The Sensitive Entrepreneur

We have all known hard-charging Type A entrepreneurs who have a “take no prisoners” attitude. These people are the doers. They are decisive and they know how to execute. But sometimes there is a downside to this sort of personality. Yes, sometimes those of us who are very driven may tend to be insensitive. This usually is not intentional but nonetheless it can have a detrimental effect on our team members and the culture we are trying to build.

There are many ways that insensitivity can manifest. It can be as direct as making derogatory or belittling comments to as subtle as failing to acknowledge someone with a friendly greeting in the morning. Think about an exchange like this. Team member – “I’d like to volunteer to work with Jim on the Norton project.” Entrepreneur – “No, you just need to stay focused on what you are doing.” While it may be absolutely true that the team member needs to keep doing what she’s doing, the way the entrepreneur delivered the message could be construed as insensitive. A different selection of words would make all the difference. How about this instead? “Jan – thanks for the offer. Your project is critically important, and I am counting on you to get it wrapped up. But I will take a rain check on having you help with the next one.” This statement acknowledges the team member with an expression of appreciation and affirms her value. And it gives her hope that she will be given another opportunity in the future.

So, how do we develop the appropriate level of sensitivity without going so far as to sing Kumbaya all the time? There is a very simple method that I have learned over the years. I will admit to once-upon-a-time being the insensitive Type A hard-charger that was described in the opening paragraph. I justified my behavior by believing that I was simply being expedient in my dealings with others. After all, I was moving at 100 miles an hour and the quicker I could get through with one meeting the sooner I could move on to the next. But I gradually became aware that my people skills were suffering. I was not doing anything to cultivate relationships or goodwill. Eventually I developed a new awareness by just putting myself in the other person’s shoes. How would I feel if someone spoke to me a certain way; said something in a certain manner, or failed to somehow acknowledge me?

The key is to practice, practice and constantly practice. I try to pay attention to how everyone around me is feeling. In a restaurant, I want to make sure that the wait staff is properly appreciated. At the office I try to make eye contact with members of our team as I walk by and greet each and every one of them. I pay attention to the language that I use, going the extra mile to avoid careless statements that could be misconstrued. Again, I am always testing what I say or do against the basic premise of how I would want to be treated if I were the other person. After a while it becomes very intuitive.

The mark of a good leader is how he or she treats others. Running roughshod or being humble and sensitive? The choice is easy when walking a mile in another’s shoes.

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 Entrepreneur’s “Skin”

How’s your skin? Does it fit comfortably? How thick is it? There are a couple of things to know about the skin of successful entrepreneurs. They are usually very comfortable in it and it’s thick as rhinoceros hide. Let’s explore what all of this means.

Our behavior, especially the way we treat other people, is a pretty good indicator of how comfortable we are in our own skin. We’ve all seen the caricature of a hard-driving take-no-prisoners Type A boss. He berates others and makes unreasonable demands. He is completely insensitive to the feelings of those around him and is often loud and boorish. I’m painting a pretty negative picture of this individual to dramatize my point. Such people are often deeply insecure. I’ve gotten to know several people like this. Every one of them has been a good person at heart, but they live in constant fear which adversely impacts their personality. They are afraid of being “found out” – they think that maybe they aren’t as qualified or “together” as the image they are trying to project. They are afraid that at any given moment they might fail at whatever endeavor they are tackling. The tough guy act overcompensates for these insecurities.

We all experience varying degrees of insecurity, but it’s how we deal with it that truly counts. I’ve had many friends and mentees over time that confided that they may be nervous about a particular situation and want my advice on how to handle it. As a seasoned pro when it comes to anxiety, I am able to boost their confidence by saying three simple words . . . “just be yourself.” And what I really mean is just be your true self. Not the mask that is worn and shown to others. Now you might say that this seems like overly simplistic advice. I agree. Just being ourselves is pretty simple. We try to overcomplicate things but it all boils down to this simple premise. I’ve learned how to overcome my anxiety and just be myself by pondering the following question. “Is this a life or death situation?” Fortunately, I’ve always been able to answer “no.” Putting things in this perspective allows me to melt away the insecurity and just be who I am. As long as I’m being myself and maintaining my core values, I really don’t care what others may think. And then the pressure is off.

This brings me to my second “skin” point. Our insecurities mirror the manner in which we are affected by our interactions with others. When we allow ourselves to be hurt, feel slighted or victimized by someone else, it’s a reflection of how secure we are in our own skin. We take a lot of body blows as entrepreneurs. We may or may not get the credit when things go right, but we’re definitely the focal point when things go wrong – our fault or not. The business world is ultra-competitive and not everyone plays fairly. Conflict may erupt within our own organization and it’s up to us to resolve it. Bottom line – there’s a lot of opportunity to personalize the constant hammering to which we are subjected. We develop that suit of armor that gets us through the wars when we are totally comfortable with whom we are. I suppose in a way it’s more like a suit of Teflon™ that deflects the attacks. And perhaps they aren’t really attacking at all if we don’t perceive them as such . . . right?

Being comfortable in our own skin accomplishes two objectives. It enables us to treat others with dignity and respect and it inoculates us from allowing ourselves to be hurt by others. This is a pretty good twofer in my book.

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.

I’m Stuck!

Question: I feel stuck right now. It seems as though I’m on a treadmill and going nowhere. The frustration seems overwhelming. Advice?

Answer: This often is a common feeling for everyone. For entrepreneurs the frustration can seem especially acute. We tend to be Type A personalities who want things to happen . . . and right now! Sometimes this frustration can actually block the positive flow of energy on which we thrive. And then it becomes a vicious cycle – the more the energy doesn’t flow, the more we feel like we’re going to burst with frustration.  

Let me provide a flying analogy. I’ll never forget the sage advice of my flight instructor years ago when I was taking pilot training. He told me that when things go haywire the first thing to do is to simply, “fly the airplane.” Don’t worry about anything else – just keep the wings level and fly the airplane. That’s my advice here. When this frustration wells up don’t lose your head – just remember to relax. Spend some time finding a calm moment – visualize putting your frustration on the shelf – after all, it’s not going anywhere without you. 

Next, it’s important to get out of yourself. What does this mean? Entrepreneurs have the tendency to dwell on whatever issues may be causing the frustration they are feeling. Once we relax we need to understand that there are other things more important in life than we are. This is a humbling realization. Consider being of service to others in some way. Volunteer at a food pantry. Be a Big Brother or a Big Sister. Teach a Sunday school class. Some time ago when I was dealing with a lot of frustration, I volunteered at a local children’s hospital. I had a ball reading stories and playing games with sick children. Being of service helps us to channel positive energy to the benefit of others. And guess what? All of a sudden the frustration melts away and the positive energy flows again!

I can’t promise that relaxing, getting out of yourself and being of service to others will solve all of the problems that led to your frustration. But getting rid of the feeling of being stuck will help you see more clearly the way to fix what needs fixing.