The Opportunity-Juggling Entrepreneur

Are you a juggler? Or do you like to focus on one thing at a time? This is the classic conundrum for an entrepreneur. True confession. My personality is such that I could become easily bored if forced to focus on only one thing. I flourish when I am juggling 67 balls and trying to keep every single one of them in the air. There are times when juggling is not only useful but necessary. And there are times when intense focus is mandatory. Mind you, I can focus like a laser when I absolutely must. But I do not really like to do this day-in and day-out.

In the start-up world, venture capitalists often advise entrepreneurial founders to focus on a single product or service. This is generally sound advice. Too often, founders “flit” all over the place with a million ideas and are masters of none. I understand this. At the earliest stages of the corporate lifecycle, we are searching to find the right product; the right features; and the right market. As a result, we may tend to cast a wide net over many products, many features, and many markets, looking for the right combination in the process. And so, the juggling act begins.

There is a fine line between juggling to fine-tune a product or service and juggling a panoply of unrelated ideas that we think are opportunities. One of our business units is focused on acquiring market-rate apartment properties across the country. This product set has been painstakingly refined and our team is very disciplined within the parameters that have been established. This strategy calls for purchasing properties of 200 to 600-units, built in the 1980s to 2000s, and located in larger markets in the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest. I am very supportive of this approach. A couple years ago I suggested that we purchase some smaller properties in the same markets for a different group of investors wishing to write smaller equity checks. Fortunately, our team knows my proclivities and accommodated my suggestion. I think they would prefer to maintain their focus on the larger properties. But they understand that this second product set provides some diversification as well as some operating efficiencies. Needless to say, this additional strategy has caused a certain amount of juggling to accomplish.

Many of the great companies have started with a single product. Amazon sold only books in the early days. One could order hard copy books and eventually digital books that could be read on Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle. It was years before Amazon began juggling in the sale of other products. Apple did the same thing with a personal computer. Again, it was years before they started selling MP3 players, phones, and other electronic devices. Somewhere along the line these companies had to begin juggling in a more robust manner. What was the inflection point? If you are an entrepreneur, have you found the inflection point where juggling more opportunities is appropriate and perhaps even necessary?

Working within a team structure is critical to discovering the right time to begin juggling more and more opportunities. Debating and discussing a multitude of ideas is healthy and will lead to the right decision. One thing I appreciate about our team is the fact that while willing to juggle, they will say “no” to opportunities they do not believe are productive. They test each idea and opportunity against our corporate vision and mission. This is the most important factor of all. Earlier in my career I grabbed at everything. That was before our vision and mission was clear. It is much easier now to juggle while still remaining focused when understanding which opportunities are truly a fit.

As entrepreneurs we are destined to juggle. But we must know when to be singularly focused and when to look at many ideas and opportunities. Using a team approach to make these decisions and testing each idea and opportunity against the corporate vision and mission is the ticket to success.

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 Visionary Entrepreneur

Here is a fundamental question for all entrepreneurs. Are you a visionary? Being a visionary and having a corporate vision are two different things, so take care not to confuse the two. For a company, a non-profit or any other organization to thrive and succeed over a long period of time, visionary leadership is paramount. And unfortunately, many companies stagnate and die when the visionary leader moves on for whatever reason. That is why it is crucial for a company to continuously develop visionaries across generations that will help to sustain the organization in the future.

It is not hard to think about individuals who exemplify the term “visionary.” Steve Jobs comes to my mind before anyone else. He was a rebel and an unconventional thinker who was not afraid to take risks. Similarly, Bill Gates was a visionary who became the richest man in the world because of his ability to understand and shape the future. What comes to mind when you hear these names – Henry Ford, Wilbur and Orville Wright, John D.  Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Sam Walton, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg? Each was a phenomenal innovator. Each had an uncanny sense of where the world was going. Each had dreams but was also a doer.

Being a visionary is partially innate and partially learned. So, what can we do to develop our visionary leadership skills? How curious are you? Do you read everything you can get your hands on? Visionaries are expansive readers and are curious about everything. Curiosity stimulates the imagination and helps bring forth new ideas manifesting in a high degree of creativity. How persevering are you? The next time you are ready to throw in the towel remember that visionaries have a stick-to-it attitude. They are highly resilient and believe they can solve any problem. Visionaries love discussion and debate. Some may see this as confrontational, but it really is not. Instead, a visionary listens to differing points of view even when it gets a bit lively.

What other ways can we model visionary behavior? Do you embrace change or are you more comfortable living with doing things the same way? Visionaries are change agents. They like to teach and are focused on doing the right thing. Integrity ranks high on their list of values. Do you have high expectations for your team? Sometimes the line between high vs. unreasonable expectations can blur a bit. But do not expect a visionary to set a low bar. Visionaries tend to be eternal optimists and cannot see a glass half empty – it is always half full or even more. And visionaries are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. Finally, visionaries do not live in the details – they are quintessential delegators.

A visionary has a knack for looking at a collection of data and telling the future. He or she sees things that others do not and is not the least bit concerned if his or her ideas are pooh-poohed. In fact, visionaries will work hard to persuade others to buy into what they believe because they have a supreme degree of self-confidence.

By emulating their behaviors, traits, and tendencies, we too can become visionaries. Our value to our organization increases exponentially when we provide visionary leadership.

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 “On It” Entrepreneur

I have the good fortune to regularly mentor several amazing entrepreneurs. One question I frequently ask is, “how much time do you spend working on your business versus in your business?” A similar question is, “how much time do you spend working on strategy vs. tactics?” Usually the answer to both questions is, “not much.” The problem is easy to identify. Entrepreneurs find themselves sucked into the daily grind of firefighting and there is no time left to do much else.

So how do we focus on strategy and vision when the bullets are flying, and we are hunkered down in our foxholes? For starters, we need to examine exactly what it is that we are doing. As part of my mentoring process I inquire on specifically what an entrepreneur is spending his or her time. It is interesting to listen to the responses which often reflect the fact that entrepreneurs are handling things that really should not be their responsibility. Mostly this includes performing tasks for which others should be held accountable. And it is not just about the failure to delegate. Some entrepreneurs take the position that “if I want it done right, I need to do it myself.” Or “I really don’t have the time to show someone else how to do it – it’s more efficient for me to bang it out.”

To solve this, we need to understand what prevents us from delegating that which should be handled by others. Do we have the right people on the bus? Do we have enough people? Are the right people properly trained? Are we too high control? When I have experienced problems with delegation in the past it is usually been the result of not having the right people to whom I can delegate. Getting to the root cause of our inability to delegate is crucial. If we do not have the right people, what is more important than solving this problem? One of the nice things about having the right people on the team is the fact that they may not need as much training – bright, right people figure out a lot of things on their own.

How is an entrepreneur who has a very small team able to delegate effectively? In other words, he or she is a player/coach and is on the field for every single play. This is where blocking out specific amounts of time to plan and strategize can be invaluable. Perhaps this occurs every morning from 8:00 to 9:00 without fail. During that timeframe, the entrepreneur takes no phone calls or any other interruptions and refines the strategy for the enterprise, reviews key performance indicators and determines if the business is on track with respect to vision and mission. Then the entrepreneur suits up and runs out on the field with the rest of the team to face another day. I cannot emphasize enough how absolutely nothing can be allowed to disrupt this daily routine.

We can ill afford to procrastinate when it comes to working on our business because we are too busy working in our business. The more this happens the more likely it is that we will get caught on the hamster wheel. Around and around we go as fast as our legs will churn – but we are not making any headway. Why exert so much energy (and money) to end up right back where we started?

Learning how to delegate and hold others accountable will allow us to strategize and envision the future for our enterprise. And sequestering ourselves for a specified period of time every single day will enable that planning and visioning to happen.

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 “Paladin” Entrepreneur

I grew up in an age where the hero of the day was a cowboy or someone like Superman. I think my favorite was a character named Paladin played by Richard Boone in Have Gun Will Travel TV western series that ran from 1957 to 1963. Paladin wore a black hat, but he was definitely a good guy. He took care of the bad guys with his cunning and his fast gun. He wore a stoic expression and generally solved the problems he faced by himself. You never saw him flinch. There were no high fives; no fist bumps; no complaints, and he was always the gentleman. Many of us grew up idolizing macho heroes of this sort.

Paladin is a wonderful metaphor for today’s entrepreneur. How many of us take the “never let ‘em see you sweat” approach and soldier on to the finish line regardless of the obstacles we encounter? I know that I certainly have felt responsibility for the hundreds of employees and their families that are integral to the success of our companies. And as a result, there have been times when I have sacrificed mightily to make certain that my colleagues are safe and secure. After all, isn’t that what a leader is supposed to do?

We entrepreneurs often spend more time working in rather than on our businesses. I will stand at the head of the line to admit that in the past I handled things that others could have been doing because I a) wanted to set a good example, b) figured that I could get it done more quickly than showing someone else how to do it, or c) wanted it done properly. After a while I began to wonder why everyone stepped back and let me do these things not realizing that the example I was setting was encouraging people to believe that I would handle it! I suppose at the time that there was a feeling of indispensability on my part. I needed to be in the middle of things to pave the way to victory.

So, what did I learn following this path? I learned that no one saw me as “the hero.” They became reliant upon me and they also felt that I did not have confidence in them. Apathy became a real problem. The quality of work slipped because the “Lee will fix it – he fixes everything” syndrome was in full swing. I was burning out and not having as much fun as I had in the past.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that if I really care about my team members and their families – and I really do – the most important thing I can do for them is to create a sustainable organization. Companies where the founder or key principal micromanages everything and strangles everyone are doomed to die when the leader retires or dies. I cannot bear the thought of that happening to the people I have worked with for decades. My solution has been to develop a culture of empowerment and coaching. I now spend time helping my teammates learn how to fish as opposed to doing the fishing for them. It is my responsibility to hold the vision for our companies, but that has become a shared vision rather than just my vision. Delegation is a key element to sustainability and all team members now have clearly defined roles and accountabilities with training and resources devoted to helping them succeed.

Heroes come from the battlefield or burning buildings and not from the boardroom. Sharing responsibility is the best way to create a sustainable organization.

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 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.