Thursday, May 31, 2007

Posted Question: Favorite Quotes

The good humor and deep wisdom that is dispensed at Inner Circle meetings is worth capturing and revisiting occasionally. Where else would you hear a great tidbits like this? “Top line revenue is crack to an entrepreneur.” Share your own favorites.

What’s your favorite quote from an Inner Circle meeting?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Walking Off the Cliff

There are a lot of things they don’t tell you in business school about running your own business. Probably because they don’t want to scare you off.

There’s a lot of talk about needing to have marketing talent, financial savvy, an analytical mind and brilliant negotiation skills. What they don’t tell you is that most of all, you’re going to need a bottomless supply of courage.

When you start a company, if you’re like most, you feel like you’re walking off a cliff. You’re doing something you believe in, but that you’ve never done before. The unknown is scary, deep and, well, unknown. After a while, you get more comfortable as you successfully overcome obstacles and grow. Then, you hit a situation that is new — a transition to the next step of the business — like hiring a management team, opening a new location, or entering a new markets.

Then you realize, “walking off the cliff” the first time was only the beginning. There are many more stomach-in-your-throat moments to face.

Standing on the edge of a cliff, especially after you’ve survived the original leap, can be a very dangerous time. You might shy away from taking new risks because, unlike the situation at the beginning, you may have much more to lose now if you are wrong. Or, you know how to run the business as it is, but not how to run it as it will be.

Most companies cannot stay where they are; the force to grow is pulls at them like the tide pulls out the moon. So, the new “walk off the cliff” has to be taken at each transition point.

Author Barry J. Moltz sums it up in the title of his book, You Need to Be a Little Crazy: The Truth About Starting and Growing Your Own Business. He says, you not only need courage, you actually need to be a lunatic. “You need to be a lunatic who has a steadfast long-term belief in her vision — a lunatic who will try anything, ask anyone for everything, and see everyone as a source of help. You also need to be comfortable being alone in your beliefs because the only thing others will agree with you on is that you are indeed crazy.”

Only someone who is crazy, and courageous, and an occasional cliff jumper can survive the challenges and transitions that a business brings.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Stop Being Wilfull

So much exhaustion, pain and resentment can come from wishing things to be different than they are. You want your spouse to do things exactly as you think they should be done. You want your work/career to always follow a specifically defined path that you have created in your mind. You want your children or your employees to be a certain way, behave a certain way.

It is critical that you watch your attempts to will something to happen or to will someone to fit a specific mold of your design. This version of your will comes from your head. It does not come from a heart-connected vision. It’s an idea you made up in your mind; a way you think it should be. You are driving the idea willfully – “I’m in charge. It will happen according to my time line; according to the specific way I think it should be. I know my way is right.”

When effort enters it should become a big red alert with flashing lights that you are trying to push through an idea instead of following energy and flow. Willful is a push; following energy is a dance. Willful involves struggle, effort, and exhaustion. Following energy involves fun, grace and ease.

If you are expelling effort every day toward some ideal goal you have set, or toward having your spouse act according to your ideal plans, and it drains you, exhausts you, then each day can be a temperamental attack on your self and those you love. This willful push to direct your life is-self defeating and it doesn’t work.

Abraham Hicks says, “Tell everyone you know: ‘My happiness depends on me, so you’re off the hook.’ Then demonstrate it. Be happy, no matter what they are doing. Practice feeling good, no matter what. And before you know it, you will not give anyone else responsibility for the way you feel – and then, you’ll love them all. Because the only reason you don’t love them, is because you’re using them as your excuse to not feel good.”

When you find yourself efforting, it is important to change your focus to more energizing actions and behaviors, not should-do, exhausting, cranky-making chores. Give up control and find something to focus on that brings energy and flow into the moment. It can be anything that fires your heart, tickles your fancy, makes you laugh, and attracts flow into this moment.

Energetic flow equals joy. Willful struggle equals cranky. Your choice.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Flirting With Your Options

“Well, the good new is that I’ve hit bottom.” It was an ironic and honest way to start a conversation.

Facing some glum numbers in her business and, unjustifiably, feeling like it was all her doing, my dear friend was believing that the heavens were sending her a message: “You’re not fit to run this company. Step away from the corner office, the gold nameplate and the CEO title and nobody else gets hurt.”

Good gravy. Who hasn’t heard that tiny voice whispering in their ear before? And who hasn’t been tempted to surrender?

The truly good news was that several voices in the group meeting joined together in such a cacophony as to completely drown out that most un-heavenly message. She is fit to run the company. Did she have the desire to run it? That’s an entirely different question.

What was most interesting in the conversation was that it was clear this CEO felt she had just two choices: stay in the role or replace herself, and soon. That felt familiar too. The desire for closure and answers can pull on us so strongly that sometimes we’re draw to solutions simply because they’re fast and concrete. The group encouraged her to explore Plan B and from there even a Plan C, Plan D and more.

I was recently exposed to a lovely and useful metaphor that gave me a fresh way to frame this issue. It was time for that woman to FLIRT!

Adam Phillips, a British psychoanalyst, uses flirtation as a metaphor for playing with ideas and options, but not getting married, so to speak, to them. Flirtation encourages flexibility; it embraces playfulness. It calls for a mindset of exploring an issue as if it were brand new to you — letting your curiosity flow in that special way that it does on a really good first date.

As Phillips says, "Flirtation keeps things in play, and by doing so lets us get to know them in different ways."

For the CEO, it might mean giving up portions of her job, trying new leadership tactics, hiring a personal coach, or making adjustments to her management team. It could mean a LOT of things that fall far short of her actually stepping down from her role.

Flirtation is about experimenting with reversible options — smaller exploratory choices — not committing too quickly to what might be life-changing, over-earnest decisions. And it frees you up to take a bit of delight and pleasure in the uncertainty.

Is there a decision in your life or business that is would benefit from a flirtatious approach?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What’s your Ziggy?

I know they say you should never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. I hope it’s OK to blog!

I’ve been daydreaming about a favorite ice cream shop where they offer every customer a Ziggy. You order your cone exactly as you want it, but they go one step further in serving it to you. Using a melon-baller-size scoop, they add just a little bit more to the top, a Ziggy. You can have one extra bite of your favorite, vanilla on top of vanilla for those who like to keep it simple, or you can satisfy your taste for that runner-up flavor that didn’t get picked this time as the main attraction —Mint Chocolate Chip on top of Elephant Tracks (peanut butter cups in chocolate ice cream), for example. Hypothetically, of course.

It small. It’s simple. It’s cheap. It’s fun. And it creates an experience —one that gets talked about, one that creates fondness and solidifies customer loyalty.

Well. That got me thinking about the barber shop that offers a coupon for a free tap beer at the pub next door with every purchase of a buzz cut, the landscape shop that always has fresh popcorn popping and the restaurant that brings Bazooka Joe bubble gum to the table at the end of the meal. Each creates the same result. Of course, nobody’s going to get a bad hair cut in exchange for a free beer (well, with a few exceptions). But, all things being equal, why wouldn’t you do business with the entrepreneur who adds a Ziggy to the mix?

So what’s your Ziggy?

You don’t need to be a retailer to have one. And, though all of the examples I've provided so far may be driven by my dropping blood sugar, a Ziggy doesn't have to be something you can eat.

Hosting a customer appreciation party at the local bowling alley is a Ziggy. Mailing valentine cards to everyone on your client list is a Ziggy. In fact, your Ziggy doesn’t even need to be a physical thing. You can attract or retain new clients because they find YOU compelling; you add a touch of fun or novelty to the transaction.

Here’s food for thought: Whenever, and however, you add value for the sheer joy of it, people will naturally be attracted to you and to your business. Get Ziggy with that!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

You Can’t Scratch an Itch You Can’t Find: A Case for More Open Disclosure in the Workplace

Business owners seem to know that the idea of sharing results and outcomes is a no-brainer for building a productive and motivated team. Without clear feedback that tells them if their actions are creating the right results, employees may feel like their fumbling around in the dark. It’s like trying to scratch the itch on somebody else’s back without the benefit of any “a-little-to-the-left-now-up-a-bit-yes-there-there-there” guiding statements. You’re bound to hit the spot by sheer luck eventually, but, really, why make it harder than it needs to be?

Still, many business owners are reticent to share financials, productivity numbers or bad news with their staff. Fear, defensiveness and a desire for privacy can all stand in the way. Here are a couple of things to think about if you tend to hold onto information tightly.

Open Books Can Have Closed Chapters: Some consultants might say “open book management” requires you to pull all the dirty laundry and skeletons out of the closet. I say – you define open. So you don’t want to disclose your personal salary or the fact that the company pays for your newspaper subscription? Then don’t. Better to pick and choose what you want to hold confidential than to universally keep it all under wraps. Open book management is not an all or nothing deal and something is always better than nothing.

Negative Information Can Motivate Employees: Of course, it’s always easier and more fun to share positive information. But maintaining a cool façade and putting on a happy smile when you’re uncertain how you’re going to meet payroll in the coming months does a disservice to you and your employees. When things are not going well, ignoring the facts doesn’t help you gain ground. In fact, employees are likely to drift into denial if the unpleasant reality isn’t spelled out clearly for them.

Larry Bossidy, former chairman of AlliedSignal, describes what he calls the Burning Platform Syndrome. When a company is in trouble, it is like an offshore drilling platform that catches fire. People need to take action quickly, and they do, because they smell the smoke, hear the explosion, see the flames. In a business crisis, employees are often unaware of the pending danger. You can’t act as though everything is peachy and expect them to pick up on the fact that, in reality, every fiber of your body is screaming for them to jump in and help you turn the ship around. Sometimes you have to paint a picture of flames and destruction, disclose the exact location of the itch that is driving you to distraction.

People Will Fill in the Blanks: People automatically fill in the blanks in what they do know with negative information. Human nature draws people to worst-case-scenarios. Whatever you’re paying yourself, your employees will assume it’s more. If you’ve lost a major client, employees will assume there are another half-dozen about to walk away soon. If one employee has been let go, they’re likely to assume they may be on the chopping block next. When left in the dark, people imagine monsters.

The reality is, your staff generally knows more than you think already, and what they don’t know factually they are likely to fill in with fiction. Painting a clear picture of your company’s current reality —good, bad or ugly — is the only way to control the accuracy of the message and to influence the response you desire.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Guilt and the Idyllic Life

By definition, entrepreneurs do what we do because we want some control over our own destiny. And, it’s seldom about making tons of money; instead it’s about freedom first, then independence.

So, what happens after you’ve worked hard all your life and are now able to afford pretty much anything you have ever wanted, and you have simplified your life so you also have the time to enjoy it?

Most of the entrepreneurs I’ve known who have earned the second home, the sailboat, the several Porsches, or whatever, still go through huge guilt when they are playing instead of working. More importantly, most of their businesses run better without them now. In fact, I know one who’s Board of Directors paid him a bonus to “stay away”!

The problem with slowing down so we have time to reflect and rest, is that it’s in conflict with our normal way of being, which is to keep the nose to the grindstone, early to bed and early to rise, and all other teachings that cause us to worship the god of productivity.

Enjoying the idyllic life probably requires one to slow down, so you can “smell the flowers” and spend time as you wish, meeting your mood.

So, as I sit on my patio looking across a green, a lake, two fairways and many palm trees to the mountains five miles away, while enjoying my second cup of coffee, the nagging feeling that I should be accomplishing something overtakes me to the point of discomfort. It’s nothing short of guilt.

It doesn’t help to overcome the feeling with intellect, because guilt is an emotional response. That’s why knowing that it’s a waste of energy, time and talent doesn’t get rid of it.

According to Alan Weiss, author of Life Balance: How to Convert Professional Success Into Personal Happiness, many of us have the enervating belief that we must be "doing something" or we're somehow non-productive. Consider this: Thinking, reflecting, meditating, observing, remembering, visualizing, absorbing, resting, recharging, and enjoying are all "doing something." No harm, no foul.

The only way I’ve learned to manage guilt over the past seven years of wintering in the desert is to turn 65. Although I am not about to “retire”, this magic age allows me to spit into the face of guilt, and finally enjoy the idyllic life I’ve worked so hard to create. It’s not magic, but constant practice and self-talk works for me.

Perhaps the real question then, is “Why do we feel guilty?” Or, better yet, “What is the source of our guilt?” If it’s the way we were raised, probably by parents who lived through the Great Depression, then we know.