The Entrepreneur Saboteur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Visionary Entrepreneur

Here is a fundamental question for all entrepreneurs. Are you a visionary? Being a visionary and having a corporate vision are two different things, so take care not to confuse the two. For a company, a non-profit or any other organization to thrive and succeed over a long period of time, visionary leadership is paramount. And unfortunately, many companies stagnate and die when the visionary leader moves on for whatever reason. That is why it is crucial for a company to continuously develop visionaries across generations that will help to sustain the organization in the future.

It is not hard to think about individuals who exemplify the term “visionary.” Steve Jobs comes to my mind before anyone else. He was a rebel and an unconventional thinker who was not afraid to take risks. Similarly, Bill Gates was a visionary who became the richest man in the world because of his ability to understand and shape the future. What comes to mind when you hear these names – Henry Ford, Wilbur and Orville Wright, John D.  Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Sam Walton, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg? Each was a phenomenal innovator. Each had an uncanny sense of where the world was going. Each had dreams but was also a doer.

Being a visionary is partially innate and partially learned. So, what can we do to develop our visionary leadership skills? How curious are you? Do you read everything you can get your hands on? Visionaries are expansive readers and are curious about everything. Curiosity stimulates the imagination and helps bring forth new ideas manifesting in a high degree of creativity. How persevering are you? The next time you are ready to throw in the towel remember that visionaries have a stick-to-it attitude. They are highly resilient and believe they can solve any problem. Visionaries love discussion and debate. Some may see this as confrontational, but it really is not. Instead, a visionary listens to differing points of view even when it gets a bit lively.

What other ways can we model visionary behavior? Do you embrace change or are you more comfortable living with doing things the same way? Visionaries are change agents. They like to teach and are focused on doing the right thing. Integrity ranks high on their list of values. Do you have high expectations for your team? Sometimes the line between high vs. unreasonable expectations can blur a bit. But do not expect a visionary to set a low bar. Visionaries tend to be eternal optimists and cannot see a glass half empty – it is always half full or even more. And visionaries are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. Finally, visionaries do not live in the details – they are quintessential delegators.

A visionary has a knack for looking at a collection of data and telling the future. He or she sees things that others do not and is not the least bit concerned if his or her ideas are pooh-poohed. In fact, visionaries will work hard to persuade others to buy into what they believe because they have a supreme degree of self-confidence.

By emulating their behaviors, traits, and tendencies, we too can become visionaries. Our value to our organization increases exponentially when we provide visionary leadership.

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.

Super Powers

Super heroes are known for their super powers. 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 super powers 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 super powers. 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 super powers. The earlier in life we are able to discern our special abilities, the sooner we’ll be able to focus them and realize our full potential. Just like most of the super heroes, we entrepreneurs can’t lay claim to all of the super powers which is why we need to understand what is ours and how to use it. Here are a few ideas on the subject.

Creativity and Imagination are foundational super powers 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 super powers 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 ultimate goal of making space travel affordable and colonizing Mars.

McDonald’s would not be the company it is today had it not been for its founder, Ray Kroc and his super powers 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 into 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 super power 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 2016 when it achieved annual sales of $136 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 super powers. 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 super power? 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.

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 72 – Vacuum Cleaners & Movies.

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.