As a child I dreamt of being a business owner. While the other kids in the neighborhood were talking about being pro athletes I always imaged myself starting a business. At the spry age of 10 I opened my first business in the early 90's in my parents basement in rural New York selling used skateboard parts. It was exciting! I had a business sign which proclaimed ‘Sk8 Parts’, a rack to display my shoddy products for sale and even a chair to sit on while waiting for the sales to come rolling in. After a summer being in business I had only made one sale a set of dirty and worn out skateboard wheels for a measly fifty cents to a kid down the street. That sale bought me a pink panther ice cream from the neighborhood ice man. While the business didn’t rocket me to instant success like I had envisioned I was hooked on the idea of being a business owner in the future so I could buy the whole ice cream factory, not just one pink panther.
As I got older I tried my hand at inventing all sorts of things, products that I thought would get me rich, if I could only figure out a way to sell a few million of them. First it was a gaming chair, then workout towels and even a handheld flashlight projector. My entrepreneurial dreams ended at the time with a website I tried to start in 2006 that would allow people to ask questions and get advice based off real life business situations they were dealing with. That was a $2k boondoggle which went nowhere.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I would find my way, diving head first into entrepreneurship by starting Square-1 Engineering. Thankfully I had a lot of help from many close people around me (wife, parents, friends) who all were incredibly supportive. Four years into my current entrepreneurial journey I’ve learned and experienced firsthand many things which have helped me navigate my way to present day. Of all these experiences, learning lessons and awareness gained there are eight which have brought about the biggest positive impact in helping me weather the entrepreneur start up storm:
1.Get A Mentor
This is the single second best decision you’ll ever make in business. The first best decision is to become an entrepreneur. Mentors have experience which you can learn from helping you avoid mistakes along the way.
2.Support Gets You Over The Hump
Make sure those close to you understand your vision and support it. They don’t have to buy in 100% but if it’s you against the world there are going to be some very long nights in store. If you are married it’s vital your spouse understands the opportunity and supports it, even in the down times.
3.Some Things CAN Wait
Some people will tell you it’s important to write a business plan, vision, mission, blah blah blah, right away. Unless you’re in a situation where you need to ask for capital to start the business the best thing to do is put those things aside and focus all your efforts on how to make money. Ultimately being an entrepreneur means you’re selling something to someone so the more time you spend on how you’re going to get paid for the product or service you’re providing the better off you’ll be.
4.You Can’t Be Everything to Everyone
I failed miserably here. When I did start to get customers I tried to offer them everything under the sun in order to get their business. Some times it worked, often times it created a nightmare for me as now I had to deliver the goods. Never over promise, you’ll most likely end up under delivering. Find one or two areas you can become an expert in, one or two problems you can solve for your customers. Do that and only that before you start getting into other areas of opportunity.
5.Having a Plan-B is Dangerous
I’ve read countless articles about “the power of having a ‘plan-B’ ” or an alternative course of direction. I hate that advice. As an entrepreneur if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and have a plan-B set up in case you fail you’re almost destined to set yourself up for disappointment. I’m not saying it’s not important to plan ahead for bumps in the road but if you’re going to start a business that should be your one and only focus. Anything other than a mentality of success has no place for you. Visualize to materialize.
The first several months I attempted to handle all the accounting and finance portions of the business only to realize two things: 1 – I’m not good at it nor do I like it; 2 – I created more problems than I remedied. Best advice I got was to pay the money to get a reliable CPA that understood my business and could help scale it up by making good decisions. Best money I’ve ever spent was a CPA.
7.The Power Of Saying ‘No’
Crucial to your success as an entrepreneur is the ability to politely and professionally say ‘no’. Similar to ‘you can’t be everything to everyone’ saying ‘no’ is harder than it sounds. Naturally you want to say yes to everyone, making everyone around you happy, especially if it’s a customer. Unfortunately, when we do this we get pulled in a hundred directions which causes us to deviate from our destined course. If you are asked to do something and it doesn’t align with your top 2 or 3 priorities politely decline and thank the person for the opportunity to be considered, even if it is a customer.
8.Breathe, It’ll Be Okay
Very few things in life actually have the ability to stop you from moving forward in your new business. When bumps in the road momentarily derail you (you will experience plenty of bumps along the way) take a deep breath and be thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a professional. Stephen Covey put it best when he gave us the 90/10 principle:
“10% of life is made up of what happens to you, 90% of life is decided by how you react.” – Stephen Covey
I recently finished reading a powerful book called ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ which is a follow up to the number one best selling book ‘Extreme Ownership’ by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. The authors who happen to be highly decorated Navy SEALS share their inspiring and at times scary tales on the battlefield, relating how those experiences blend with real world business and board room leadership challenges.
The book ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ struck a cord with me as I’ve struggled over the years with the balancing act which takes place in leadership. This balancing act, or dichotomy, is an ever present daily tug of war often between two extremes which are intrinsically linked yet incredibly challenging to consistently toe the line successfully.
Dichotomy itself is an interesting word rife with conflict. Dichotomy is defined as a contrast between two things that are, or are represented as being, opposed or entirely different. (ie – in leadership there is the push and pull of how friendly you become with your employees – too friendly and you lose their respect and or ability to make tough decisions, whereas not being friendly enough alienates you as a leader and keeps you from knowing your people)
As I’m reading this book one of the dichotomies the authors spoke about which is a consistent challenge for leaders is the contrast between leading and following. There’s a strong misconception in the world of leadership which aligns with the idea that if you’re in a leadership role you must always be leading. Decisions should be made by those in leadership, strategies engineered and dreamed up by those in leadership. This of course is an ego-centric mentality and quite frankly one which is incredibly out of date in todays’ business world. Yet this same idea, leaders must always be leading, permeates every facet of business in most companies we encounter on a daily basis.
My awakening as a result of this book came about as a result of my own shortcomings, and yes ego, as a leader. I too thought, “As a leader it’s up to me to decide the direction we’re taking and therefore the decisions we’re making.” Unfortunately this thought process is incredibly short sided.
The true nature of a good leader, as the book artfully describes, is a person who understands they can be in a leadership role and simultaneously lead while following. Sounds strange at first yet it’s possible, more importantly it’s highly impactful in an organization. The act of a leader willingly following sends a powerful message to the leaders team and company that they are out to do what is best and necessary for the greater good, not just themselves as the leader.
Here’s how following as a leader plays out.
A CEO of XYZ company has a tough decision to make when it comes to the direction of her company and the potential new markets they’re looking to develop. Traditional leadership has dictated the senior most person, often times the CEO, makes the decisions for the company. They may collect information from their subordinates on options or alternatives to consider however the senior most leader is the one to make the decision based on as their position and respective authority demands they be the one to blaze the path forward.
However, a leader who possesses the ability to balance the dichotomy of leading and following can recognize that while they are in a leadership seat it doesn’t mean they always must be leading. Sometimes following can produce more impactful results. It also means these leaders are able to recognize their ego and set it aside for the betterment of the company.
Going back to our CEO of XYZ company, as she’s considering where to take the company into the future she may get advice from an employee in the company which provides a great opportunity for growth and future success. Leaders who are successful in balancing leading and following would then lean on that employee to drive said initiative recognizing what’s important isn’t where the good idea comes from just that it is implemented successfully. Our leader, rather than leading, makes a conscious decision to follow and allows the employee to step up with their idea and help lead the company through it. They empower the other person while giving them an opportunity to shine. The leader, in this case our CEO, allows their employee to receive the credit for the idea while also helping them to get it up and running. Our CEO is now following and doing so because they know this decision is what is best for the business.
Key Take Away:
One of the most challenging things to balance as a leader is knowing when to lead versus when to following. Leaders who lead all the time lose sight of what is best for their company while also struggling with humility to give others the opportunity to shine. When we step aside and follow as a leader we encourage others to deploy their ideas while creating a vacuum for our employees and peers to step up, offer suggestions while increasing their likelihood to take additional ownership in their work. Leaders must recognize their ego drives many of their decisions and actions, one of the best decisions we can make is acknowledge our ego and set it aside to make room for others to take the wheel while we encourage them to do so.
If you struggle with the balancing act which comes with leadership, in particular the area of ‘leading versus following’ I highly suggest picking up the book ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership’ by Willink and Babin. The nuggets of knowledge, insight and real world practical examples these two authors share more than once will open your eyes to new and alternative approaches to successful leadership.
After more than a decade of hiring people on a daily basis I’ve seen a thing or two when it comes to good vs. bad practices relating to the process of hiring employees. During that time I’ve also made my fair share of mistakes in the people I’ve hired which offered up a plethora of learning opportunities. What I've learned over the years is that making a hiring mistake can be costly and most of the time it is the employers fault the hire doesn’t work out, not the new hire themselves.
Hiring an employee is an interesting and vital part of business. Interesting in that the end result is bringing on a new person into your company with the idea that they will fulfill a role to help the company move forward. Vital, because hiring really is one of the most important activities a business can do outside of generating revenue. Without revenue streaming in there is no need for hiring and no company for that matter, which is why I’ve placed generating revenue a tier above hiring.
The act of hiring is often whimsical and mythical in nature, like a unicorn. Everyone loves to say they’re great at interviewing as they enjoy saying “I know how to pick em”, or “I’m able to sniff out the best from the worst in five minutes”. I always enjoy a good chuckle when I hear comments like this because the reality is that these words often stand on hollow ground. While we love to think we’re great at the process of identifying, vetting and selecting the best people the facts tell a different story:
With stats like this you’d think companies would focus more on their hiring process and approach to improve this area of the business similarly to how they spend endless amounts of time and money on activities like kaizen events and lean initiatives in order to improve yields by a couple percentage points.
In the end the numbers don’t lie as they tell us a sobering story – no one is perfect when it comes to hiring employees. However the quicker we build awareness around our actual performance in the area of hiring the quicker we can begin to improve it.
Below are the ten (10) most common hiring mistakes made in business. As you read through these make a note of how frequent an offender you or your company is with each:
Key Take Away:
The current job market is one of the most competitive hiring landscapes we’ve ever seen. Most of the people in the US workforce have never seen unemployment figures like we’re experiencing today. Orange County, CA unemployment rate in September 2019 was a staggering 2.9%. Meaning, 97.1% of people who are eligible and or able to work are in fact doing so. The numbers nationally don’t get much better, or in favor of the employer, as we’re experiencing 3.5% unemployment nationally. The last time the unemployment rate was this low was in 1969. What does this all mean – it’s a candidates market, not an employers market.
Most, if not all, the good people and therefore candidates are gainfully employed. If you want to improve your chances of landing great employees to help grow your company you need to ensure your hiring practices are addressing and or solving the 10 hiring issues mentioned above.
If you or your company struggle to hire great people one of the best things you can do to correct it is to seek advice and an alternate viewpoint. Ask your employees why they were for your company, learn what matters to them most and why they stick around. Another way to gain insight is to bring in an HR or recruiting consultant to review your current processes. Outsiders can often times see things quicker and easier than you can as they aren’t coming from a lens that is within the company. Their outsider perspective can provide unbiased feedback on the things you need to do to attract better talent.
Article was written by guest writer Trisha Aure
Many of us live two lives. These two lives run on parallel tracks to one another yet few of us understand the dichotomy which exists by having a work life and a home life which operate separate from one another. We’ve been told growing up these lives need to be mutual exclusive of one another where we don’t bring our personal life and issues to work and vice versa.
This inevitably creates a variety of issues for us at both the home and office. The biggest issue it creates is our ability to grow as people which leads to our ability to grow as professionals.
Have you ever heard that personal growth is necessary for professional growth? It is, I just didn’t realize how critical this was till about 6 years ago. Some people believe separation needs to exist between work and home, or ‘work life balance’ as we commonly like to phrase it.
I’m not convinced ‘work life balance’ is possible, especially not if you are looking to create a long term successful career which your personal life benefits from.
This ladies and gentlemen is where my career ah-ha moment began – the idea of a ‘work life balance’ is garbage. We look at this phrase typically from the work side of things meaning we should work less in order to enjoy our personal lives more. Yet how often are we looking at this phrase from the personal side to understand how we impact our professional experience based on who we are outside of work. It goes both ways and to think a steady ‘balance’ between the two is possible is a dream in fantasy land.
I was in a new company and aggressively working on advancing my career. I had a lot of personal baggage I thought I was leaving at the door before I walked into the office. I had some deep heartache within my family dynamic that I never figured out how to live with, so I decided to act as though my life was perfect and I ignored my past. This act forced me to live two different lives and I will tell you, this was not only one of the hardest parts of my life but it was definitely the loneliest.
This is where I learned I wear my heart, and therefore emotions, on my sleeve. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because that is where my passion comes from, the heart. What I learned is when you are essentially living two different lives, it starts to take a toll on both your career and personal life. I had received some hard feedback and it was based on my attitude because I was aggressively trying to hold my personal struggles back. If anyone has ever been here before you know that holding feelings back only creates a blow up later down the road and mine happened at work.
Luckily, I had great people around me that cared about me professionally AND personally. I obtained a mentor and started receiving coaching on how to deal with my struggles that I quite frankly kept pushing down for over a decade. It was not an easy nor short process. Then again, anything worth having or doing right isn’t easy in the first place. I started working on building a healthy mind, body and soul, and 6 years later I’ve continued this quest not stopping once.
Growth is an everyday event and I have built some great routines that have helped me merge my two lives between home and work.
After 6 years of focus, dedication and some really hard work to improve myself I have lost 40 pounds (and kept it off), I’m in a leadership role with a company I’m part-owner in, I’m actively involved in the community and constantly improving my life on both sides. I honestly do not believe I would be where I’m at today if I continued to try and live two different lives.
To tie this all together, I believe that growth within your career begins at home. Have you ever heard, you can’t love someone until you love yourself? I believe that this internal love for yourself will only push you to cross any and all boundaries that you put up yourself. Stop putting up boundaries, and add some goals to your life. Once you start pushing forward, it’s crazy how that turns into unstoppable.
Key Take Away
You must take care of yourself in order for you to strive in other parts of your life. In regards to work and life, this is an AND, not an OR. We need to be confident in both in order to grow in both. I’m continuously reading leadership books and I can relate what I read in both my professional and personal life. We need to do away with catchy slogans like ‘work life balance’ because all they do is drive us to live a lifestyle which isn’t attainable.
If you are stagnant in your career, or struggling with something personally and you see it hindering other aspects in your life, find someone to talk to, find a mentor, find a coach to help you figure out how to get over that hump. I currently have a mentor which I found on micromentor.org. This is a free site and it matches you with people that are looking to grow their career in various areas. Growth is definitely uncomfortable and no one likes change, but building a strong support system will help guide us in achieving our goals and creating a well balanced successful life.
There’s a wonderful and powerful truth which exists in many facets of life having to do with relationships and leadership. It’s powerful because the impact it creates when utilized is immense, whereas it’s also a wonderful truth because it’s a quality we all possess completely free of charge.
This amazing truth I speak of which impacts all of our relationships, our ability to lead and our professional experience is the all-powerful art of listening. You know, the opposite of talking, as in not speaking and allowing others to talk. I know, this is a foreign concept for many of us.
Why is listening an important habit to develop to be a good leader, friend, spouse, etc? Those who possess the ability to listen earnestly experience deeper relationships, advanced awareness of how they show up and how others are impacted by them (EQ), are genuine in their care for others and are touted as being “leaders people would run through a wall for”. To become an exceptional leader, friend or spouse, you must learn to develop your listening skills.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, that’s not very profound. I listen all the time.”
But, do you really listen, or as you simultaneously thinking about the next question or statement you’re going to say once the other person is done talking?
Let’s see how good of a listener you are. If you’ve done one of the following in the last week you’ll want to continue reading this article:
The list goes on, and on, however these six items seem to be the biggest perpetrators of what we see from people who aren’t fully engaged and listening.
Why don’t listen? Short answer – our egos get in the way of allowing someone else the stage to talk.
The long answer – Perhaps you’re the exception as your listening skills are top notch. For everyone else out there, which I’ll gladly throw myself into this boat, we struggle with listening. We tell ourselves that others are wrong; only we know the truth; “I don’t have time for this”. We also say things like “I can multi-task while we’re talking”; or think things like ‘my point makes more sense’, ‘they’re idiots’, ‘they must not see the big picture’ (love that one), ‘they have to hear my side before we can move on’. While all of these responses are rather normal, each of them grows from the belly of the ego. We’re also an ever growing impatient bunch of people. With so much going on in the world today it’s easy to fall into the trap that we don’t have time to have a conversation, especially if that conversation isn’t of grave importance.
Leaders – read closely here. The success of your job depends on your ability to listen. Forbes writer Glenn Llopis says that when “leaders judge, they expose their immaturity and inability to embrace differences.” Did you know that your act of not listening actually sent such a strong communication to the person on the other end? Imagine how it made them feel!
How can we fix this? Short answer – zip it (our mouths that is) and focus on the person in front of you. Long answer – read ‘Action Item’ below.
WHY should we focus on being better listeners?
Key Take Away
If you haven’t come to the conclusion by now, we may need to get some backup in here asap. Let me get to the point then. Your job and career as a leader depends on it.
People follow and support leaders who live a servants’ mentality which means when their people have an idea, a question, a problem, or a wild haired suggestion, they listen as if listening is going out of style. Being a servant doesn’t mean a leader is weak, it means their people and company come first, before themselves. Conversation is the gateway to a persons’ mind, body and soul. Its best we listen or we’ll run the chance of missing out on some truly incredible moments.
Next time you’re confronted with someone wanting your attention to converse be sure to put away your phone, your work at hand, close your computer screen or turn it off, close your door for that matter. Do whatever you need to in order to give the person on the other side of the table your complete and undivided attention. You’ll be happy you did as a results of the conversation will be far better while leaving the person on the other side of the table feeling like they were heard and cared for.
About the Author
Serving over a decade in the technical services industry in Orange County, CA, Travis Smith has developed a talent for assessing technical talent and overseeing technical projects. His other areas of specialty include: leadership development, business development, resource planning and creative solutioning.