March 27, 2013

3 Things I've Learned as an Entrepreneur

Ever since I was in high school I wanted to have my own business. Maybe it came from seeing my parents as business owners or it could have been my bent toward leading.

Since I made the leap in 2007 (without any prior experience) it's been challenging, but I've learned so much over the past 6 years. 

I couldn't share everything in a single post, so instead here are the 3 things that stand out: 
It's much harder than I thought. There's truth behind the fact that most businesses fail. If you think owning a business is going to be easier and immediately more profitable than working for someone else, you're wrong. You don't work 9 to 5 anymore, you work beyond that. There's no guaranteed paycheck arriving each month. If you don't have customers, you don't earn income. With infinite freedom comes a need to buckle down and become extremely disciplined and structured.

Sales and marketing are necessary skills. It would be nice to delegate sales and marketing out, but without a budget it falls on you. Regardless if you have a product or service based company, selling determines whether you have a business or a glorified "hobby." You may not be a natural salesperson at heart, but you'll have to quickly figure out how to become one if you want to survive. If I could go back to college, I would have majored in business just because of this reason alone.

You are a jack of all trades. If you start with the appropriate funds you may have the luxury of not doing everything, but at the very least you'll have to know about every aspect of your business. It's important to be a specialist at what you do, but in terms of running a business you have to be a pretty stellar generalist also. Think of every department most companies have, now as a business owner you're the head of every one! This is beyond multitasking, it's learning how to run a company while on the job. 

The best parallel to being an entrepreneur is like being a parent. You can talk, read and research all you want about it ahead of time, but NOTHING can prepare you for it besides doing it. Books, articles and blogs do a nice job of highlighting the less than 1% of success stories out there, but the reality is owning a business is like raising a child. Each child is different, so just because a particular method worked for someone else, doesn't mean it will work for you. I'm not trying to discourage you from starting your own business. In fact, I believe our future economy will force everyone to function as entrepreneurs at some point in their lifetime. If your dream is to open your own business, know ahead of time making that dream a sustaining reality is hard work.

March 20, 2013

5 Common Traits of Greatness

Guest Post by Charles Lee

At a recent speaking engagement for a private company, I had the privilege of listening to innovative leaders like Phil Jackson (former NBA player & coach), Tony Blair (former Prime Minister of Great Britain), Elon Musk (Founder of SpaceX; Co-Founder of PayPal & Tesla Motors), Whurley (Chaotic Moon), Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), Salman Khan (Khan Academy), and many others.
All of the presenters are thought leaders in their respective spaces and took time to share their latest thoughts on the future. While listening to them, I started to note some of the characteristics or traits that all of them shared in the way they approached life and work. Here’s a brief synopsis of what I saw in each of their lives that have allowed them to become great at what they do:

Passion & Purpose Before Profit – The biggest drive for these individuals was their passion and the “why” (or purpose) behind what they were pursuing. While I’m sure that financial profitability through their endeavors does spur them on further, it’s not the main motivator. They are idea people who think they have something to offer the world.

Self-Awareness – All of them possessed a keen sense of self-awareness. They knew who they were and what they did and did not know. They were quick to point out their need for others in working towards their goals. They are smart enough to know that they didn’t have a monopoly on knowledge. All of them also appear to be avid learners and consumers of good thinking and teamwork.

Focused on a Few Things – Becoming the best in the world in something is incredibly difficult. All of these leaders directly or indirectly communicated the hard work required to stay focused on their endeavors. Many of them intentionally resisted the distractions that came along with their success. They all appear to have no problem saying no to opportunities that don’t resonate with their core.

Work is Not Something to Complain About - Hard work is inevitable for implementing any great idea. While it’s become common practice for many in our day to express displeasure in one’s “job”, all of these leaders embraced a contrary attitude. Working on their passions took away most of their need to complain. They love what they do and appear to thorough enough the process even when it’s difficult.

Invest in Culture & People - These leaders emphasized the need to build culture and people around ideas. While strategy is important, people ultimately determine the success of an idea. Developing a great culture for people to work in is essential to long-term growth and creation of something that actually matters. Spend time developing people as much as you’re developing your ideas as a leader.

I hope to unpack some of these thoughts a little bit further in the upcoming months. I’m still processing how these traits can be practically integrated into the life of any company or organization. Yes, still in progress…

March 13, 2013

When Leading Do the Opposite of This

Rarely do I use a negative example to illustrate my point, but in this case you can learn how to lead by doing the opposite of Mike D'Antoni.

Currently (unfortunately) he is the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and from the perspective of a die hard fan, this is the most underwhelming season I've ever witnessed.

Using him as an example, here are 5 ways to become a better leader by avoiding his mistakes:
1) Lack of direction - In sports, I've never seen someone change their lineups as much as Mike D'Antoni. One game a player will start the game and the next game he never plays at all. When roles aren't clearly defined, people get confused. 

Leaders need a clear vision that people can follow. Once the goal has been decided and your team has bought into it, stick with it. Results follow when there is a clear plan. "Without vision, people perish."

2) Poor relationships - When Mike D'Antoni got hired, one of the first things he did was force his system on the players instead of creating a system around the talent on the team. He rubbed a lot of veteran players the wrong way right off the bat. Just because you're the leader doesn't automatically mean people want to follow you. 

Leaders build rapport and eventually trust with people by asking them for input and listening to their goals. Engagement is a result of feeling appreciated, valued and heard. Engaged people perform better.

3) Passive-Aggressive - Every chance D'Antoni has to complain to the media he does. He consistently blames his players and drags them under the bus without hesitation. It seems like he'd rather vent about his players than actually talk to them. He deals with conflict by ignoring it. 

Leaders communicate directly with the person. Conflict is inevitable and unless confronted, it lingers and builds up. As a leader, be the bigger person and talk about what's wrong. When you resolve conflict and move on everyone wins. 

4) Emotional roller coaster - D'Antoni loves to overreact and blow things out of proportion. He loves to identify problems, but rarely has any solutions. Since he is so moody, it has a negative effect on the team. Players think it's acceptable to point the finger instead of taking ownership for areas they can improve upon. 

Leaders need to be a calming presence. If you want to be a leader, it's more important that you "show" your team before you "tell" them anything. People observe and follow the leader's example. 

5) Stubborn - D'Antoni has to be the most closed-minded coach around. No matter how many analysts, players or experts point out the flaws in his philosophy, he continues to repeat them expecting different results (that's called insanity folks). Once you stop learning as a leader, it's all downhill from there. 

Leaders need to be open to suggestions. That doesn't mean you do what everyone says, it means consider all options, then choose the best one. A humble leader knows there is always more to learn, so he stays flexible and agile, almost re-inventing himself over time. 

Having leadership positions over the past 15+ years and being a huge sports fanatic, coaches have the single most influence on a team's outlook. Since coaches are leaders, they have the ability to bring out the best in people's performance and character. It is a privilege to lead people and "with great power comes great responsibility." As a leader, focus more on the "we" than the "me" and you'll accomplish great things together.  

March 6, 2013

The Downside to Knowing What You're Great At

Guest Post by Ben Arment

I'm a huge proponent of the idea that you are the BEST in the world at ONE thing. It's more niche than you realize. In fact, the practice of it probably doesn't exist right now. You'll miss it if you keep trying to fill conventional roles.
But when you finally figure it out, it will change your life. You'll never apply for another job again. When people think of your craft, your name will immediately come to mind. You will OWN a category. You will become the benchmark.

There's a downside, however, to finding your great gift to the world.

It's that you have to acknowledge that you're not any good at the other stuff.

When I quit my PREVIOUS occupation, I had a two-year funeral for myself because I had spent the past 10 years training for it and striving at it.

I had to finally admit that it wasn't working. And there was nothing flippant about that realization. It tore my soul out. I experienced an identity crisis.

The hard truth is this - you have to start with what you're NOT good at in order to find out what you ARE great at. And for this, you only need to look around.

Is there fruit on the branches?

If you say you want to be a leader, are people following you?
If you say you want to be a writer, do people clamor to read your stuff?
If you say you want to be a speaker, do they flock to listen to you now?

I fear that - even in writing those questions - we will find another way to deceive ourselves with the answer. We'll spin it to accommodate our current aspirations.

(If you're starting to become defensive about a particular desire, pay attention to it. You might be onto something.)

As you seek your ONE great thing, be prepared to bear the weight of grief. It's no easy thing to put aside what you've spent years pursuing.

But when you find it, it will be worth it. For there is nothing better than expressing what you were designed to do.