Entrepreneurs Beware!

We live in a hypersensitive society today. It seems as though every time we turn around someone is being offended by something. It may be words, actions, facial expressions or even the way someone looks. The whole notion of being offended stems from a belief that we are somehow victims. Victims of what, I’m not really sure. But our culture is at a point where it promotes victimhood and all that goes with it. This is a very dangerous place for entrepreneurs to be.

Many of us Baby Boomers raised our children in an environment where everybody wins and there were no losers. I remember sporting events in which our daughters participated, and each child received a ribbon or a small trophy. Obviously in the real world there are winners and losers yet somehow, losing has become linked with victimization. I’m not saying that this is the sole reason for the hypersensitivity we are experiencing but it may be a contributing factor.

Entrepreneurs are in a tough spot. On the one hand we want to be sufficiently sensitive to saying or doing things that others could perceive as a slight. And yet we are in a rough and tumble business world that takes no prisoners. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply treat others as we would like to be treated. I’ve grown pretty thick skin over the years and as others will attest, it’s pretty hard to offend me. A few years ago, I took a computerized test that measured resilience among a number of traits and tendencies. My score was 97 out of 100 which I’m told indicates that I have very strong self-acceptance. My point in sharing is to demonstrate that I may be somewhat oblivious to attempts by others to offend me. So, what to do?

First, we need to measure our intent when we are interacting with others. Do we say certain things to another person because we want to make them feel inferior? Do we take certain actions because we want to “send a message” to a specific individual that we expect could result in hurt feelings? A compassionate leader will communicate honestly and openly while doing so with sufficient empathy. His or her ego will be totally eliminated from the interaction. If our intent is pure and we’ve separated from our ego, then it is less likely that we will offend someone.

Second, it’s important to understand what behavior is unacceptable. This is especially challenging from a generational perspective. A young female colleague of mine was at a luncheon recently. She shared that she sat next to an older man (Boomer generation) who was nice but commented as they were leaving that he was pleased to have been able to sit next to such an attractive young woman. My colleague was not offended but related that she thought the comment was unnecessary and inappropriate. What was intended as a compliment by an older man was interpreted as mild condescension by a younger woman. While I doubt that it was his intent to be condescending, it was clear that he has not learned that you just don’t say things like this.

I’m not advocating for political correctness. We’ve gone completely overboard with PC and it’s causing huge problems in our country. But I do think that we need to pay closer attention to how we might be perceived by others. And let’s do our own gut check. Do we find ourselves being offended with any frequency? If so, we might benefit from exploring what we see when we look in the mirror. Do we have a positive or negative self-image? Are we preoccupied with conflict or feelings of inferiority? If so, we may be prone to being easily offended.

As entrepreneurs we must develop thick skin through a strongly positive self-image. At the same time, we need to measure our intent when interacting with others as well as understand what is unacceptable to society. Doing so will minimize the likelihood that we will offend others.

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.

Replay Rules

The other day I was speaking with a man who was miserable in his job. He was feeling very stifled and unappreciated. He told me about several decisions his boss had made that proved costly to the company and impacted his bonus on a personal level. He was particularly incensed that the boss shielded his superiors from the rest of the troops – and thus the higher-ups in the organization were unaware of the screw-ups and incompetence that were evident. Going over the boss’ head would be suicide. Have you ever heard this before? Perhaps you’ve even experienced it yourself.

We might be tempted to simply dismiss this as a classic case of job dissatisfaction, which it is – but . . . For 20 minutes this person went over and over the issues with which he had been dealing. He was intense. He was angry. This individual had a passion for what he had been doing and felt as though this passion had been stolen from him. Without a doubt he was grieving over what was obviously a loss for him. And to make matters worse, he felt powerless to do anything about it.

I recounted to him what he had told me and followed up with this statement, “So, it sounds like you’re done, right?” After a brief pause he said, “Yeah, I guess so.” And then he repeated it a bit more emphatically. He was so mired in misery that he hadn’t really come to grips with the fact that he had already made up his mind to make a change. At this point I redirected the conversation and began to ask a series of questions intended to stimulate his vision for the future and what he’d like to do. Yet, he continued to re-hash what he was encountering in his present position. Finally I asked his permission and then offered him the following advice, “You’ve already walked through the gate. Close it; don’t look back, and move on.”

I realize that this advice may sound trite and overly simplistic. But if you’ve ever been in a similar situation you’ll understand how easy it is to become trapped in a vicious cycle of “replays.” This is where we replay blow-by-blow how we’ve been wronged. Somehow we’re transformed from savvy entrepreneurs into finger-pointing victims. What to do?

Intuitively we know that the replays must stop and we have to move on. It’s also true that we may not necessarily have someone around who will shake us out of our funk. It’s a fact that the negative energy expended with the replays has never solved the problem for anyone. So we have a choice to make, and there’s really only one choice. Remaining locked into the status quo isn’t an option. And we’ll assume that there’s nothing we can do to improve the status quo.

I recommend taking the following steps. First, we affirm that we are ready to move on. The best affirmation is to quit whatever situation is no longer tenable. But that might not be immediately possible. If it’s a job or a partnership, it may be necessary to map out an alternative before making a move. But emphatically making the decision is vital. Second, we set a timetable for moving on, especially if it’s going to take a while to plot our course. Third – and this one is really important – we create a vision of our future. If there were no obstacles in our way, what would we be doing five years from now? I always suggest painting the grandest picture possible and then work backwards to the present. This can be an exhilarating exercise and helps create a positive mindset for moving forward to make our vision a reality. Putting this vision in writing is critical along with identifying the process we will undertake to get from here to there.

Being stuck in replay mode when we’re mired in a hopeless situation does nothing more than make us miserable. Affirming that we’re done with the negative circumstances; committing to a timetable, and creating a vision for our future are the steps needed to move forward.

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 40 – Hero or Not?

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.

Comfortable 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 attacks 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.

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Oh Those Surly Bonds

I’m proud to say that I’m an entrepreneur in a state of denial. And I suggest that you too should be in a similar state of denial. Why you ask, would an entrepreneur want to be in denial? After all, we’re eternal optimists and have a never-say-die approach to everything . . . right? Here’s what I’m in denial about.

I deny fear. I realize that fear freezes me into a state of inertia, or causes me to make irrational decisions. Fear saps my energy and causes me to ride an emotional roller-coaster. Fear robs me of my creativity and my initiative. I will not be afraid.

I deny all thoughts of self-doubt. Self-doubt is my mortal enemy. It causes me to question my instincts and clouds my intuition. I become tentative and worry about making mistakes. Self-doubt destroys my confidence and causes me to question my abilities. I will not allow self-doubt to manifest in my life.

I deny any belief that I’m a victim. There may be times when I feel that I’ve been wronged or believe someone has done something that prevents my success. I realize that when I feel victimized I’m giving away my power to someone else. Playing the victim fills me with negative energy. I will not be a victim to anyone for anything.

I deny all thoughts of lack and limitation. I stop myself when I start to utter phrases such as, “I can’t because,” “I’m not able,” and “if only.” My entrepreneurial spirit is dulled when I think that I am limited in some way. I realize that the only limitations I have are those that I place upon myself. I will not allow thoughts of lack and limitation to creep into my consciousness.

Being in denial about fear, self-doubt, beliefs of victimization, and thoughts of lack and limitation is only the first of two critical steps. It’s not enough to simply deny these negative factors. We must replace them with positive action-oriented affirmations. I deny fear and embrace faith. I deny self-doubt and have total confidence in who I am and what I’m doing. I deny any belief that I’m a victim and take full responsibility for my actions. I deny all thoughts of lack and limitation and know that my opportunities have no bounds.

Denying that which will inhibit me and affirming the positive direction I will take, allows me to release the surly bonds that hold me. And then I can soar to new heights.

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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Grrrr!

I know someone who always seems to have the worst luck with personal encounters. This person relates harrowing tales of being cut off by other drivers and nearly having an accident on a daily basis. This person is regularly aggrieved by others – slights of all types and magnitude. This person is opinionated and not the least bit shy about sharing views on a wide range of subjects, often causing discomfort for others. In short, this person lives in a constant state of conflict.

Conflict can be a healthy thing if it’s properly managed. But I sure don’t want to live there. Some people dread and avoid conflict as much as others seem to constantly be embroiled in it. As entrepreneurs it’s next to impossible to completely avoid situations where conflict may arise. And trying to do so may damage our relationships if we fail to be genuine and authentic for the sake of what we perceive as “keeping the peace.” So just how should we manage conflict in a healthy manner? I have learned through experience that there are four elements to managing conflict.

First, we must never play the victim. Conflict begins when we give someone else our power by letting our feelings be hurt or believe that we are being taken advantage of in some way. These feelings bubble up and our resentment builds as we buy into this story that we are telling ourselves. It’s critical that we break this cycle before it starts thereby allowing us to avoid wallowing in and exaggerating the fiction that we have created. Of course there may be instances where someone really is trying to hurt us and take advantage of us. But if we don’t give our power away the perpetrator won’t be able to escalate the conflict.

Second, maintaining a positive attitude is critical to successfully managing conflict. After we eliminate any stray feelings of victimization we need to shift into a 100% positive frame of mind as quickly as possible. Our positive energy is vital to creating the end result that we desire. Think about it. Are we more likely to end up in a good place with negative energy or positive energy? The choice is pretty simple.

Third, we stay in “fact mode.” Let’s assume for a moment that the conflict involves an employee who has accused you of showing favoritism to another employee. The accuser is so upset that he has pleaded his case to a number of his co-workers, causing a minor uproar in the organization. You know this guy is flat wrong but you resist the temptation to feel like a victim and take offense that your integrity and leadership is being impugned. You choose to stay positive and move directly into the fact finding mode. You have a calm and non-accusatory conversation with the angry employee to find out specifically why he believes you are showing favoritism. Perhaps the facts lead you to the realization that this person misunderstood a key piece of information that led to his misperception. You are easily able to share the real facts and quickly defuse the situation.

Finally, we must know when to compromise when appropriate. It’s easy when we know we’re right to become entrenched in our position and dig in our heels. And it might be just as easy to say something like, “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding,” even if we truly aren’t at fault. I do not advocate compromising our core values or our principles. But sometimes it’s better to offer the olive branch when neither is at stake. The conflict may quickly de-escalate at that point and our leadership may be admired and respected.

Managing conflict can be a positive opportunity to build relationships. Entrepreneurs should embrace this opportunity by not playing the victim card; staying positive; pursuing the facts and compromising when it makes sense to do so.

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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Impresario of Improv

Question: I’m a planner and I work my plan. But every once in a while things don’t go according to plan and I don’t handle it very well. What can I do to stay on track?

Answer: One year when I was on vacation my wife’s suitcase didn’t make it onto the plane. Compounding the problem was the fact that we were scheduled to take a ferry to our final destination and get on a sailboat charter the next morning. And to top it all off, our final destination was in another country! What a mess. My wife was pretty upset about all of this and it dawned on me as to why. She felt totally powerless to solve the problem that wasn’t her fault at all. Fortunately she had packed some extra clothes in her carry-on, purchased some toiletry items and was able to make do until the bag arrived two days later (we had to sail back to port to pick it up).

The lesson here is two-fold. When things go awry we must first and foremost discard any feelings of victimization. Clearly my wife was a victim. The airline screwed up and so did the ferry operator once the suitcase was in its possession. But wallowing in the victim mentality solves nothing (and to be clear, my wife did not wallow). It’s natural to feel a bit helpless in such situations but critical that we move beyond such feelings as quickly as possible. Do you remember the story of “The Little Engine That Could?” I have used this silly childhood story when I have a momentary feeling of helplessness. For me it’s a trigger that helps me get out of the defeated mental state I may be in at the time. Simply saying, “I think I can, I know I can” is enough to start the rally.

Once we clear our head the next step in this process is to improvise. My wife didn’t realize it, but she had already begun to improvise when she packed some clothes in her carry-on. Over the years we’ve learned from experience that this is a good idea. For my wife, improvising was not that big of a deal. But there are plenty of situations when something goes wrong where we need all of the MacGyver skills we can muster. We step back assess the whole situation. We look around and see what resources we might be able to cobble together that will solve the problem and get us back on track. Our creativity must be called upon at this point. I choose to turn this into a process that I write down on paper. I state the problem in writing; identify the resources in writing and lay out the deployment of those resources – in writing. This is the way my brain works to improvise and solve a problem. We each need find a way that works best for us.

When the metaphorical train runs off the rails, removing the emotion of victimization is critical. Then we can get down to the business of solving the problem through improvisation. “I think I can, I know I can.”

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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No One Washes a Rental Car

Question: I understand that to succeed in life and as an entrepreneur, I cannot play the victim. But it seems like there should be more to this premise. What is it?

Answer: You are right on with the philosophy that you cannot buy into a mindset of victimization. When we let ourselves think this way we are giving someone else the power over us. Avoiding a victimization mindset is an important step for us to take but as you sensed, there is more to it.

Why do you suppose it is that no one washes a rental car? Think about it. I will confess that in all my years of travel, I’ve never once even thought about driving a rental car through a car wash – no matter how filthy it might have been. There is a very good reason for this. We know that the rental car company automatically washes every rental car when it’s returned. And we know we don’t own the rental car. Our success and happiness is based upon the same concept. Others may help us in our quest for success and happiness but that’s all they do . . . help.

It’s up to each of us to take ownership of our own life. Earlier in my career I relied on a lot of people – and I still do today, but in a different way. There were times in the past when I might have thought, “I’ll do my part but someone else will ‘carry the ball across the goal line.’” As I think back I remember many disappointments along the way where having this mindset resulted in failure. Most likely this is because others were thinking the same way. Not a single one of us truly “owned” a particular project in such a way as to see that we did whatever it took to achieve a successful result. Taking ownership in a work environment doesn’t mean doing everything ourselves. But it does mean that someone (maybe it’s us) must be responsible for seeing that all of the plays are called and executed, and that the team eventually scores. Any time a goal or an objective is set, always remember to ask, “who is going to own this?”

In our personal lives it should be easier. When we ask the question, “who is going to own this,” the answer is pretty obvious. And we need to create some sort of accountability for ourselves to make sure that we follow through and truly “own” it. This accountability might be in the form of a journal, a checklist, working with a buddy or mentor – whatever is necessary for us to take our ownership seriously. If we want to exercise more; lose weight; be more aware of current events; become deeper spiritually; find a significant other; be a better parent, or be more prosperous, the road to success begins with our taking ownership of our situation and committing to see it through to a successful end.

Taking ownership is a liberating experience. In so doing, we cease to worry about whether or not we will succeed. Instead, we live in the knowledge that through our ownership we will achieve whatever it is that we have set forth to do.

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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