t say that he was studious about creating strategic plans and organizational charts or subscribed to the Harvard Business Review. Maybe he did. My guess is that he simply exercised a great deal of common sense and had an amazingly deep understanding of his industry.

My friend is a living example of how taking little steps can lead to sweet success. What he has done can be instructive for the rest of us as we grow and flourish as entrepreneurs.

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 79 – The Disneyland Story.

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 Age of Shame

There’s an epidemic of massive proportion moving across this country at the speed of light. It has swept up the high and mighty – politicians, actors, corporate chieftains and many a lesser soul. Careers have been ruined and reputations destroyed. Why? All because of a pattern of bad behavior that is no longer being tolerated in today’s society. Claims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and racism are reaching a crescendo with no sign of abatement. We have officially entered the Age of Shame.

Entrepreneurs need to pay particular attention to this trend. We have an opportunity to do great things, but we can easily be derailed by our own actions. This is really very simple. We must be respectful of others at all times – period. We don’t make inappropriate comments to or advances on anyone else. We don’t take actions that could be construed as discriminatory of others. We treat others as we would want to be treated.

There’s a dangerous downside to the Age of Shame. The frenzy of accusations has created a lynch mob mentality. No longer are we innocent until proven guilty. Now, convictions are swift in the court of social media. There are no trials in the current “me too” environment. We can easily become ensnared in this cycle unless we take extra care to avoid it.

Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer all have something in common. It’s called arrogance. These men thought their station in life entitled them to boorishness and worse. This sense of entitlement led them to become arrogant and fostered a belief that they were bulletproof. As entrepreneurs we may realize a great deal of success. The best way to inoculate ourselves from arrogance is to remember this. The more successful we become the more humble we should become. It’s easy to develop “swagger” with success. I’m not a fan of swagger. It’s too easy for it to become an in-your-face gesture which in turn can lead to the arrogance we must guard against.

We can avoid the Age of Shame and its corresponding pain, and replace it with our own Age of Gain. We have much to gain if we do it right. We can display the highest level of integrity and model the type of behavior that others can admire. We are color-blind, gender-blind, sexual-preference-blind and national-origin-blind. Our objective is to focus on pursuing our mission and vision utilizing all of the talent that we have available. Once again the simple calculus is that we are respectful of others at all times.

The notion of respect is easy to understand. When our team members, our customers and our vendors feel respected, they are much less likely to take offense at something we might say or do that could be misconstrued. In other words, we buy goodwill that allows us the benefit of the doubt. Harvey Weinstein didn’t get the benefit of the doubt because he was such a tyrant. On the other hand, if everyone we know sees our motives as pure, an unintentional faux pas may be overlooked.

Character really counts these days. Rightly or wrongly there’s a lot of judging going on. Walking the straight and narrow truly matters. Being completely honest isn’t just a hallmark – it’s absolutely necessary to survive in the current environment. Keeping our reputation intact is essential to navigating the minefield of shameful accusations and hyper-reactions that we are witnessing daily.

When we are respectful of others at all times, we are less likely to be a casualty in the culture war that is raging. In so doing, we can sleep at night without worrying about the consequences that we might otherwise face.

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 75 – O-Fer.

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.

June 1, 2014 – Frankfurt Am Main, Hessen, Germany – Sexual harrassment at work: A businessman is touching his female co-worker’s leg. (Credit Image: © Frank May/DPA via ZUMA Press)

Apologies to Rodney

Successful entrepreneurs display many different leadership traits. But there’s at least one aspect of leadership that an entrepreneur cannot just automatically possess – instead it must be earned. Of course I’m talking about Respect. Many believe that respect should be granted simply due to a station in life or perhaps a position that is held. Certainly there may be some truth to this but true respect is not something that is simply bestowed. Yes, the Queen of England, the President of the United States and other heads of state command respect. But it’s for the office and not necessarily the individual.

Rodney Dangerfield made a living as a comedian with his trademark phrase, “I don’t get no respect.” With apologies to Rodney, respect is no laughing matter. It should be viewed with the utmost of seriousness because it can be a life or death factor for businesses and organizations of all sizes. When CEOs misbehave not only is the individual disgraced but the company he or she represents is shamed as well. On September 28, 2015, the EPA announced an order to recall Volkswagen cars built from 2009 – 2015 due to software that was programmed to cheat on emissions testing. Two days later the company admitted to this malfeasance and on September 23 the CEO resigned. As of this writing, Volkswagen faces enormous financial penalties and long-lasting reputational damage that would bankrupt smaller firms. Rebuilding the respect of the public for the VW brand will be a long and arduous process. And who knows if the former CEO will ever again be truly respected.

Earning respect doesn’t just happen. There is an intentional process that is required and it consists of multiple facets. From my perspective it all starts with integrity. Do we always do the right thing even if it’s seemingly detrimental to our best interests? And do we always do the right thing even when no one is watching? Integrity cannot be turned on and off on a whim. Either it’s there or it’s not. Our team members, customers, suppliers – everyone is watching. If we keep our moral compass centered we will have taken a giant step toward the pinnacle of respect.

Hand-in-hand with integrity is authenticity. It’s impossible to be authentic and genuine without integrity. Are we comfortable enough in our own skin to be ourselves? We’ve all seen others who are struggling with inner demons and insecurities. They “put on airs” and engage in bragging and blowhard behavior. It’s pretty hard to respect someone who is living in disguise and can’t deal productively with his or her personal issues.

Entrepreneurs who have empathy and genuinely care about others are more likely to earn respect than an insensitive tyrant. Think about this. An individual is completely honest; does everything in an above board and straight forward manner; is totally authentic – but he’s also a flaming asshole. How much respect do you suppose those people with whom he interacts have for him? Treating people poorly is a fast way to lose the respect of others. The leader who is courteous and thoughtful is earning respect. The leader who shows a real interest in others and their welfare is earning respect. The leader who subordinates his needs or desires to the wishes of another, is earning respect. When a leader enjoys success but publicly gives the credit to members of his team, he is earning respect.

Consistency is the final ingredient in this recipe for respect. We can’t be hit or miss with our integrity, authenticity or in the way we treat people. Inconsistency sows seeds of doubt about our real motives. In a worst case scenario others see us as being manipulative and conniving. Clearly when we stay true to our principles we have no problem remaining consistent.

Earning respect takes time and once achieved the quest to maintain it should be sacred. Earning and keeping respect is best accomplished through integrity, authenticity, empathy and consistency.

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 37 – Master’s Degree.

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.

rodney-dangerfield

Civil War

Saying that our society has become very polarized is a massive understatement. The 2016 political campaign was one of the nastiest and most vile election cycles I’ve ever seen. Personal attacks drowned out any attempt to discuss the issues and it was pretty clear that up and down the ballot, the candidates really did not like each other. There are many reasons that we find ourselves in this mess – but that’s not the point of this blog. Instead, I’d like to explore the long lost notion of respectful disagreement.

Many of us entrepreneurs have a healthy ego drive. This is a good thing and should not be confused with the self-centered, destructive aspects of ego. Ego drive is our desire to persuade someone to agree with us. When an entrepreneur hears the word “Yes,” it’s music to our ears. We develop marketing strategies, sales pitches and a variety of other theses to convince others to see things our way and buy whatever we’re selling. This might be an idea, a product, a service or whatever. We all know that things go relatively smoothly when heads are nodding approvingly and the Yes-word often finds its way into our eardrums. But we are also aware – sometimes painfully so – that others don’t always agree with us. And if we aren’t careful, that’s where the trouble begins.

Respectful disagreement is guided by the ageless precept of the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you. Pretty simple – right? Yet, our strong ego drive sometimes makes it difficult to practice the Golden Rule. We struggle to understand how it could be possible that someone else doesn’t see the logic that we have offered. We can’t believe that another person actually has a counter perspective that is possibly 180˚ different than ours. Tempers may flare, veins in necks begin popping, faces get red and jaws are clenched. The whole situation can quickly devolve into raised voices, hurt feelings and a completely unproductive encounter.

Here’s what I’ve learned about respectful disagreement. It starts with understanding that we’re all equally entitled to our opinions. Thus, while what I believe may or may not be right, it doesn’t entitle me to become a flaming you-know-what when making my case to others. Further, I need to remember that positive persuasion is much more likely to produce the outcome I desire than is a negative approach. Remembering to smile before engaging in a persuasive moment helps set a positive tone. I also work hard to avoid making inflammatory statements. For example, saying “You obviously don’t understand what I’m saying,” can sound accusatory. A better approach might be to say, “Let me explain things differently,” or “I’m sorry, I’m not being very articulate with what I’m saying.” Being mindful of my body language is also important. I try to make sure that I maintain an “openness” at all times. I use non-threatening gestures; keep from crossing my arms; eliminate the urge to sigh or roll my eyes, and retain a passive facial expression. When we nod and say, “I understand what you are saying,” whether we agree with it or not, we are signaling the desire to preserve and continue a dialogue.

If we want to get to Yes, we do everything we possibly can to make the other person feel important and respected. We fail at this when we are manipulative, have hidden agendas, or take an approach that makes that person feel small or angry. Sometimes it’s hard work to stay positive and courteous throughout the encounter. Maybe the other person doesn’t choose to follow the Golden Rule. But that doesn’t mean we should do the same. If we don’t end up on the same page, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.”

Civil and positive discourse is still possible. Practicing it will dramatically increase our chances of success as we work to persuade others to say “Yes.”

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 – Audio Episode 21 – Fortune Telling

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.

civilwar

Lincoln vs. Douglas

We may often find ourselves in situations where we are on the opposite side of a particular position that is being advocated by someone else. At this point we have a choice to make. Do we speak up or keep quiet? Obviously it all depends upon the circumstances and whether or not a discussion is actually merited. I enjoy a good healthy debate but have learned that it’s not necessary to go to the mat every time someone is espousing a point of view that is different than my own. The bottom line – what is to be gained from engaging in such a discussion? Will I persuade the other person to change his or her mind? Are there others who might be listening that I want to influence? In many cases, I decide to forgo the debate when I’m reasonably certain that the other person is entrenched in his or her point of view and there is no one else around to influence.

Let’s assume that we do want to convince others to adopt our perspective on an issue. How we go about doing this will be a real test of our skill in communications and diplomacy. If you ever watch political debates pay close attention . . . and then do just the opposite of what the politicians do. Often they obfuscate, make ad hominem attacks, avoid the question and use emotional appeals. There is a much better way.

Stick to the facts. Utilizing a fact-based approach to construct our own arguments is both rational and appropriate. Of all the classes I took in college my hands-down favorite was Logic. Connecting the dots with logic supported by well-sourced data is powerful and persuasive. And my Logic professor always used to say that a clear indication that you are winning a logical argument was when the other party resorts to playing on emotions. In addition to supporting our own thesis with facts, we can also de-construct the opposing point of view in similar fashion.

Depersonalize. As we debate an issue it’s easy to become passionate about our position and allow things to get personal. Watching our words is critically important at this point. Consider the following statement. “I just don’t understand why you are being so hard-nosed with your position.” How do you suppose the other party is going to react? It would be easy to become defensive if you are on the receiving end of this barb. How does this sound? “Help me understand the ABC Company’s position.” The word “you” has been replaced with the ABC Company. And the statement avoids an inflammatory tone.

Be respectful. Above all, we should maintain a level of friendliness during our discussion. Being respectful of the other party is paramount. Belittling and mocking statements do us no favors. Others who may be listening will be turned off by this approach. We are better served by acknowledging that the opposing point of view has merit even if we disagree. For example, we might say, “John, I understand that you believe that we should invest more marketing dollars in print media and I’m sure that we would get results. On the other hand, four independent studies have shown that the ROI for an investment in social media is five times higher than with print media.” Here, we’ve been respectful of John and his position, and then de-constructed his argument with our own facts.

Debate is healthy and productive when engaged in a positive manner. Using facts, avoiding becoming personal and maintaining respect are the best ways to persuade others to accept and adopt the position that we advocate.

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.

debate

It’s Later Than You Think

Question: I have a colleague who is habitually late for everything. This is really aggravating and is hurting our business. Why is he this way?

Answer: I once had a partner who was always late to everything. When I’d say something to him about it, he’d only laugh it off. I finally realized that he was late on purpose. Why? Because I believe that he always wanted to make a grand entrance to any meeting or appointment. I think he felt it gave him some sort of power over everyone in attendance – they had to wait to start until he arrived.

There are several reasons for lateness. The first (and worst) is exemplified by my former partner (who sadly is deceased) as described in the preceding paragraph. Another reason is a lack of organization and/or poor time management. A third reason is simply not caring that others must wait. And finally, every once in a while there may be an unavoidable occurrence that prevents us from being on time.

It’s important for us to put ourselves in the shoes of others and think about how they feel when we are late. I personally resent it when others believe their time is more valuable than mine and choose not to be on time for an appointment or meeting. This drives me to try and be early to meetings that I attend. I don’t believe there is any such thing as being fashionably late. Suppose I am on a phone call and know that I need to leave in five minutes to meet an investor for lunch. And suppose that I know that the call I’m on is going to take longer than five minutes. I will ask the other party if I can call him or her back from my cell phone and finish the conversation while I’m driving. I’ve never had anyone object to this approach and I’m always on time when I use it. For the few times I’ve actually been late, I always call ahead and let my party know exactly when I will arrive – even if I’m only going to be two or three minutes late.

Recently I made an appointment to see an oral surgeon for some dental work. I arrived 10 minutes early and was informed that the surgeon was running 75 minutes behind. No one bothered to call me in advance. I re-scheduled the appointment with assurances that I would “get right in.” Once again I arrived early and was processed by the receptionist. After 30-minutes of waiting past my appointment time I left for good and wrote the surgeon a letter. He called and apologized and then blamed his staff for poor communications. Not once did he take responsibility for overbooking. This obviously was his modus operandi which seems to be the case for many in the medical profession. I formed an unfavorable opinion about him and unfortunately (for him) have related this story many times. He’s probably a fine surgeon, but projects an air of arrogance with his tardiness.

Being late is a simple choice. We may believe that we have a legitimate excuse, but again, it begins with a choice we make. When we are early for an appointment or meeting, we send a signal that we truly value the other person. This small, uncomplicated act does wonders to build strong and positive relationships.

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.

lateness