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The Horrible Decision Maker

The Horrible Decision Maker

Some of the best business advice can come from the most absurd places. I must admit that watching the real news is depressing. Oil spills, nuclear disasters and Moammar Gadhafi do not make for an uplifting evening. The more serious life gets, the more I need the ridiculously sage words from sources such as Sigmund Marvin from What About Bob, “From all the horror in this world, what difference does it make?” (more…)

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 TheLadders.com. 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.

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.

Do You want Followers or Leaders?

Do You want Followers or Leaders?

Most businesses teach their people to be stupid. Yes, being stupid is actually encouraged. I have heard many people even say, “It does not matter if it works, only if it is duplicatable.” What? So if something is working for you and your unique personality, stop doing it because the next guy can’t copy what you are doing? It is time we get something straight, unless we focus on teaching leadership and thinking, we are teaching the people of our organization to be mindless followers, not productive leaders.

The great book Linchpin talks about how the robber baron millionaires from the early 20th century used uneducated people in their sweatshops to make themselves rich. Andrew Carnegie even decided that education caused violent strikes and hurt his business.  The robber barons decided about 100 years ago that if they wanted to be really really rich, they needed compliant uneducated factory workers.  Workers who will be productive and willing to work for less than the value that their productivity creates.  This system worked for a long time, but today, the factory system is breaking down, just ask General Motors.

Linchpin says that schools should teach two things:

  1. Solve Interesting problems
  2. Lead

Memorizing is what is taught in school today, not problem solving or leadership. The whole education system is based upon passing an exam, not creating leadership skills or decision-making abilities.

Leaders in direct sales organizations have been teaching their “factory” workers for years to say the same things, memorize little sayings and get together once a month for a shot of enthusiasm to keep them from quitting too early before they can sell them some more presentation tools or product.  Many entrepreneurs and members of direct sales organizations mock traditional education. Let me tell you, direct sales has a failing grade in real education too. It is time to start teaching our people to solve real problems and lead, not just memorize if we want to thrive in the new economy.

Times are changing my friends, we live in the new economy of an information age. Just teaching a budding sales person or field marketer to follow an easy presentation will not build that person into a leader. Entrepreneurs who are taught to memorize a certain pattern and copy it exactly are no better off in the long run, and neither is your business.  If you want to keep churning people, teach them to follow a set, non-thinking presentation. If you want to build a business that lasts, teach them to think.