Tell Me What You See

When you look at me, what do you see? When you look at others, what do you see? Am I judged by my appearance? Are you skeptical or wary? These thoughts offer an interesting commentary on our society in general and on entrepreneurship in particular. Here’s what I have observed – about others and sometimes about myself. Are we actually looking for the good in our fellow man, or are we focused on finding fault? The political situation has disproportionately magnified this concern. Our country is so divided and partisan that it’s easy to instantly brand another person based upon what we perceive to be their ideology. Rightly or wrongly, if they are branded as a liberal or conservative; a Democrat or Republican, we may automatically draw conclusions that don’t serve us well.

I am renewing my efforts to work harder to see the good in others; to help build others up, rather than tearing them down. Does this sound trite? Think about it for a moment. Jonathan is negotiating to purchase a piece of equipment for his factory. There are major dollars involved and he has located the item that is only slightly used. Jonathan’s first thought is, “I wonder how I’m going to get screwed by the seller?” Right out of the blocks he’s telling the universe that he expects to be taken advantage of. He knows nothing about the individual who is selling the equipment. When asked why he feels this way, he responds, “Well, you can’t trust anyone these days.” Wow! We’ve all heard this before. But why would we set expectations this way? The transaction is immediately infused with negative energy from the start.

Here’s another one. Molly is the 28-year of vice-president of marketing at a consumer products company. While interacting with a prospective client who is in his sixties, he makes a rather inartful comment. Molly is immediately triggered into thinking that she is being harassed. The comment was harmless to the client from a generational perspective, but Molly now sees him as a horrible person. From this point forward, everything he says and does is seen by Molly in a negative light.

Here’s the last example. Henry is interviewing candidates to fill a software development position. One individual had a very pronounced southern accent and was slightly overweight. These traits were off-putting to Henry and he scratched the candidate from consideration. This was a classic case of “judging a book by its cover.”

Now let’s look at the flip side of these encounters. For Jonathan, he had no idea that the company selling the used piece of equipment had a new piece of equipment arriving within two weeks and needed to quickly remove the old piece. To accomplish this, the company marked down the price significantly in order to move it.  The equipment had been maintained in pristine condition and was truly a bargain. Instead of her knee-jerk reaction to the older client, Molly might have chalked it up as a comment that was not intended to be offensive and watched to see if there was any other behavior that warranted concern. Finally, had Henry tested his candidate, he might have found a brilliant mind hiding inside that southern good old boy.

Ronald Reagan once used the term, “trust but verify” when answering a question about nuclear disarmament. This concept remains as viable today as it did back in the 1980s. Rather than thinking the worst about others, we instead genuinely think the best about them and through our interactions, verify that they deserve our positive feelings and goodwill. Instead of being on guard all the time, we embrace others and reject the notion that they intend to do us harm. If at some point it is clear they are intentionally breaking our trust, then we change our feelings toward them.

Our entrepreneurial endeavors are enhanced when we see the best in others. When we establish our relationships in a positive manner they will flourish. When we help build others up, both parties will be the beneficiaries. I recently had the opportunity to begin working with an individual that represents a company with which we’ve done business for years. Another member of our team had previously dealt with him numerous times and had fairly negative things to say about their encounters. I chose not to have preconceived notions about this individual and after several e-mails and conversations, found him to be most pleasant and helpful. He conducted himself honorably and while a little slow with his responses, always managed to follow through. I believe that if I had bought into my teammates feelings, my interactions might have been less positive.

When we adopt the trust but verify attitude, we can build strong and lasting relationships that will flourish over time. Thus, when you ask me what I see, I say that it’s all good.

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.

An Entrepreneur’s Poison

Tyler is mad at Gilbert. Mad may not be an adequate description. Tyler is so livid that he doesn’t trust himself to talk to Gilbert about “the incident” for fear that he might end up in handcuffs after the encounter. I think you get the picture. Here’s the rest of the story. Tyler is an entrepreneur who has built a small but rapidly growing company that buys fledgling software projects and fully develops them into commercial products. Gilbert is a software engineer who has a terrific idea that he began to develop and talked extensively with Tyler about taking it to the next step. The two hit it off very well and a very close relationship grew over time. Negotiations had progressed to the point that documents were prepared, and a signing date was set. Then it happened. Tyler received a phone call late one afternoon from an industry analyst informing him that Gilbert had just signed an agreement with Tyler’s closest competitor, to develop the software. Tyler called Gilbert and got his voicemail. He texted and e-mailed – radio silence. Naturally Tyler feels totally betrayed, blindsided and embarrassed. Betrayed because Gilbert had committed the deal to him; blindsided because Gilbert hadn’t had the decency to call him first, and embarrassed because he heard about it from someone else.

You probably know the rest of the story. Tyler finally reaches Gilbert and confronts him about the situation. Gilbert says, “Tyler, it’s only business. I made a decision that I felt was best for me.” This only adds fuel to the fire raging inside Tyler and a long-term grudge ensues with ongoing thoughts of revenge and payback. And, at the end of the day this is the classic Entrepreneur’s Poison.

It’s understandable that Tyler is upset about Gilbert’s actions. But Tyler faces a fork-in-the-road choice at this point. He can hold a grudge for a long period of time and plot ways to get back at Gilbert, drinking the Entrepreneur’s Poison in the process. Or he can learn from the experience and move on. I emphasize the fact that this is a choice that Tyler will make. He’s in control – not Gilbert. As entrepreneurs we will likely face similar circumstances at some point in our careers – maybe we already have. Do we drink the Entrepreneur’s Poison or not?

On December 13, 1977, during an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets, Lakers forward Kermit Washington threw a punch that shattered the face of Houston player, Rudy Tomjanovich. The blow was so devastating that spinal fluid was leaking out of the wound as Tomjanovich was rushed to the hospital. His injuries were life threatening and it took several surgeries to repair the damage. Jonathan Feigen’s 2018 book “100 Things Rockets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die,” details how Tomjanovich felt the need to forgive Washington who had apologized to him in 1987. Feigen states, “Washington could not have known that Tomjanovich had come to believe that holding resentment is ‘a poison’ people ingest needlessly. ‘If I keep those other things, self-destructive things, a part of who I am, I’m missing a good life,’ Tomjanovich said.”

Here’s the thing. When we feel that we’ve been wronged by someone else, harboring feelings of resentment and plotting revenge takes a lot of energy – and worse, it’s negative energy. This same energy could be used in positive ways that benefit ourselves and others. Someone I know was recently betrayed by a long-time friend. She wonders how she’ll ever be able to trust this individual again. My response was to ask if deciding in absolute terms that trust is broken forever is the best perspective. She asked what I would say to this friend and I responded, “The trust has been broken and it will take a while to earn it back.” Then we move on and live our lives without holding a grudge or resentment. It becomes the choice of the transgressor to rebuild the trust or not. Dwelling on the situation and replaying it over and over does nothing to undo what happened.

In our entrepreneurial world it’s extremely important that we operate in a positive sphere. No one can harm us unless we allow them to do so. Forgiveness is the key even though it may take time for relationships to be repaired. Taking this approach allows us to avoid drinking the Entrepreneur’s Poison.

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 134 – 100% TPR.

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.

Just Say No to Consensus

Here’s a common scenario that is played out every day in conference rooms across the country. Devin is an entrepreneur who has assembled an executive team that consists of the COO, CFO, CTO, VP of Sales and Marketing, and VP of Product Development. The group meets weekly and the discussions are relatively polite and collegial. Devin works hard to avoid conflict and encourages the group to reach a consensus for decisions that need to be made. He believes that this approach has helped build a strong and positive culture for his organization. Unfortunately Devin is totally wrong!

There is a time and a place for consensus building, but it’s not right in Devin’s scenario. Instead, what Devin should be seeking is a healthy and robust debate where different arguments are vigorously presented. Then, once everything is on the table and all of the questions have been answered, Devin needs to make a decision. It’s up to him to decide what course of action will be taken. Too often, entrepreneurs are overly concerned about “keeping the peace” among team members. They are allergic to anything that might be perceived as “conflict.”

The problem with encouraging consensus building is that it also encourages a tendency to go along to get along. Author and management consultant Patrick Lencioni calls this “artificial harmony.” A strong organization needs a wide and diverse range of ideas to move forward. The first step is to discard the notion that conflict and disagreement are bad things. I believe that conflict and disagreement can be uplifting and beneficial – IF handled properly. For this to happen, team members must trust each other completely. This means trusting that what is said will remain confidential when required. This means trusting that no one is going to engage in personal attacks. It means trusting that backstabbing and triangulation are out of the question. It’s important to understand that establishing trust won’t happen overnight. It can take weeks or even months for full trust to develop.

Once trust has eventually been established, the leader must set the ground rules for engagement. This likely means that a protocol will be created for exchanging ideas. It likely means that all members of the team will be expected to contribute and participate. It means that debate and disagreement will be encouraged. And it means that everyone agrees to buy-in to the process.

So how does productive debate and disagreement occur? Each member of the team should present his or her arguments based in fact. The entrepreneur should allow for a free-flowing discussion but be prepared to call foul if the discussion veers off course into the area of personal conflict. Strong-willed team members should be encouraged to make an impassioned case for their positions. All team members should listen without interruption. These discussions may be intense – that’s OK as long as participants do not feel as though they are being personally attacked or their ideas denigrated. The lack of intensity during this process could be a signal that “artificial harmony” exists.

When the conversation has concluded, the entrepreneur has to step up and show real leadership. This means processing the various facts that have been presented and making a decision accordingly. Sometimes these decisions are extremely difficult – and that’s a very good thing. It means that the debate was compelling and strong arguments were made all the way around. It’s possible that the discussion will result in the need for additional information. But eventually when all of the facts are in and all of the points have been made, a final decision must be made. Ceding such a decision to a “committee” for consensus is not a display of leadership. The entrepreneur must explain the rationale behind the final decision and make certain that everyone feels that what they offered was sufficiently considered. Ultimately, everyone on the team must get on board and fully support the final decision. That doesn’t mean they have to fully agree with it – but they must be totally supportive. If a team member is not supportive, considerable damage can be done to the culture and to the process for making future decisions.

Great entrepreneurial leaders know how to foster healthy debate among team members and then make the final decision. A great team does not need to function with consensus, but does need to respect and support the final decision.

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 10 – Urgently Patient.

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 Trustworthy Entrepreneur

Let’s give credit where credit is due. I recently listened to a podcast by Reid Hoffman– he was the co-founder of LinkedIn and an early board member at PayPal. Hoffman made a profound statement that goes like this. “Trust is consistency over time.” As entrepreneurs one of our biggest hurdles is creating trust – trust with our team, our investors, our bankers, our customers and our prospective customers. Without trust, we will flounder around and never gain traction. And trust is a very fragile thing. It takes a while to build trust, but it can be gone in an instant.

Consistency. We all know what it means. We also know how hard it is to achieve . . . consistently (pun intended). We trust McDonalds because every meal in every restaurant around the world maintains the same standard of quality. Forget whether or not we actually like the food – we know exactly what to expect. We trust products from Johnson & Johnson, General Mills, Netflix, Adidas and Dove because we know exactly what to expect. Our enterprise struggles when our standard of quality is inconsistent, which in turn degrades the trust our customers have for our product or service.

I’d like to take Reid Hoffman’s mantra one step further. Commitment + Accountability leads to Consistency. Commitment is where every member of our team agrees to perform at a level that is necessary to always deliver our product or service at the highest quality possible. It’s critical that we clearly define what this level of quality means. It must be broken down in exquisite detail. Training must be directed to ensuring that each team member fully understands the detail and how to execute on it. And then the team must practice, practice and practice some more until delivery of the product or service is standardized. The bottom line – we can’t commit to something if we don’t understand it or haven’t been shown how to do it.

Next comes the Accountability part of the equation, and here it gets trickier. Once every member of the team has agreed to delivering the expected level of quality for a product or service, how do we make sure that each person lives up to his end of the bargain? Part of our responsibility as an entrepreneurial leader is to develop some quality control systems and processes. This serves as a backstop for the customer to make certain that something substandard doesn’t leak out into the marketplace. Should we have to spend time and money to create this redundancy? Maybe not, but if we really care about the customer we have no choice but to do so. This also becomes a method of accountability. We’re able to spot deficiencies before it’s too late, and we can identify the weak links in our system. This allows us to get to the root of the problem. Is it an issue of training? Is it a misunderstanding? Does someone not have the proper tools or adequate resources? Is it the fact that someone on the team simply doesn’t give a damn about what they are doing? We can take steps to correct all of these obstacles which help to further tighten our commitment.

Our Commitment to deliver a standard level quality of product or service, and the accompanying Accountability gives us a fighting chance to reach the holy grail of Consistency. And it’s this consistency that will build Trust with everyone in our orbit. Team members learn to trust each other. Customers trust our product or service. Our investors and bankers trust us because we are doing what we say we are going to do.

We let our consistency do the talking for us. We’ve all seen marketing that includes phrases like, “most trusted,” “your honest car dealer,” “honest and trustworthy,” and on and on. I’ve always been wary of any business that needs to beat its chest about how honest and trustworthy it is. It somehow feels like they “protesteth” a bit too much. Perhaps they think they need to advertise this way because they don’t actually deliver consistency with their products and services.

Trust truly is consistency over time. And consistency is the product of commitment and accountability.

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 16 – A Punch in the Mouth.

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.

Trust Me . . .

There’s a priceless element to an entrepreneur’s success when it comes to his or her customers, employees and investors. This element can be broken. It can be elusive. And it can be very difficult to regain when lost. Of course I’m talking about “trust.” But this isn’t so much a blog about trust as it is one of the foundational components to building trust. Let’s explore the concept of transparency.

Transparency is a word that is used a lot these days – sometimes it becomes a bit trite as well as overused. Don’t you just love print advertising and television commercials that implore us to “trust” the company peddling the product? My guard goes up when I hear this sort of naked appeal – I probably am much more cynical about companies that resort to this messaging. If we start with the premise that “trust” is the given baseline, why then, is there a need to say, “Trust me?”

If I do a poor job of delivering what I promise to my customers, I’d much rather admit in an open and honest manner that I screwed up. Too many times we see companies stonewall, deny and otherwise obfuscate when the train goes off the track. Of course this results in mistrust rather than accomplishing whatever we had hoped for by not being transparent. The old saying that the cover-up is worse than the crime certainly applies here!

Transparency begins with the basic core value of integrity. Either we have it or we don’t. We use this core value to guide us in the actions we take to fulfill transparency. I know that there are those who will say, “I’d like to be more transparent but in today’s litigious society I can’t say what I really want to say – I’ll be sued if I do!” However, there are ways to be open and honest without creating legal jeopardy.

We must also remember that most people don’t like surprises – at least not the negative kind. This is especially true when we’re working with our team members and investors. A number of years ago we acquired some land and launched a residential subdivision which turned out to be a bad idea. Shortly after we completed the purchase, installed the streets and sold our first three lots, the financial world came to an end (2008 – 2009). Our lot sales came to a screeching halt and remained very anemic for several years thereafter. We had raised substantial investor equity for this project and needless to say, the lack of sales was a difficult thing to report. Nevertheless, we dutifully wrote and sent investor reports every year laying out the facts. There was no sugarcoating nor did we try to sound overly hopeful. Eventually there was good news to report and we were naturally pleased to do so. I’ve been told by several of our investors that they never lost confidence or trust in us because we were totally transparent throughout the process. It also helped that we explained in detail what we were doing to try and solve the problem.

Transparency means getting in front of the message rather than being behind the curve. Here’s an example. We learned that a major employer was about to close its doors in a market where we had an apartment property. Immediately, we contacted the investor and let him know that this was happening and apprised him of how we thought this closure might impact the property. We also laid out our plan of action for minimizing the negative impact to the investment. He was also an investor in another property in the same market that was handled by one of our competitors. He told us he never heard from the competitor and appreciated the fact that we delivered bad news as soon as we knew it. Our transparent approach built trust and enabled us to do more business with this investor.

Transparency is one of the cornerstones of trust. By operating with integrity we are never afraid to deliver good news or bad, and share all that is relevant with our customers, team and investors.

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 24 – Disruptive.

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.

transparency

The Bermuda Triangulation Effect

Allow me to set the stage. Don, Shirley, Frank and Jessie all work for the same company. They are peers and interact on a daily basis. Let’s pull back the curtain momentarily and observe what is happening.

Shirley has stopped Frank in the hall. They have an exchange that goes like this.

Shirley: “Frank, you won’t believe what Don did. I’m so frustrated with him! He was supposed to prepare graphs for the PowerPoint slides to insert into the Magruder presentation and he totally blew it off. How are we going to get these graphs?”

Frank: “Wow, Shirley! It’s incredible that he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. You know, he’s done that before. What a bozo!”

Later, Frank runs into Jessie and their conversation went like this.

Frank: “Jessie – Shirley told me that Don completely booted the graphs for the Magruder presentation. She’s about to blow a gasket. I wonder if Don should even be on our team.”

Jessie: “That’s awful! Don seems to have a history of doing things like this. He’s being extremely selfish and doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”

What is happening here? I call it The Bermuda Triangulation Effect. The Bermuda Triangle is a region covering roughly 500,000 square miles in the Atlantic Ocean where ships and aircraft have seemingly vanished without a trace. In other words, it’s akin to a mysterious black hole, sucking in the unsuspecting. Unfortunately there’s no mystery to The Bermuda Triangulation Effect. Triangulation is a no man’s land where different parties whine, moan and groan about another party without speaking directly with that party. In our example Frank, Shirley and Jessie are triangulating about Don and the problems he has caused. Yet, no one bothered to talk to Don about the issue.

Triangulation is bad for business and bad for relationships. It’s pure poison and can dramatically and adversely impact the chemistry of a team. Why does all of this grousing happen among teammates in the first place? I believe that it’s indicative of a team that does not hold mutual respect as a cornerstone. Team members also don’t trust each other to the point that they can have conversations directly with the party who is causing issues. I’ve heard many people explain that they feel like such a conversation could be confrontational and they want to avoid conflict.

Here’s the truth. Entrepreneurial leaders must take all steps necessary to eliminate triangulation. This starts with identifying clear roles and accountabilities for each team member. And everyone must clearly understand how they are accountable to each other. This accountability should include a process for addressing issues and concerns that are encountered from time-to-time. Team members should understand that it is incumbent upon them to speak directly with another team member should a challenge arise with that individual. Discussions among peers should be taboo as they are counterproductive and accomplish absolutely nothing. And team members should be discouraged from trying to resolve their issues via e-mail. E-mail is a one-dimensional form of communication and is one of the worst ways to try and sort out problems within a team.

Team members should be educated on how to speak directly with another team member in what might be perceived as an uncomfortable situation. Had our fictitious team been properly educated, the following exchange might have occurred with Shirley going to Don directly.

Shirley: “Don – I was looking for the graphs that you were preparing and found that they weren’t in shared folder. I need to drop them in the PowerPoint for the Magruder presentation. When do you think you’ll have them ready?”

Don: “Shirley – “I’m so sorry. I spent the night in the emergency room with my daughter and wasn’t able to finish them like I promised. I’ve been working on them and will have them completed in about 30 minutes.”

Shirley: “I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. I hope she’s OK. If you need any help, just let me know.”

No triangulation occurred. The team continued to move forward to achieve its goals. Feelings weren’t hurt and time wasn’t wasted with angry chatter.

As entrepreneurs we must endeavor to create a culture of mutual respect where team members are totally comfortable having conversations of all sorts with each other. Stamping out triangulation should be a priority to this end.

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 14 – Obstacle Proof.

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.

bermuda-triangle

Nice to Be With You

In 1972 an American soft rock band called Gallery recorded the song, “Nice to Be With You.” I’ve always liked that song and believe it could reflect the personality of successful entrepreneurs. Think about all the people in your life and who you like most to be around. Is that person always complaining and negative? Or, is he/she upbeat and positive? A Harris Poll reported in 2013 that only one in three Americans were very happy. Obviously there’s a lot of progress to be made. We entrepreneurs can lead the way.

Entrepreneurs often get a bad rap. They are portrayed in the media and the movies as cold, heartless, ruthless and conniving. Certain politicians may characterize entrepreneurs as money-hungry and corrupt. We need to change this narrative and can do so every time we interact with someone else. How? I submit that when we’re nice to be around we can easily dispel the myths and stereotypes about entrepreneurs.

Now if you are rolling your eyes right now think about a single word . . . trust. Who do you trust more – a genuinely happy and friendly person, or someone who is sour and inconsiderate? I haven’t done a scientific survey on this question but informally asked a number of my friends and colleagues. It was nearly unanimous in favor of trusting someone who is nice. Our success is built on others trusting us, our team, our products and our services. Why wouldn’t we want to stack the deck in our favor?

Let’s take stock and see what we can do to ensure that others see us as nice to be around. I used a word in the last paragraph that is of critical importance, and that word is genuine. If we contrive our niceness it will be apparent and will cause others to think we’re slick and manipulative. We must be real about who we are and develop the traits and tendencies of a happy person.

Here are some ideas that can endear us to others:

  1. We think of others first. When we can make someone else feel valued and appreciated, their happiness quotient increases exponentially. In a restaurant when the service is great, I like to look the server in the eye, call them by name, smile and tell them what a great job they are doing. And the enormous grin (and sometimes tears) I get in return absolutely makes my day. Taking a servant’s attitude – where I’m here to help and serve you – helps me avoid the feelings of entitlement that afflict some successful entrepreneurs.
  2. Be an optimist and positive. No matter what happens I see no point in wallowing around in despair and negativity. It’s like being in quicksand – no one wants to get in it with us! We want to attract people with whom we can build trust and relationships. That’s much easier to do when we are giving off good vibes rather than being a Gloomy Gus.
  3. Avoid the limelight. Have you ever known someone who does nothing but talk about herself/himself? I’ve been to more than a few cocktail parties where I’ve been cornered by these individuals. And I’m reminded how much I don’t want to be like them. In fact, I prefer to ask questions about other people and what they do more than I care to talk about myself. It’s not that I have anything to hide. I guess it’s just that I was taught as a child that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

When we are genuinely a nice person the odds increase for building a trusting relationship. We can make this happen by thinking of others first; being optimistic and positive, and avoiding the limelight.

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.

gallery band