The “Paladin” Entrepreneur

I grew up in an age where the hero of the day was a cowboy or someone like Superman. I think my favorite was a character named Paladin played by Richard Boone in Have Gun Will Travel TV western series that ran from 1957 to 1963. Paladin wore a black hat, but he was definitely a good guy. He took care of the bad guys with his cunning and his fast gun. He wore a stoic expression and generally solved the problems he faced by himself. You never saw him flinch. There were no high fives; no fist bumps; no complaints, and he was always the gentleman. Many of us grew up idolizing macho heroes of this sort.

Paladin is a wonderful metaphor for today’s entrepreneur. How many of us take the “never let ‘em see you sweat” approach and soldier on to the finish line regardless of the obstacles we encounter? I know that I certainly have felt responsibility for the hundreds of employees and their families that are integral to the success of our companies. And as a result, there have been times when I have sacrificed mightily to make certain that my colleagues are safe and secure. After all, isn’t that what a leader is supposed to do?

We entrepreneurs often spend more time working in rather than on our businesses. I will stand at the head of the line to admit that in the past I handled things that others could have been doing because I a) wanted to set a good example, b) figured that I could get it done more quickly than showing someone else how to do it, or c) wanted it done properly. After a while I began to wonder why everyone stepped back and let me do these things not realizing that the example I was setting was encouraging people to believe that I would handle it! I suppose at the time that there was a feeling of indispensability on my part. I needed to be in the middle of things to pave the way to victory.

So, what did I learn following this path? I learned that no one saw me as “the hero.” They became reliant upon me and they also felt that I did not have confidence in them. Apathy became a real problem. The quality of work slipped because the “Lee will fix it – he fixes everything” syndrome was in full swing. I was burning out and not having as much fun as I had in the past.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that if I really care about my team members and their families – and I really do – the most important thing I can do for them is to create a sustainable organization. Companies where the founder or key principal micromanages everything and strangles everyone are doomed to die when the leader retires or dies. I cannot bear the thought of that happening to the people I have worked with for decades. My solution has been to develop a culture of empowerment and coaching. I now spend time helping my teammates learn how to fish as opposed to doing the fishing for them. It is my responsibility to hold the vision for our companies, but that has become a shared vision rather than just my vision. Delegation is a key element to sustainability and all team members now have clearly defined roles and accountabilities with training and resources devoted to helping them succeed.

Heroes come from the battlefield or burning buildings and not from the boardroom. Sharing responsibility is the best way to create a 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.

Un-Stale Leadership Ideas

There’s an interesting article by Stefan Stern from the Financial Times publication dated November 10, 2008. “While cleaning out his attic, a British business leader stumbled upon some typewritten notes on leadership from the 1950s. ‘Leadership is the art of influencing a body of people to follow a certain course of action, the art of controlling them and getting the best out of them.’” Sounds kind of old-fashioned, doesn’t it? The art of controlling them? That’s an attitude that’s not likely to win many awards in this day and age. The article and this statement in particular got me to thinking about leadership. And because I’ve lived long enough, I’ve had the good fortune to experience many different leadership styles. So, here are some personal observations that have helped me develop my own leadership style.

Entrepreneurs are often “quick on the draw.” A team member asks a question or brings us a problem and our instinct is to provide the answer or solve the problem. Then we move on . . . quickly. In the old days, that would probably have been considered “leadership.” One of my goals is to develop a sustainable organization that is no longer dependent solely upon me. If I answer every question and offer every solution, how does this support others in their quest to step-up and become leaders in their own right? I believe that leadership involves leading people to answers and solutions rather than simply telling them.

I’ve heard certain pro athletes and a number of entrepreneurs who says it’s not their job to be role models. It seems to me that anyone who has the megaphone ought to savor the opportunity to set an example for others. Doing so also enables us to become more accountable to our team. Back to the sustainable organization concept for a moment – do I want to display anger; yell at people; exhibit boorish behavior, and generally put my ego front and center? When I model this way, what message does it send to up-and-coming leaders? Here’s the simple truth for me. I don’t want to show any sort of negative behavior for which I should apologize.

One of the toughest aspects of being an entrepreneur is communicating our vision to our team. Most of us have a vision of some sort locked away in our brains. I was asked for years by my teammates for my vision, but never could figure out how to articulate it clearly until recently. Having a vision and communicating that vision are two entirely different things. When I mentor other entrepreneurs, I ask them a very basic question. What does it look like when we get there? Focusing on this question eliminates the psycho-babble and gets to the heart of the matter. In plain English it requires that we paint a word picture that everyone can understand. We should never forget that people are drawn to leaders who can express a strong and powerful vision.

As a leader, how much time do you spend working on your business rather than in your business? I can tell you that I love doing complicated real estate deals. Without question, that’s working in my business. It would be very easy (and profitable) for me to focus all of my time and energy on buying and owning apartment properties. But that doesn’t advance the cause for the sustainable organization that I have envisioned. Thus, I must spend significant time working on my business. This involves developing a wide range of strategic initiatives, cultivating and educating team members, and helping to define our mission. A great leader will spend far more time working on his or her business than working in it.

While there are many other modern leadership traits to be explored, the last one on which I want to focus is that of attitude. Leaders with negative attitudes generally produce negative results. Over the past four-plus decades I think I’ve become more and more positive and optimistic. I realized that it’s not much fun to work in a negative environment. And as a leader, if I’m down-in-the-mouth it’s pretty hard for that attitude not to become contagious. I’ve come to realize that there’s always a silver lining in every situation and it’s my aim to find it. This doesn’t mean that negative things won’t happen – they do. But the faster we can move on and regain positive footing, the faster we’ll get back on track. It’s my goal to be a positive and optimistic leader every second of the day.

Modern leadership still embodies ageless basics and fundamentals that unlike bread, never grow stale. But there are some “new age” twists that help propel us to new heights of success and create sustainable organizations in the process.

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.