The Adversity-Beating Entrepreneur

An airplane wing gains lift by taking off into the wind. This then causes the airplane to defy gravity and fly . . . an entrepreneurial metaphor if ever there was one. Interestingly, in my pilot days I once experimented with a downwind takeoff (on a very long runway) and could barely get off the ground. I quickly put the plane back on the runway and ended the experiment!

To build a muscle we exercise it regularly adding more weight and repetitions. Members of the military become elite Seals, Green Berets, Delta Force and Rangers by undergoing rigorous training involving obstacles that severely test the physical and psychological strength of a human being. In Kenya, long distance runners often wear no shoes as they traverse inhospitable terrain, toughening the soles of their feet in the process. I think you can probably see the lessons here.

Adversity can be an entrepreneur’s best friend if we allow it to be. If success comes without challenge, it’s easy to become complacent. We’re also robbed of growth opportunities that result from what we learn as we work through various hardships on the road to achievement. No one says we must like adversity. But avoiding it and fighting it does not work. I’ve found that the most constructive approach is to actually embrace it. For me this means relaxing and easing into adversity. It means establishing a positive mindset and expecting that much good will comes from the experience. We’ve all heard the term “silver linings” and used it many times. Often, we look back on what has transpired and almost as a consolation prize we identify the silver linings. Looking for them in advance can give us the lift that we need to fly through the clouds.

In addition to the tangible benefits that come from overcoming adversity in specific situations, there are numerous more global wins that can occur. Think about the last time you had a tough puzzle to solve. Perhaps one of the outcomes was that of heightened creativity and innovation. When faced with the prospects of failure our creative instincts kick in and the results can be amazing. We also find that collaboration and teamwork increases reinforcing the notion that two heads are better than one. While I thrive on making sense of complexity and solving tough problems, I find that doing it with others is more productive and builds a stronger organization.

Suppose a professional basketball team plays a game against the best high school team in the country. There’s no doubt about which team would win. Now, imagine that the same NBA team plays against the reigning world champion NBA team and beats them. Which win do you suppose offers a greater sense of accomplishment? We need to feel like we are doing something really worthwhile which can be difficult when we prevail without any struggle whatsoever.

Adversity helps us to identify weaknesses within our company as well as with our strategy. When we aren’t tested and succeed anyway, we don’t really know what could happen if our feet were held to the fire. Challenges and obstacles also allow us to develop resilience and perseverance – both individually and organizationally. I truly hated those first few months of my career when I was an apartment manager. I was kicked in the teeth, the rear and every other part of my body – I was totally miserable. But something finally clicked, and I figured it out. Quitting wasn’t an option for many reasons – thank goodness! Now I look back and understand how valuable the tough times were in teaching me how to get off the ground and back on the horse.

When we embrace adversity, we can make it work for us like an airplane uses the wind to take off. Then it can become a powerful tool in the entrepreneur’s toolbox.

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.

Success Without Sacrifice?

Much has been made about “work/life balance” over the past several years. This discussion is a somewhat backhanded slap at past generations where high achievers sometimes (maybe often) spent a great deal of time and effort clawing their way to the top. Today’s meme is that there is a better and smarter way to reach the pinnacle of success. And it involves much less of something we old-timers know as “sacrifice.” I submit that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about both these notions – work/life balance and sacrifice.

Entrepreneurship is more competitive than ever. Competition pushes us to innovate and find better ways of doing things that results in winning. Believe me when I say that the entrepreneurial environment doesn’t care about work/life balance. This is a full-throttle pull-out-all-the-stops world in which we compete. Then, does this mean that we can’t achieve work/life balance AND achieve high levels of success? The answer is . . . yes and no.

The yes and no answer is actually a sliding scale. On one end of the scale we have a healthy work/life balance and some level of success. On the other end of the scale we are making considerable sacrifices and achieving some other level of success. The wild card is the level of success we really want to attain. Some entrepreneurs can operate a business that is successful enough to provide for a very comfortable lifestyle. And they can do so without giving up much to do so. There are other entrepreneurs that are driven to the point that they become single-minded in their focus to the exclusion of all else – and achieve unimaginable success. The key to understanding what we must sacrifice is to understand exactly what level of success we want and what it will take to achieve it.

Many of us who entered business in the 1970s and 1980s know what it was like to “pay our dues.” We started at the bottom of the corporate ladder, learned our business and perfected our craft. While we were always chomping at the bit to get ahead, we also knew that we were going to have to prove that we were worthy. Sometimes that meant 100-hour weeks and toiling in the salt mines for what seemed like an eternity. There was much frustration, anguish and a healthy dose of fear. We ultimately prevailed through a formula that was one-part smart enough, one-part hard work, and a secret ingredient called pure passion.

While passion drove me when I was young and still drives me today, I was able to prioritize in such a way as to never miss an event involving my daughters; never miss taking a vacation with my wife, and never endangering my health. My work and my personal life became intertwined to the point of being inseparable. I’m not sure how a big vision can be reached without this sort of work/life relationship.

There are many young entrepreneurs brimming with confidence and vowing to do things differently than their parents and grandparents. That’s fine and I wish them well. What they will need to eventually determine is what level of success they want to achieve and what will be required to achieve it. It’s an extremely rare individual who can dream a big idea, implement it and create a moonshot while coasting on a cloud and exerting minimal effort. Most of the time, moonshots require incredible amounts of blood, sweat and tears. Entrepreneurs who are too impatient or are unwilling to make certain sacrifices are going to see their dream fizzle and fall into the sea. There’s no question that young entrepreneurs can and should learn from the mistakes made by previous generations. This will help smooth the path to success. But what can’t be ignored are the benefits of business experience, life experience and the notion of eating, sleeping and breathing the entrepreneurial vision. And there’s no way around it . . . there will be sacrifices.

We’ve all heard about some of the legends of enterprise. Steve Jobs worked non-stop, calling close associates late into the evening to bounce around ideas. Mark Cuban didn’t take a vacation for seven years during the time he was launching his initial business venture. Marissa Mayer worked 130-hour weeks when she was at Google and sometimes slept under her desk. Elon Musk said in an interview with Vator News, “You just have to put in 80-to-100 hour weeks every week. If other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100-hour work weeks, then, even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”

Achieving extraordinary levels of success still requires sacrifice. Entrepreneurs need to decide for themselves what level of success they desire and understand what it will take to achieve 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 Confident Entrepreneur

There is at least one must-have trait for successful entrepreneurs. Without confidence the road is very steep and rocky. College basketball is one of the most interesting demonstrations of how confidence or a lack thereof, can impact outcomes. I’ve watched many a game where the players on a team are tentative. They lack energy and they are missing their shots. Often they are out of position and cannot rebound or chase down loose balls. A few days later the same team plays another game. This time there is fluidity in their motion. They are passing the ball crisply; players are getting nice elevation when they shoot, and the ball is going in the hole. The night-and-day difference between the two contests is that of confidence.

What is the secret to gaining and maintaining confidence? There are several elements that are required. The first is that of “mastery.” Mastery is achieved through constant practice and the repetitive patterning that occurs as our experience builds. This is particularly important for millennials to understand. Fair or not, many millennials are tagged with the stereotype that they have an incredibly high sense of urgency. They don’t want to wait for results and can be impatient at times. However, I’ve seen millennials and people of all ages, try something a couple of times and believe they have mastered it. Then I watch as they try it again and bomb badly. With confidence shaken they are humbled and may become afraid to jump in the water again. All of this could have been avoided had real mastery been achieved. One of the biggest fears in society today is that of public speaking. And the only way to resolve this fear once and for all, is to practice speaking over and over and over. The fear doesn’t suddenly evaporate after a handful of gigs. It took me 50 or 60 times to reach the point that I began to feel comfortable in front of a group.

The second element is that of achieving a history of desired outcomes. It’s one thing to repeat a process enough times to master something. That helps to build confidence. But achieving the results we want is the validation necessary for us to know that we’re on the right track with our mastery. Let’s use our basketball example again. A team may be executing the basics and fundamentals properly; it may be playing strong defense, and the players are running the plays as designed. But if the scoreboard isn’t showing a W for the team on a regular basis, it’s hard to build confidence. I’ve never heard anyone profess that losing all the time builds confidence . . . but winning does. As entrepreneurs we must tweak our approach until we begin to win consistently. For example, if our sales approach isn’t working and we keep doing it the same way, it’s time to start experimenting to learn what it takes to win. After all, there’s no point in “mastering” losing!

The third aspect of building confidence is to always maintain a positive attitude – no matter what. We must believe that eventually we’ll get it right; eventually we will win. I’ve said many times that what we think in mind produces in the outer after its kind. When we believe at our core that we are going to win, eventually we will win. If we have doubts or know in our bones that we’re going to lose, eventually we will lose. I have never seen anyone become more self-confident by having a negative attitude. Attitude is critical to the success of individuals and to the team. If one member of the team is positive and the rest are negative, the confidence of the team will be adversely affected. As entrepreneurial leaders it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our team is unanimous with a positive attitude.

Developing mastery, achieving success and being eternally optimistic are the rocket fuel that will propel us to a perpetual state of self-confidence. This patterning also inoculates us from having our self-confidence shaken when from time-to-time we might stumble. We’ve been there before. We know what we must do, and we are able to re-calibrate and get back on track with ease and grace. There is no panic or desperation – we simply remember to follow the formula that has worked so well in the past.

Building self-confidence is a process much like riding a bicycle. Once learned, we may fall off on rare occasion; but when we do we get up, dust ourselves off and start riding the bike again like it never happened.

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.

100% TPR

At the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, all cadets learn many valuable lessons about life. One in particular seems extra important in this day and age. When something goes wrong – anything at all – a cadet is expected to state to a superior officer, “It was my mistake, Sir, and I take full and total responsibility. I made the mistake because . . .” It matters not that someone or something else may have caused things to go awry. Cadets are taught from the very beginning to own the results of whatever may be happening around them. I call this 100% Total Personal Responsibility – 100% TPR.

Think about how much finger pointing occurs in our daily lives. The excuse factory is operating 24/7 and works at full capacity to produce victim after victim. Few people are willing to stand up and proclaim 100% TPR. Thus, it’s refreshing to see that young men and women, who are choosing a career in the Army, are doing so with a mindset of personal responsibility. They truly own their lives. Entrepreneurs should take notice of this concept to understand how to become effective leaders.

Think about a variety of every day scenarios where we witness the blame game being played. A basketball team with a losing score believes that the officiating has been too one-sided. “It’s hard to win an “eight-on-five” game,” some of the players exclaim. There’s no doubt that blown calls are a fact of life in sports. Players that have 100% TPR aren’t going to point the finger at the referees though. Instead, they will stand up tall and say, “It’s my responsibility that we lost because I didn’t execute on offense like I should, and I allowed my opponent to get past me to the basket too many times.”

A small business is competing for a contract and loses. The vice president of sales is visibly angry and says, “The playing field wasn’t level. We should have won, but our competitor had an unfair advantage by making promises they won’t be able to keep!” Conversely, the entrepreneur with 100% TPR says, “We lost because we didn’t do a sufficient job of differentiating our product from the competition. I take full responsibility for that.”

The whole point is that as adults, we NEVER blame someone or something for our failures. We ALWAYS take 100% Total Personal Responsibility for everything that happens. You may be thinking that there must be circumstances that are out of our control where we shouldn’t be held responsible. For example, what about the guy who steps off the curb after checking for traffic and a crazy drunk driver mows him down at 90 miles per hour? How can that guy be at 100% TPR? Here’s the thing. That guy made the choice to be in that place at that time. That’s not to say that the choice was right or wrong – just that’s the choice he made. Perhaps he could have looked further down the street to see the drunk driver barreling toward the intersection and waited until the car passed. And don’t misunderstand – this isn’t to say that the drunk driver wasn’t responsible – he was absolutely the one at fault. But when we are at 100% TPR, we aren’t worrying about anyone else because we have 100% ownership of our lives.

Eliminating any and all thoughts of victimization is critical to living a life of 100% ownership. It liberates and empowers us, allowing for constant self-improvement and growth. When we blame others, we interrupt this improvement and growth process. In my business and in my life, I want to evaluate the risks and rewards and proceed based upon the information I have gathered. The choices that I make may be right or they may be wrong, but they are my choices and I own them, regardless of the outcome.

We can practice the concept of 100% TPR by stopping ourselves when we are in situations where blame might normally be the default thinking. Instead, we say, “I take 100% Total Personal Responsibility for what has happened. It happened because . . .” This affords critical analysis to determine the root cause for a failure and gives us the opportunity to learn how we can make different choices in the future. And remember, taking 100% TPR isn’t enough unless the second part of the idea is explored – “It happened because . . .” We must know what we could and should have done differently.

Success can come through failure if we are willing to take 100% Total Personal Responsibility. It can also allow us to model great leadership for the benefit of others.

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 92 – Death, Taxes and . . .

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.

Celebrate Good Times

What and when do you celebrate? An odd question you think? Here’s the backdrop. Humans and their organizations like to celebrate. It’s positive, it’s fun and it’s great for morale. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs don’t do enough of it. We are so focused on problems to solve, people to hire and products (or services) to create that there may be long periods of time where we don’t even realize that we’ve enjoyed some success along the way. And no, this isn’t a blog about stopping to smell the roses. Sure, that’s important too, but this is about something more intentional.

I’ve been with the same company for more than four decades. I can tell you that we have been pretty successful over that timeframe but we really haven’t practiced what I’m about to preach – though we are starting to do so now. We might close a big deal at some point and slap each other on the back, but we really didn’t stop and truly celebrate a major accomplishment. And it would be pretty safe to say that we never celebrated minor successes. Why? Because that’s just the go-go nature of entrepreneurial endeavors. But I’ve come to realize that we’ve been missing a golden opportunity. Maybe you’ll step back and come to the same conclusion.

When we stop to celebrate it’s more than just party time. It can also be a great time for reflection. We look for the elements that created our success which reinforces the need to continue to implement those same elements in the future. Think about it. Let’s suppose that our company just landed a major contract to sell our product to a very large buyer. Before we pop the cork on the champagne, we gather the team and map-out the steps that led to the signing of the contract. We also identify what didn’t work so well and what we might have done differently. By undertaking this exercise, everyone is reminded of what we did to win.

The accolades, praise and expressions of gratitude all help to build and strengthen our culture. Our team members – especially those who were directly linked to the success – want to feel valued and appreciated. I realize that there may be financial incentives that have helped drive the success, but there’s no question that formal recognition is almost always a strong motivator as well.

So, if we are inclined to celebrate major successes, why not do so for minor achievements too? I’m sure someone is thinking, “If we celebrate everything, doesn’t it cheapen the process and lessen the impact?” This can certainly happen if we’re not careful. But most leaders can figure out what is worthy of celebration and what is not. Perhaps a team member completed the coursework to receive a professional designation. Or maybe the accounting team had a perfect quarter in terms of accomplishing all tasks on time and with 100% accuracy – paying bills, processing receipts, producing financial statements, etc. Finally, imagine each member of the sales team making 25 new cold calls a week for a month. These may be occurrences that in the past were viewed as routine or something that was expected. “Finally, this person or that team actually did their job(s)! Why do we want to celebrate that?” But remember that the celebration process begins with analyzing what worked and what didn’t work. Don’t we want to take advantage of the opportunity to understand what we want to replicate in the future?

Finally, the “party” piece of celebration may take many forms. Certainly gathering everyone for a toast may be one of the more common methods. Trophies, medals, commendations, certificates, plaques and other memorabilia are great forms of recognition. All-company e-mails, newsletters, websites and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can be effective tools for celebrating. I like to hand write notes to members of our team for large and small achievements. In one of our business units, they ring a bell and make an announcement when something happens that is worthy of a celebration.

The intentional celebration of achievements and success is an opportunity to reinforce what worked and improve on what didn’t. It’s also a chance to recognize members of the team for their commitment and ingenuity to deliver the positive results.

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 81 – Who is Dan Meyer?

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.

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.

Exciting Disappointment

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.

We had a really big deal blow up recently. 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 isn’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 actually became 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 40+ 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 end 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 of the negativity? The fact still 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.

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 73 – The 1,057 Point Swing.

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.