Team ‘Tude

My favorite Major League baseball team is in a slump. They can’t hit their way out of a paper bag. Their starting pitching has been amazing, but the bats are asleep. They are losing games 1 – 0 or 2 – 1. For a fan, it’s agonizing to watch. How can it be that an entire team that is paid over $140 million a year cannot hit? What’s worse, the two highest paid starters are batting .169 and .203 respectively. It’s one thing for a player or two to be slumping. It’s quite another for the whole team to be in this predicament. Yeah, I know. It’s a long season and eventually the bats will come alive. Hopefully it won’t be too late to make a serious run at a pennant. But this whole episode is instructive from an entrepreneurial standpoint. What happens when our entire team is in a slump?

Have you ever felt like nothing is going right? Multiply this by the same feeling being shared by nearly everyone on your team and you may have a genuine team slump. The reason for this is as obvious as the entire baseball team slumping all at the same time. In scientific terms, the team’s attitude is messed up! So you ask – how did we get there in the first place? Who knows? The important thing is that if we’re not careful it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It often starts with one person – perhaps a star producer – who is struggling with a losing streak. That individual may grouse a bit with the “woe is me” routine. Others listen to this and can’t help but be impacted. It’s particularly concerning when a leader in the organization becomes negative in this way. Team members begin to feel a bit insecure. Everyone starts looking over their shoulders. They work especially hard to avoid mistakes and become very self-conscious in the process. Eventually each member of the team has become part of the downward spiral that creates the aforementioned slump.

What’s the way out? In baseball, sometimes the general manager fires the hitting coach. In other instances, the manager may shuffle the lineup. I’ve heard of more drastic situations where a team meeting occurs and a player reads the riot act to the rest of the team. Then everyone rallies, puts on a new face and plays the game with new resolve. And sometimes all of this can work.

I submit that when a team is struggling as a whole, it’s time for the leader to step up. It’s a time for calm. If the entrepreneur/leader starts to panic, it’s awfully hard for the whole team not to follow suit. Instead, strong positive reinforcement is needed from the leader. Each team member needs to be told in genuine terms how critical he or she is to the organization. The leader should point to the positive patterns of success that have been realized in the past. He or she shouldn’t hesitate to provide coaching where there are obvious flaws in execution.

It’s also a time to engage the team in an exercise of collaboration. Team meetings are held where ideas are exchanged and new positive energy is created. It’s important for us as entrepreneurs to be truly optimistic and upbeat. It’s not a time to wallow in despair and dwell on all of the negative things that have been occurring. When we model calm and creativity, our team will respond in kind. Our leadership has never been more important than at times like this.

Ultimately we want each member of our team to commit to a positive attitude. Sound a bit woo-woo? It’s not. I haven’t been in the locker room of my favorite baseball team, but I’m willing to bet that the attitude isn’t very positive. Attitude is a razor’s edge. It’s easy to tip either way into positive or negative territory. If the team ends up with a negative attitude there is no way that it will win. It’s the entrepreneur’s charge to make absolutely certain that a positive attitude is attained and maintained.

Team slumps can be attributed to the team’s attitude. Strong leadership that creates infectious positivity is a great start toward helping the team regain its balance and winning form.

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 45 – Comfortable Skin.

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.

Swivel Head

A good pilot has his head on a swivel. He is constantly scanning his instrument panel as well as the skies around him. There may be other airplanes in the immediate area to avoid. Maybe there are TV towers or smokestacks to miss. Engine performance gauges must be monitored and navigational displays are critical to comprehend. All of this can be summarized in two words . . . situational awareness. Without situational awareness we are more vulnerable to physical dangers around us. A lack of it can result in an auto accident, stepping off a curb and breaking an ankle, or starting a fire when the grill is too close to the house.

In the entrepreneurial world, situational awareness is worth its weight in gold. Now, you may be wondering how this concept applies to business situations. It has less to do with physical proximity and more to do with possessing a sixth sense about a multitude of factors. As entrepreneurs we can attain a much higher degree of success as we develop our entrepreneurial awareness. For example, how well do we sense what is happening in our marketplace? There’s more to this than just crunching numbers. The key is to look behind the empirical data and understand what is truly happening. Here’s a simplistic illustration. A quick look at market share might show that our firm is way out in front of the competition. And yet, we know that a start-up company has won three of the last five contracts for which we’ve competed. Not enough to move the market share needle, but could signal trouble down the road. Situational awareness would have us take immediate action to understand why they are winning and we are losing, and then do something about it.

Situational awareness from an entrepreneurial perspective involves a deep understanding of our customers and what makes them tick. Customer satisfaction surveys help in this regard, but we may need more than data. In person meetings are the best bet for getting a good read on our customers. If not in person, the next best option is a phone conference. At the root, we’re looking for little tells that might indicate whether or not our customers are 100% in our camp. We encountered a situation a few years ago where we thought our client was totally satisfied with our services. Our team was convinced that we had performed as or better than expected. And yet, I had a gnawing feeling that something was amiss. When we dug in deeper we learned that the client was actually hiring a competitor. The reason had nothing to do with our performance and everything to do with the fact that a corporate decision had been made to consolidate its business to a national company. I’ve always wondered whether we might have saved the business by doing some things in a radically different manner had our situational awareness enabled us to act sooner.

Finally we must keep our finger on the pulse of our team. Are we on the lookout for signs of tension, boredom or anxiety? It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day chaos that we all experience and miss the signs that are flashing relative to our team. Perhaps an outgoing team member who normally participates in company activities gradually pulls back and is less gregarious. Without situational awareness, we could easily overlook that this individual is headed for the exits until it’s too late. Realizing this sooner might have given us a chance of resolving whatever issue is causing our teammate to look elsewhere.

Situational awareness at the entrepreneurial level requires a certain degree of intuition. But even more important is our being intentional about having a deeper understanding of that which is happening around us. Then we’re less likely to unwittingly step off the cliff and into the abyss.

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.

Shark

Pronouns

Do you remember English class? We learned about modifiers, adjectives, adverbs, nouns, verbs and dangling participles. Diagramming sentences was a daily occurrence and understanding predicates and prepositions wasn’t far behind. And how about the way we got down in the weeds with relative clauses and rolled in the mud with non-defining or non-essential clauses? But my all-time favorite exercise in phonology involved the schwa. Which brings us to pronouns.

Pronouns are a major element of entrepreneurship. As peculiar as this may sound you’ll soon understand how very true this statement is. The next paragraph is a montage of snippets from speeches given by a very famous entrepreneur who happens to be running for president. Move past any ideological dispute you may have with this individual – that’s not the point. Instead, pay attention to the language and in particular, the pronoun usage.

“I have lobbyists. I have lobbyists who can produce for me. I have so many websites. I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a website. It costs me $3. I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. I’ll bring back jobs from China, from Mexico, from Japan, from so many places. I’ll bring back our jobs, and I’ll bring back our money. I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich. I am a nice person. I give a lot of money away to charities and other things. I think I’m actually a very nice person. I’m proud of my net worth. I’ve done an amazing job. I’ve employed tens of thousands of people over my lifetime. I’m proud of my net worth. I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will find the guy that’s going to take that military and make it really work. I will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”

I’ve selected these quotes because they overdramatize the point I’m trying to make. Notice the manner in which pronouns are used. This particular entrepreneur speaks in what I call I, Me and My language. I, Me and My language can sound arrogant and insensitive, and likely reflects the way a person thinks. Gracious and humble people don’t speak this way. They realize that it takes a team filled with talented people to succeed.

There is an alternative language that can be spoken by entrepreneurs. It’s called the We, Our and Us language. It recognizes the collective efforts and contributions of many. I’ve been working to perfect this language for many years and it has made me very much aware of how easy it is to slip into I, Me and My. Whenever I write a memo or an e-mail, I always review it before sending to replace the references to I, me and my, with we, our and us. I have come to realize how this simple act is an acknowledgement of others. And the more I write this way, the more I tend to speak this way as well. Ultimately, writing and speaking leads to thinking in this language which completes the conversion.

The entrepreneurial pronouns of we, our and us help build strong and positive relationships with others. Spreading the credit through inclusive language generates more goodwill than any amount of money could buy.

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.

Team Trophy

Worldly Serious Lessons

Indulge me with this blog posting. The 2014 World Series has just concluded and was one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen. It truly kept us on the edge of our seats until the last out in the bottom of the ninth inning with a Kansas City runner on third base who could have tied the game. Even though my Kansas City Royals did not prevail there are some excellent baseball metaphors that translate into some wonderful entrepreneurial lessons.

The MVP of the World Series was the Giants ace pitcher, Madison Bumgarner. Even though I’m a Royals fan I marveled at this cool, calm and collected 25-year old phenom. He pitched in three games during the Series and limited the Royals to nine hits, one run and one walk in 21 innings. Folks, this is called differentiation. There is no doubt that Bumgarner was the difference maker in the World Series for San Francisco. As entrepreneurs we increase our odds for success the more significantly we can differentiate our products or services.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals are a young team. There are no superstars in this bunch. The Royals didn’t even win their division, making the playoffs instead as a Wild Card entrant. They beat the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card game; then swept the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles to win the American League pennant. A lack of superstars also meant a lack of big egos and prima donnas. The result was a group of young men bonding together as a real team. This was most evident when one of the top hitters took it upon himself to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner when the Giants least expected it, rather than trying to hit it out of the park. Entrepreneurs succeed more often when we function in a true team fashion rather than as lone wolves.

While I’m gushing about my Royals, let me add another dimension about this team. It was evident that these guys were having fun. Game after game we saw scenes of players laughing, joking and genuinely enjoying themselves. Some of the players Tweeted where they were going to party after the games and bought thousands of dollars of drinks for their fans. What is the point of being an entrepreneur if we can’t have fun doing what we do? I’ve talked to a number of entrepreneurs who appear to be successful but are miserable. This is a dangerous “crash-and-burn” formula.

Finally, it was fascinating to observe the focus displayed by Giants and Royals players alike. When the focus was lost there were strikeouts, errors and walks. When the focus was maintained it was a thing of beauty. There were spectacular catches all over the field. Tough pitches were turned into base hits. Base running was exquisite. In the entrepreneurial world we know the importance of focus. If we “scatter our fire” we strike out more often than not. But when we focus, we create a special energy that serves to deliver the results we want.

Baseball is a sport. Entrepreneurs play for keeps. At the intersection of the two is differentiation, functioning as a true team, having fun and maintaining focus. Play ball!

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.

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Star Power

Question: I am part of a team working within my company. One of the members of this team is always getting the credit when we succeed. I don’t know what to do about this frustrating situation.

Answer: The most successful teams are those where no one is seeking the glory and each team member supports the others in every way possible. No one ever says, “That’s not my job.” When the team wins everyone wins. And conversely, a team loss is everyone’s loss. It’s not a single team member who is the hero or the goat.

I love going to restaurants where members of the wait staff cover for each other. One server may take my order but another re-fills my water glass when it’s empty. I always am hopeful that they share their gratuities because I feel as though I’m tipping the whole server team and not just one person. Contrast that with a restaurant where servers ignore all guests except those who they are serving directly. Southwest Airlines is also on my most-admired list. How many times have we seen flight attendants and pilots cleaning up the airplane as we deplane?

Unselfishness is an important element to the success of an entrepreneur. Hats off to those who make certain that members of their team are recognized and given credit for a successful outcome. An entrepreneur who can step back out of the limelight and heap accolades on his or her team is both wise and self-assured. When we crave attention and receive for the efforts of others, team morale can be severely damaged.

The question we must answer is, “what are we in it for?” Is it personal glory or gain? Or is it long-term, sustainable overall success that benefits an entire team or company? I submit that when our egos cry for personal attention and pats on the back, someday our team may not have our back. There will certainly be times when we are recognized for personal achievement and there is nothing wrong with this whatsoever. The fine line here is our intention and how we handle it. Did we seek the recognition or was it a byproduct of our efforts? And, when the wonderful things were being said about us, did we acknowledge others who contributed to our (and the team’s) success? But this can be a trap if we aren’t walking the talk. It’s interesting to watch a ball game where a star player is being interviewed at the conclusion of the event and he appears to deflect the praise by mentioning how much his teammates figured into his success. The incongruence in his statement is that his play throughout the game reflected selfishness.

Whether in our entrepreneurial venues or with life in general, we are best served when we subordinate our egos to an attitude of gracious selflessness. Stepping off the stage and genuinely giving credit to others who deserve it is a demonstration of real star power.

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.

oscar

The High-Wire Act

Question: What do you think about employment contracts and non-compete agreements?

Answer: My perspective on this subject has changed over the years. Earlier in my career I believed in these documents and what they represent. I also looked for ways to create “golden handcuffs” for employees and associates which are basically incentives for keeping people from leaving. No longer.

I have now adopted the philosophy that I don’t want to coerce anyone to work in our various companies. They either want to be there or they don’t. No longer do I obsess over whether people come and go. I decided that I need to do everything possible to create value for our team – so much value that team members can’t go anywhere else and receive as much. Gone are the employment contracts and non-competes. We do use employment letters and independent contractor agreements to simply provide a written record of compensation and other important elements that need to be clearly understood. Non-disclosure agreements also seem reasonable if there is highly proprietary information at stake.

The whole premise of creating value for the team has produced a high-wire act for me – one which I wholeheartedly embrace. I can’t spend one minute resting on my laurels or kicking into a coasting mode. Instead, I must constantly be creative and innovative. I have to constantly be a coach and a mentor. I have to be strategic and visionary on a daily basis. Doesn’t this create unbelievable pressure? NO! It pushes me to be better every minute of every day. If I fail to perform, my teammates will look to see if there is a better value proposition elsewhere. And I don’t blame them.

I’ve been asked what prevents someone from coming on board with the intent to ultimately leave and start his or her own business. And my response is . . . so what? I revert to my initial statement. I’m passionate about providing more value for our team than they can get in another venue – including their own. Perhaps we can accommodate someone who has a goal of owning/running their own business; after all we have eight companies under our umbrella. We’ll happily partner with a budding entrepreneur in our midst that has a good solid idea for a business venture. And if someone has his or her heart set on striking out on their own, we have made a great friend; received value from that individual during their tenure, and may have an opportunity to cross paths again.

The high-wire act requires a great deal of confidence and a complete lack of fear. It has taken me years to get there, but I can testify to the amazing results that are being produced from this mindset.

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.

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