The Adaptable Entrepreneur

Major league baseball pitchers throw some amazing pitches. Their repertoire includes the breaking ball, changeup, forkball, screwball, slider, curveball, knuckleball, four-seam fastball, split-finger fastball, cutter, sinker, two-seam fastball and probably some other customized versions of all the above. These pitches range in speed from 70+ to over 100 miles-per-hour. How a batter can even see a pitch that is screaming in at speeds above 90 and dancing all over the place is an incredible feat. And the fact that such pitches can be hit for home runs is even more stupefying. How do they do it?

Major league batters expect to adapt. They know that they are going to see a wide array of pitches that are surgically placed in different locations in the general area of home plate. Thus, every at-bat requires them to adapt to a host of variables. Top-flight big leaguers have an uncanny knack for successfully adapting their vision and their swing to hit the ball and get on base. They go to the plate knowing with absolute certainty that they must be able to adapt, or they will strike out, fly out or ground out.

As entrepreneurs we would be well-served to study successful major league baseball players and observe how they adapt. Sometimes they shorten their swing. At other times they become supremely patient. They may try and push the ball to the opposite field; they may bunt, and they might also time their swing in order to pull the ball. All of this happens within a split second.

We entrepreneurs often work hard to create elaborate strategies and back-fill with a host of tactics. We plan and we create extensive systems and processes. All are absolutely necessary to succeed. But sometimes we forget that we must expect to adapt. There is nothing negative about holding this expectation. The game plan provides a road map for us to follow, but it doesn’t account for every possible instance where we may need to be flexible.

With the disruption caused by COVID-19, our ability to adapt will be tested more than ever before. Businesses have been turned upside down along with the rest of our lives. Having a playbook is important but being able to turn on a dime and act entrepreneurially is critical to adapting to what may be the new normal. Over the years I’ve tried to muscle my way through a plan that I was convinced was the only way to go. Most of the time it led to failure or at least results that were less than stellar. I realize that I was being resistant to adaptation.

What I wish I had understood at the time is that the need to adapt can offer some incredible opportunities. And my resistance caused me to miss those opportunities. It’s easy to say, “OK, I have a plan and undoubtedly something will knock me off-course.” What goes unsaid is the thought that, “Then I’ll do whatever it takes to get back on-course.” But what if we had a mindset of expecting the need to adapt and actually turning it into a desire?” Think about all the wonderful inventions that have occurred in the past. If you’ve ever read the story of Steve Jobs, you’ll know that he was a master of adaptation. Through his flexible nature he embraced the chance to make changes to the iPhone and the result was, “WOW!” It’s well-documented that the initial vision for this technology would not have been nearly as phenomenally functional as what was eventually developed.

When we rejoice at the prospects of adapting our ideas, our creativity increases exponentially. Then we are positioned to achieve greatness in whatever we choose 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.

The Burned-Out Entrepreneur

Imagine a warm summer night, a meadow away from the city lights and a cloudless, moonless sky. A blanket is spread on the ground and you stretch out on your back and gaze at the heavens above. Trillions of pin dots twinkle back at you. Suddenly, as luck would have it, a streak of light crosses right in front of your eyes – a brief moment of intense action in an otherwise passive setting. Yes, a meteor is truly a sight to behold and provides a metaphorical warning to us as entrepreneurs.

The romanticism of a shooting star quickly gives way to the realization that we have just witnessed a piece of interplanetary debris burning up in the earth’s atmosphere. The operative words here are “burning up.” In entrepreneurial parlance, we’re talking about “burnout.” We all know what burnout is, so I don’t need to describe its symptoms. In fact, we’ve all probably experienced burnout in some form over the course of our careers. More important are two central questions. How do we prevent burnout in the first place? And how do we get out of burnout if it already holds us captive?

Preventing burnout in the first place is actually easier than figuring out how to get out of it once we’re in it. Consider this example. Jeff is focused on his software training business in laser-like fashion. He eats, sleeps and breathes software training and hasn’t had a vacation in six years. The business is growing in a very profitable fashion, but Jeff worries every day that if he takes his eye off the ball, his competition could easily overtake him and he’d begin losing money. He justifies his herculean efforts as the right way to provide for his family (but he’s missed eight of his son’s last ten soccer games). By contrast, Amy has a competing software training business. She is passionate about her company which is growing like Jeff’s and is also profitable. Amy has learned through time management techniques and following a carefully thought plan, how to be incredibly productive while she’s at work. She serves on a non-profit board, exercises and meditates every day, volunteers at a local homeless shelter, plays tennis and takes a ten-day vacation every six months. It’s pretty obvious which entrepreneur is a prime candidate for burnout. Because she has embraced a life balance, Amy is more creative and innovative. When Jeff finally hits the wall Amy will blow on by him because she has learned how to build a strong team to which she can delegate.

Extracting ourselves from the clutches of burnout is a real challenge. The first step is to go back to the basics and determine if our vision and mission are the same now as they were when we were filled with passion at the outset of our endeavor. Do they need to be tweaked? What made us passionate about what we started doing in the first place? Are our core values intact? Reconnecting with our passion is critical and can only happen when we become grounded in our vision, mission and values. Without this re-set we cannot know for certain if the passion is truly alive.

Next, we need to make the choice to move toward a more balanced approach to life. Nothing prevents us from adopting Amy’s M.O. Experts say that it takes three weeks to form a habit. Every day we must become intentional about identifying and implementing the different elements that will compose our newly balanced life. Getting out of ourselves and doing good things for others is one of the best ways to break out of the burnout cycle.

Finding a balance in life is the best preventive medicine for warding off burnout . . . and for getting out of it. While shooting stars are spectacular to watch there’s no need to be one.

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 (Stubborn) or (Persevering) Entrepreneur

Mules are interesting animals. They are a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. A mule is stronger than a horse and historically was used for heavy work in agriculture and timber. Mules are independent creatures and can be very obstinate and stubborn at times – hence the saying, “He’s stubborn as a mule.”

Tortoises are equally fascinating. They can live longer than 150 years and have hard shells that make them less vulnerable to predators. Tu’i Malila was the oldest tortoise on record, born in 1777 and died in 1965. If you’ve ever watched a tortoise, you know that they are slow, plodding reptiles. When they are presented with an obstacle, they find a way to go around it.

The metaphor for entrepreneurs is obvious. And notice that I’ve avoided the even more obvious example of the tortoise and the hare – that’s a whole different blog someday. Instead, the lesson here is about stubbornness vs. perseverance. As entrepreneurs, we are continually confronted with situations that require some level of perseverance. If we fail to persevere, we end up flitting all over the place and accomplishing nothing. But when does perseverance turn into stubbornness? Presumably stubbornness is not necessarily a desirable trait. The dictionary defines stubborn as “unreasonably obstinate; obstinately unmoving.”

The story of Milton Hershey is inspirational. He launched three candy companies in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. And all three failed. Hershey moved back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he started another company that made a unique type of caramel. But he was convinced that chocolate was the wave of the future and sold his caramel business to start the Hershey Company. Of course, the Hershey Company went on to become a huge success in the milk chocolate business.

Was Milton Hershey stubborn, or did he persevere? Back to the dictionary which defines persevere as “to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly.” I believe Hershey epitomized the definition of perseverance. He had a vision. He was constantly tweaking and refining his products. He surmounted his obstacles and eventually became highly successful.

Stubbornness is evidenced when we keep banging our heads against the wall trying the same things over and over. And it’s not working. Suppose we have a business that is struggling to gain traction. We’re not making much money – maybe even losing money – and we continue to keep doing what we’ve been without making any material changes. Now that’s stubborn.

Let’s take that same example and overlay it with perseverance. The business has been struggling to gain traction. We’re not making much money – maybe even losing money. But we believe in the long-term vision and aren’t about to throw in the towel. Instead, we step back and analyze what we’ve been doing. We do the research necessary to identify refinements and adjustments to our approach. Perhaps we even make a major pivot. Think about the tortoise. He reaches an obstacle that he can’t go over. Does he keep trying to climb over it without success? No, he “pivots” and moves a different direction, eventually ending up achieving his vision – whatever that might be for a tortoise. Perhaps our business needs a different approach to marketing and sales. Maybe we need to eliminate a particular product and add another. Regardless, we must do things differently than we have in the past. We don’t quit. We aren’t a victim. We simply get better at how we play the game.

Stubbornness doesn’t require much brainpower. There’s a lot of wallowing that occurs. Perseverance is smart. The vision persists. The ideas flow. And success is ultimately achieved.

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 Modern Entrepreneur/Leader

I recently came across an 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 say 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 psychobabble 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. 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.

Just Say No to “Straight-Line” Entrepreneurship!

I’ve advised every entrepreneur with whom I’ve ever worked to develop a business plan. But I never expect that the path to success outlined in such plans will ever be precisely followed. Some people say that a business plan is a blueprint for the organization. Nah, I don’t think so. I see the business plan as a starting point. I’m convinced that some businesses fail because the entrepreneur hews too closely to the plan. He or she fails to recognize the little signs along the way that point to major pitfalls for which a deviation is warranted . . . or enormous opportunities that will be missed due to a blind devotion to “the plan.”

The notion behind the business plan should be to organize our thoughts around a concept. That concept is actually the Vision, or what it looks like when we get there. An organized process for achieving the vision is extremely important for without it we find ourselves all over the map and failing to make any tangible progress. One of the problems for many entrepreneurs is working too much “in” the business rather than “on” the business. They become bogged down in the organized process tending to minor details best left to others. And weeks, months or even years later they look up and realize that the vision is still a distant fuzzy form way out in the distance. They are the victims of “straight-line thinking.”

Every organization needs some straight-line thinkers and doers. If not for them, there would be sheer chaos all the time. But straight-line thinking is not the job for the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur continually works to bring that “fuzzy form in the distance” into sharp focus. He or she realizes that there will be obstacles along the way and works to anticipate them and determine the path around, under or over. The straight-line thinker runs into the obstacles and is stopped – maybe permanently.

Straight-line systems and processes are critical. That said, they should be periodically reviewed and modified as necessary to meet the continually changing needs of the business. It’s the strategies that must be nimble and flexible. The simplest analogy is that of a car driving down the road. We are going from Temecula to Tucumcari which is nearly a straight 1,000-mile shot across I-40. Just west of Flagstaff the highway construction signs begin to appear – Road Closed Ahead. And the next thing we know there’s a detour on West Route 66 through Flagstaff. We follow the detour and a few miles later we’re back on I-40 on our way to Tucumcari, no worse for the wear. Easy peasy – right? The problem in the entrepreneurial world is that the detours are not so straightforward. Sometimes it’s a challenge to even know that there’s a need for a detour.

Exactly how do we decide when to be flexible with “the plan?” The answer is . . . always! We need to pay a great deal of attention to our customers and understand what they want and need. If we don’t, we may miss subtle signals that inform us that their preferences are shifting. We must stay abreast of what our competition is doing and especially how demand for our products and services might be changing. If a competitor is quickly garnering more market share, we had better know it and be prepared to react accordingly. It’s equally critical that we stay plugged in to the regulatory environment at all governmental levels. Understanding early in the game that a proposed set of rules or new laws could adversely impact our business gives us a chance to re-tool our operation to minimize the downside. And, we must have a constant pulse on the status of our team. Are our team members feeling fulfilled? Is their compensation in line with the work they are doing and the results they are producing? Again, if we aren’t mindful of our team, we’ll be caught flatfooted when someone jumps ship at a time we least expect it. Finally, while keeping our head down and putting one foot in front of the other, we may miss a golden opportunity that was unanticipated and could accelerate our sales and punch-up our bottom line in a major way.

Look, I’m all about focus and paying attention to the details. But as entrepreneurs, sometimes by following the straight-line path we’ll walk right into the mouth of a hungry grizzly bear. To thrive and prosper we use our business plan as a starting point; develop a strong set of systems and processes; but are nimble and flexible with the strategies we deploy that deliver us to our ultimate vision.

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.

Farewell to an Iconic Entrepreneur

On January 3, 2019, one of the legendary icons of entrepreneurship stepped on a rainbow. Herb Kelleher died at age 87 after living a storied life. Kelleher famously co-founded Southwest Airlines in the late 1960s. He was practicing law in San Antonio when a client brought him an idea to launch a new airline in 1967. Competing airlines did everything they could to prevent the new airline, originally incorporated as Air Southwest Company, from getting off the ground. Lawsuits were the only thing flying for several years, and at one point the board told Kelleher that the venture needed to be shut down. Kelleher offered to fight the lawsuits and pay the court costs out of his own pocket at which point the board agreed to stay in business. It took four years and victories at both the Texas and the U.S. Supreme Courts – twice – before Southwest Airlines flew for the first time on June 18, 1971. His resilience and tenaciousness are credited for enabling Southwest to persevere and become the major airline that it is today.

Kelleher was general counsel and served on the board of directors, becoming chairman in 1978. In 1981 he became the full-time CEO and built the airline into a powerhouse as a result of his vision. At the time, the airline industry was highly regulated and when an airline started losing money, it would petition the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to allow for a fare increase. As a result, it became exceedingly expensive for the public to fly – something that Kelleher saw as the opportunity of a lifetime. Initially Southwest was an intrastate carrier flying within Texas, making flying between Dallas, San Antonio and Houston affordable through ultra-low fares. Over the years the airline started flying outside the state of Texas but was hamstrung by the Wright Amendment – legislation designed to help the legacy carriers and hurt Southwest. The law required that Southwest could not fly from another state directly into Dallas’ Love Field without first stopping in an immediately adjacent state including Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico. I can remember flying from Kansas City to Dallas and having to stop in Oklahoma City to change planes because of this requirement. Eventually the Wright Amendment was defeated in Congress and Southwest was able to operate like any other airline in the country.

Kelleher was a marketing genius and employed numerous outrageous stunts that endeared Southwest to its employees and to the public. He never took himself too seriously and is well known for his love of Wild Turkey bourbon and a daily dose of five packs of Marlboro cigarettes. When it came to compensation, Kelleher chose to take less in cash salary and more stock options. This approach helped considerably with the Southwest labor force (where the CEO was not receiving an exorbitant level of pay) and made him a billionaire two-and-a-half times over. He claims to have been a “flamboyant marketer but was fiscally conservative.” His shrewd financial prowess put Southwest on a path to profitability that is unmatched by any other airline – and few public companies in any industry. Since 1973, the company has been profitable every single year.

For decades, the culture at Southwest Airlines has been studied under a microscope by business schools and business leaders. It’s safe to say that Kelleher defined and sustained that culture for the 20 years he was the CEO and even after he retired in 2001 (he remained chairman of the board until 2008). He spent an enormous amount of time talking to employees and gaining understanding for what was working and what needed to be fixed. He loaded baggage onto planes every Thanksgiving Day; met technicians at 2:00 AM in a maintenance hangar; visited operators at reservation centers and spent time as a gate agent. According to Terry Maxon, in a 2015 article for the Dallas News, Kelleher dressed up like Elvis Presley, a woman, the Easter bunny, a leprechaun and a flight attendant to promote Southwest. Maxon went on to explain the corporate culture was that of a 1) scrappy underdog to the public; 2) fierce warrior to its competitors, and 3) warm, supportive and protective atmosphere for the employees.

Herb Kelleher was a larger-than-life model for us as entrepreneurs to emulate. He had all the requisite entrepreneurial traits – vision, tenacity, resilience, marketing skills, financial acumen, a cultural leader and a genuine love for people. Above all he had a passion for life. They broke the mold when Herb Kelleher left this planet. R.I.P.

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 –

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 100,000-Foot Entrepreneur

Here’s the typical day for an entrepreneur I know. He arrives at the office and boots up his laptop. The first step is to check e-mail. There are a number to delete and a few that are read but left in the In-Box. Several responses are prepared and sent and one or two responses are started but saved and remain unsent. Then it’s time to check out the news at one of several news websites. This may be followed by a stop on Facebook and perhaps a scroll through a number of tweets on Twitter. Then, someone pops into his office for a conversation that lasts ten minutes or so. He then dives into a perplexing HR situation that seems to have taken a life of its own. Then there may be some time spent reviewing the previous month’s financial statement; a quick trip to the restroom; time in the hallway chatting with several members of his team; fielding a phone call and returning others, and preparing remarks that he is going to make at a lunch meeting. Before he knows it, half the morning is gone.

I’ll bet this sort of morning sounds familiar. I’ve had many just like it myself. But did you notice what’s missing? What high-yielding opportunity was identified by our entrepreneur for his urgent and immediate focus? I completely understand that we have a business to run on a day-to-day basis, and what was previously described accomplished just that. However, perhaps a closer look is needed to see how this entrepreneur could operate differently – and more effectively.

I used the term “high-yielding opportunity,” but exactly what does that mean? Here’s what I’ve learned over the years. I spent way too much time in the past with “busy” work. Sure, it needed to be done, but was I the best person to do it? Or maybe I should handle it, but it deserved to be less of a priority. While it may seem obvious, as entrepreneurs we should regularly ask the question, “What’s the best use of our time?” After all, the time we have is finite and we’ll never get it back when we squander it. So, our organization is best served when we start our day tackling the really big initiatives – initiatives that may generate significant revenues or profits; initiatives that are highly strategic in nature; initiatives that will have a major positive impact for our team or our customers, and initiatives for which we are best suited to prosecute.

Here’s another way to look at this question. At what altitude are you flying? Are you cruising along at 500-feet and down in the weeds all the time? Maybe you’re at 10,000-feet or even 30,000-feet. But wouldn’t it be amazing to stay at 100,000-feet most of the time? For me, 100,000-feet means identifying and working with large-dollar investors that will help fund our apartment acquisition program. It means collaborating with our acquisitions and development teams to refine their respective strategies that are creating the scale we wish to achieve. It means maintaining a constant awareness of the macroeconomic aspects of our industry and determining how our strategies are designed to exploit opportunities in the marketplace. It also means offering innovative ideas to our management team that will move the needle to better serve our customers. And it means developing a holistic view of our culture and spotting potential problem areas that can be addressed before they turn into raging fires.

Each entrepreneur needs to decide what flying at 100,000-feet means for him or her. A great place to start is with the organization’s vision. I like to test what I’m doing against our vision. If I have ten things on my plate, I’m going to pick the top three that are going to make the most difference in contributing to reaching this vision. And it could be a while before items #9 and #10 are addressed at which point I may eventually figure out who else might be in a better position to handle them in a more timely fashion. My goal is to work on high-yielding initiatives 60 – 75% of the time. I don’t always succeed – it’s easy to get drawn into major time-sucks that don’t add real value – but I’ve become more consistently aware of how I spend my time and now course-correct more easily.

We entrepreneurs can become adept at focusing on high-yielding initiatives if we understand our vision and choose what we do in terms of achieving that vision. Ultimately, understanding how to fly at 100,000-feet is one of the important aspects of leading our organizations.

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 125 – Marauders.

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 “Fired” Entrepreneur

Nathan is an entrepreneur who started a medical device company four years ago. The enterprise is really beginning to scale with 47 employees and top-line revenues that exceed $10 million. His gross margin is steadily improving and serious profitability is within sight. With all of his success however, Nathan is finding each day to be more and more frustrating. He is pushed and pulled in many directions and is constantly being hounded by members of his team to make a myriad of decisions. He worries about whether things are beginning to spin out of control, and the go-go nature of his organization is beginning to take its toll.

What Nathan is experiencing is very common for entrepreneurs with companies at this stage of growth. Often, Nathan finds himself enmeshed in the tiniest of details. While it may be satisfying for him to have such a thorough understanding of every aspect of his business, something in the back of his mind tells him that this practice is not sustainable. In the final diagnosis Nathan is spending too much time working IN his business and not enough working ON it.

I know many entrepreneurs who suffer this condition. I’ve certainly been there myself. We reach a degree of early success in our business by paying close attention to detail. Our focus is laser-like. All of this becomes one of our primary points of differentiation. But maintaining this level of focus on tactics and granularity does not allow us to scale if we continue to be in the center of it all. By the time we are starting to scale on a regular and significant basis, our energies need to shift toward becoming more strategic – that is, working ON our business. Many entrepreneurs want to lead by example. They are proud of the fact that they can go onto the plant floor and operate a machine that produces a thingamajig. In Nathan’s case, he considers it a badge of honor that he has the uncanny ability to design a state-of-the-art medical device from start-to-finish.

Here’s the problem with Nathan’s approach. He may be sending a signal to his team that they are inadequate as product designers even though this may not be true. The team may also develop a tendency to sit back and wait for Nathan to “make his move.” They are thinking, “Why bother, Nathan is going to jump in any way!” Further, there are other pressing issues that Nathan may be leaving unattended – or he may be intentionally avoiding them altogether. Eventually the lack of strategic direction will trap the company in a perpetual state of go-go where everyone feels as though they are on an endless hamster wheel and not getting anywhere.

So what exactly does working ON the business mean? For Nathan, he needs to create a clear vision for his enterprise and communicate it in an understandable fashion to all 47 of his team members. He needs to work with his senior leaders to establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that he monitors collaboratively with them. Nathan needs to have a deep understanding of his industry, its trends and how he should tweak and refine his operation to take advantage of this knowledge. He will also work with his senior team to develop specific strategies that are designed to deliver on his multi-year vision. Perhaps he’ll call on different customers periodically to learn more about what they think of his company and the products it provides. Nathan should “fly” between 50,000 and 100,000 feet most of the time. But there may be special situations where he swoops down to 500 feet to verify something he’s been told or to share domain expertise for training purposes.

I’ve known (and mentored) entrepreneurs who simply don’t want to move to a model of spending 75% or more of their time working ON their business. Working IN their business is where their heart is and where they are most comfortable. Not only that, they are really, really good at what they do. My advice has been to “fire” themselves from their CEO roles and hire someone to handle this function. When they finally get past their ego, they realize that they still own the business and make the final decisions. In Nathan’s case, if he’s truly a superstar medical device designer – and if this is where his passion lies – he’ll be happier (and richer) by hiring someone to work ON his business while he works IN it.

Spending the majority of our time working ON our business will yield positive results. But if doing so isn’t appealing, we should look in the mirror and say, “You’re fired!” Then we can hire a professional to handle this important function and devote our time and energy to that which we do best.

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 12 – Second Place.

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.

Mickey Mouse’s Father – An Amazing Entrepreneur

I recently re-read a terrific biography by Bob Thomas called Walt Disney: An American Original. Thomas was a reporter and biographer who authored multiple biographies focusing on Hollywood celebrities. The Disney story is fascinating and is packed with incredible entrepreneurial anecdotes. As a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, I watched Walt Disney Presents and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on ABC and NBC. I remember attending the Disney movie Babes in Toyland in early 1962 at the local theater. And then of course there was Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in 1964. The pièce de résistance was a visit to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, with my family. Of course as a boy I had no idea what entrepreneurship was all about.

Roll the tape forward several decades and I find myself in awe of this amazing man. He epitomizes so many positive traits of a successful entrepreneur. For starters, he was one of the most optimistic individuals I’ve ever studied. Walt Disney was born in 1901 and began his career at age 18, and in the 1920s moved to California and launched Disney Studios with his older brother, Roy. The early days were lean – sometimes very lean. There were many weeks when the Disneys were scrounging for enough money to make the payroll. Roy took this very seriously and fretted considerably over their plight. But Walt was the eternal optimist. He would smile and say he never worried about money. He believed they would always figure out a way to survive. And he was right! Somehow the studio inevitably pulled a rabbit out of a hat and came up with the cash. Without Walt’s optimism and positive mindset, there would be no Disney legend that we know today.

Walt understood grit and perseverance better than anyone else. The Disney organization was just starting to come into its own when the Great Depression came crashing down upon the country. And yet Walt continued fine tuning his craft and creating cartoons that were well received by theater audiences everywhere. His optimism fueled this perseverance and every time he was knocked down, he was able to pick himself up, dust himself off and go back at it. This resilience combined with perseverance and a positive attitude was the key to surviving the dark days of the 1930s.

Creativity was another Disney hallmark. Walt got the idea to create a feature-length animated movie and introduced the world to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. No one in the film industry had every produced a feature-length animated movie and everyone doubted that such a production could succeed. Walt Disney proved the skeptics wrong and followed with additional masterpieces such as Pinnochio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942). When World War II took away many of his talented animators, he made movies under a contract with the federal government. While not nearly as profitable, the Disney organization was able to endure the war and remain in business. Walt’s creativity and ability to adapt to his circumstances were more entrepreneurial characteristics that led to his success.

He was a true visionary in every sense of the word. After succeeding with motion pictures, Walt foresaw the opportunity to create an amusement park that embodied the magic he had been delivering through his animated films. I can still remember that trip to Disneyland when I was five or six years old. I was overwhelmed by such an amazing experience. After Disneyland came his ideas for Disney World and Epcot in central Florida. Unfortunately, Walt Disney died from lung cancer in 1966 at the age of 65. The tragedy of this was the fact that he never witnessed the finished product of the Florida projects.

Walt was obsessed with detail and would often snoop after hours and look at the animator boards to see what his team was producing. Often the animators would arrive the next morning to find notes from Walt suggesting changes that would improve their work – and he was usually right about what he wanted. He demanded the highest level of quality for everything that bore the Disney brand. This was one of the major differentiators that enabled the Disney organization to consistently outpace the competition.

We entrepreneurs would be well-served to use Walt Disney as a role model. Wrapped into a single human being are the entrepreneurial traits of optimism and positivity; grit, perseverance and resilience; adaptability; creativity; vision; attention to detail and demand for quality. The impact he has had on our culture is indelible. The impact he has had in blazing a trail for entrepreneurs is profound.

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 114 – Exactly What is Accountability?

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.