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The Intelligent Entrepreneur

The Intelligent Entrepreneur

I was recently told, “You must be stupid to be an entrepreneur in this economy!” I would say, if you aren’t an intelligent entrepreneur, then yes, you would be stupid to be an entrepreneur in this economy. Succeeding in business takes smarts, both intellectual and emotional intelligence. I believe that the right entrepreneur can succeed in any type of economic times.

I follow many different business writers on their blogs. It is no secret, I love to read Seth Godin. However, I also love to read the posts of Marc Cenedella, CEO of In his most recent post he spoke about “The Intelligent Entrepreneur”, a new book out from author Bill Murphy. In the book, Murphy distills 10 rules of successful entrepreneurship from the stories of several Harvard Business School graduates.

Much of Cenedella’s post is below:

As I read through the stories, and looked at Bill’s rules, it struck me that there are similarities between the successful entrepreneur and the successful job-seeker. You’re both trying to create something new — a new company or a new position for yourself. You’re both faced with the emotional challenges that go with any new endeavor. There are plenty of setbacks along the way in starting a company and getting a job. And success is dependent on sticking to it and seeing it through.

So with that in mind, I thought I’d share five of Bill’s 10 rules with you and show how they apply to your job search.

#2 Find a problem, then solve it.

It’s not enough in the 21st century to simply describe yourself to future employers as “I’m a finance guy” or “I’m a saleswoman.” Particularly in this difficult economic environment, you need to let your future boss know what kind of problem you can solve for him or her. So be specific about what you bring to the table: “I’m a finance professional who specializes in Sarbanes-Oxley and really enjoys working with internationally headquartered companies to meet American regulatory requirements” or “I’m a sales professional who loves working with biotech start-ups as they go from pre-revenue to $10 mm in sales.”

Find a problem, and then let your future boss know how you will solve it.

#4 You can’t do it alone.

The job search can be a lonely endeavor and you can’t possibly make it alone. You’ll need the support of your family and friends, and being honest with them about the trials and tribulations you’re experiencing is an important part of your emotional well-being during the search. You’ll also need to rely on your colleagues and contacts, and have them on the lookout for you during your job search. (See my advice last week on this topic: “Ask for a reference, not a job.”)

Enlisting the aid of the people you know for support, advice, and connections is the way to your next great job.

#5 You must do it alone.

But as much as you’ll need to rely on family, friends and colleagues, it is ultimately going to depend on you. You’ll need to make the calls, you’ll need to do the follow-up, and you’ll need to be prepared for the interviews. When it’s 10:17 a.m. on Tuesday morning and you’re staring at the phone thinking about making that follow-up call, it’s up to you, and you alone, to pick up the phone and dial the digits. Nobody else can do it for you.

Understanding that you’ll need to make the commitment, set aside the appropriate amount of time, and then fight through our natural tendency to procrastination, is key to your success.

#8 Learn to sell.

Take your annual earnings and multiply by five. That’s the value of the product you are selling — the next five years of your labor. It’s the most important sales job you’re going to have, and you need to learn how to sell. You need to qualify the buyer — make sure they need an expensive product like you — and then explain to them the benefits they’ll get by purchasing — how you’ll help solve the problems they’re facing in their business.

Too often we can allow ourselves to slip into focusing on what I need out of the job hunt. You have to remember that it’s not about you, it’s about what your future employer needs. And you need to sell them on how you fulfill those needs better than any other candidate.

#9 Persist, persevere, prevail.

The job hunt is filled with twists and turns — moments of hope and days of despair. That’s normal. Even the most successful, polished, high-priced executives and professionals that we work with here at TheLadders have those weeks when the phone is not ringing, emails go unanswered, and the creeping doubts seem to loom larger.

It’s all part of the job-seeking process, and in order to be successful, you’ll need to overcome those difficulties. It is only persistence and perseverance that will see you through the bad days and the tough interviews. Anybody who has started a company, and everybody who goes through the job search, experience tough times. Stick to it, know that you are valuable, and you will make it through to success!

To learn the other five rules of successful entrepreneurship, I’d recommend you go pick up “The Intelligent Entrepreneur” today.

Level 5 Leadership

Level 5 Leadership

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Building a Smarter Team.

A smart team starts with its leader. If a team is failing, you typically have to look no further than its leader. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins believes the top leadership level a person can achieve is what he calls Level 5 Leadership.

“Level 5 refers to a five-level hierarchy of executive capabilities, with Level 5 at the top. Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves.”

One of the most advantageous aspects of writing about leadership and team building is how much I continue to learn about myself. As I analyze myself compared to the great leaders that researchers study, I am not sure if I am more like the bumbling self-absorbed Michael Scott from NBC’s the office or if I have a shot at becoming a Darwin Smith of Kimberly-Clark who turned a failing company into a Wall Street darling. Will I be Michael and buy myself a coffee mug declaring myself the “World’s Best Boss,” or will I be ferociously dedicated to my companies’ success with the humility of Smith when he said, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job”?

As Collins writes, “Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious-but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”

A couple of years ago I spoke to a person who had taken over a flailing company. I was excited about her vision for the company and how she intended on motivating its depressed sales force and confused employees. I was impressed with the plan, it was innovative and superbly thought out. However, I became disheartened in the future of her plan when she told me, “Besides, if it fails, I will make a nice stack of cash trying.” Ouch.

In a fast-food world, we are applying principles of convenient and disposable to our careers and our companies. Often times jobs are looked at as simply a stepping stone to pad the resume for the next big thing. No wonder our teams are uninspired and transient.

Good to Great found that Level 4 leaders often put their ambition and legacy ahead of the business. “In over three quarters of the comparison companies (underperforming companies), we found executives who set their successors up for failure or chose weak successors, or both.” How many people are truly more concerned about their legacy instead of the true health of the company? How many business Pharaohs are more concerned about building their personal Sphinx that will last longer than the kingdom?

Building a smarter team is not easy. Becoming a Level 5 leader is even harder. Something I do know, it is imperative that we take the attitude of Darwin Smith and constantly try to learn our position better. The minute you think you have it all figured out is when your foundation will begin to crumble.

Know Thyself, Are you Emotionally Intelligent?

Know Thyself, Are you Emotionally Intelligent?

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Building a Smarter Team.

If you want to be an effective leader, you better be emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence has very little to do with your IQ. According to his article in the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman says that a person with the best training in the world, an incisive and analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas won’t make a good leader without emotional intelligence.

Goleman studied successful leaders throughout business to understand the amount of technical skills, IQ and emotional intelligence they had as ingredients to excellent performance. He found that the ratio of emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as the others for top positions in business.

So what is emotional intelligence? It starts with self-awareness, which can be difficult for many people. It is the age-old advice to “know thyself”. Goleman says that it is “having a deep understanding of ones emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. People with strong self-awareness are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Rather, they are honest – with themselves and others.”

I recently read an article about Boise State football coach, Chris Petersen. Living in Boise and having attended BSU, I follow his success with admiration and awe. I find it astounding that Coach Pete has built upon the success of his predecessors in such a grand manor that the Broncos are consistently one of the country’s top football teams. Whether you like the Broncos or not, you must admit that what Petersen has done is incredibly impressive.  With an entire football budget that equals just the salary of other top coaches, Petersen has created a juggernaut that inspires love and hate from around the country. Pretty impressive for a team that did not even compete at Division I level 15 years ago.

In the article about Coach Petersen, we can learn a lot about his emotional intelligence:

“His football IQ has been much discussed during the Broncos’ ascension over the past few years, but Petersen’s emotional intelligence — his ability to relate to and connect with others — also seems to be off the charts.

This coach is as good at listening as talking. Maybe better.”

Coach Petersen empowers his people and takes the time to teach them. He teaches leadership and life principles, not just football. He has taken players that larger schools have rejected and turned them into an elite machine. Whether or not the football powers that be will ever find it in themselves to give BSU a shot a national championship is not up to Coach Pete, but under his leadership and cultivation of emotional intelligence there are few teams that would want to face his squad of formerly lovable underdogs.

In my next posts I will discuss looking for emotional intelligence in your people.

Are You a Leader?

Are You a Leader?

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Building a Smarter Team.

Every entrepreneur knows a story about an apparent superstar who seems to have all the traits of your next team leader, but never seems to pan out. Every entrepreneur also knows a story about a person that seemed average in every way and turns out to be an incredible producer.

Predicting a team member’s success in business or sales is an inexact science at best. It can be difficult to determine who will have it what it takes and who will not. In a Harvard Business Review article by author Daniel Goleman, he says, “…identifying individuals with the “right stuff” to be leaders is more art than science. After all, the personal styles of superb leaders vary: some leaders are subdued and analytical; others shout their manifesto from the mountaintops. And just as important, different situations call for different types of leadership. Most mergers need a sensitive negotiator at the helm, whereas many turnarounds require a more forceful authority.”

In his article, Goleman tries to determine what traits a leader has to help identify them within your organization, but he emphasizes that, “Effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of emotional intelligence.”

In the coming days I will explore more of what Goleman and others have to say about identifying leaders. Although it is hard to put a checklist together, I believe it is possible to start improving how to find the right people who qualify to lead others.

Smart Leaders Give Freedom

Smart Leaders Give Freedom

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Building a Smarter Team.

Business is not easy. You can’t get too cocky with your victories because a lump on the head is right around the corner. You can’t get too down with a defeat because a win is coming. However, defeats can become too frequent and cause you to spiral downward if you do not learn to enable the right people and let go of the wrong people.

My current business has been profitable from day one, but our revenue goals are much greater than what we are currently experiencing.  I believe that to achieve the lofty aspirations we currently desire, we must have the right people on our team. Unfortunately that means making some difficult decisions concerning personnel. Finding the right people and releasing the wrong people is something that has been difficult for me, because I have never wanted to hurt my people. However, as I have become a better manager that insists on accountability and performance, I have realized that keeping the wrong person on my team is not helping them or me. It is far better to release them and hope they will learn for their next venture or find an environment that better suits their skills. (Releasing a team member in Direct Sales may be as simple as moving on to another, more motivated person. I do not encourage removing them from your team, but instead, refocusing attention to someone else.)

Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, says great companies, “don’t “motivate” people—their people are self-motivated. There’s no evidence of a connection between money and change mastery. And fear doesn’t drive change—but it does perpetuate mediocrity.” Concerning change within an organization, he says, “…dramatic results do not come from dramatic process—not if you want them to last, anyway. A serious revolution, one that feels like a revolution to those going through it, is highly unlikely to bring about a sustainable leap from being good to being great.”

Collins says that leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” Collins compares a company to a bus and filling the seats with people. He says that companies should start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.

You should find the right people who can be motivated by excellence and are excited to make your business better. These people don’t work just for more money, but they work first for the satisfaction of accomplishment and the ability to be creative. Although this may seem obvious, few businesses make the right personnel decisions. Many so called leaders say they want self-motivated people who will work for the betterment of the business, but in reality, many business people have too fragile of egos to have a team member have a contrasting opinion. They are really looking for obedience to their word, not creativity and independence.

When you find the right people and release the wrong people, freedom to work within creative boundaries, and giving your people the freedom to make choices can be a very powerful tool. Freedom of choice is inherent in the spirit of man. Without waxing too political or religious, the agency to choose is our inherited and inalienable right. When your business reaches the point where your leaders are free to make creative choices within a mutually desired direction, greatness erupts. I believe in this and I am becoming more and more vigilant of this within my own company. I am confident it will take us from profitability to greatness.

The world’s greatest leaders have based their leadership on the principle of freedom or agency. Although poor decisions have consequences, such as loss of trust or dismissal from a team, the best leaders do not advocate forcing anybody to follow. They invite others to join them through living what they are preaching.

It is the responsibility of your team members to choose their own path to success.  You cannot force your path to success upon anyone. You will find that by concentrating on rewarding those who produce and releasing those who don’t, your business will achieve levels never possible with the wrong people.