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If the Shoe Fits: the Cost of Distraction

Friday, March 20th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhat happens when you create a fast growing business that has unicorn potential, but it doesn’t fit with your personal dream?

Do you pursue both?

That’s what Ben Nash did and almost destroyed PCS Wireless in the process.

Nash had always dreamed of being a real-estate mogul, while PCS Wireless bought, fixed and sold old cell phones.

Glamorous real estate or mundane phone reselling — which would you chase?

“I was running around the business world trying to find myself. I got distracted with ego and shiny things. I lost money in real estate, but losing money isn’t the problem. That’s a minor issue. I’ve always personally made money. The issue was my energy and focus was going to my other businesses and not to PCS.”

Nash didn’t get himself back on track, his team did.

About two years ago, the PCS executive team sat Nash down and gave him the “are we going to do this or not?” talk. (It’s “very important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,” is how Nash describes his team.)

There are myriad distractions in life; everybody has them.

What’s important isn’t the distraction, but how you deal with it.

And how comfortable your team would be if it was necessary to sit you down for “the talk.”

Image credit: HikingArtist

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A Response to Remember

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mister_Ed

Like most of you, I get a lot of email.

Maybe because I write not only this blog, but also creatively for clients, I tend to care about my responses.

The result is that every now and then I write something worth sharing beyond that email.

That’s what happened today.

A friend sent me an article.

My response was especially apropos considering the upcoming presidential election, which means months of being bombarded by candidates, talking heads, pundits, gurus, etc., on all forms of media.

That said, here is my self-described brilliant take on it.

Years ago there was one talking horse named Mr. Ed on TV. These days there are dozens of talking asses on all kinds of media.

Feel free to use it, although attribution is appreciated.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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If the Shoe Fits: Be The Change…

Friday, February 6th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

‘I have always felt that the fact that I’m a boss is just the way it happens to be, and the person who is my subordinate could be my boss in another universe. So I try to not have it be a social or class distinction and have it be just more a reporting and professional distinction.”Mitch Rothschild, CEO of Vitals

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFounder/CEO/boss. Too many see their title/position, and the money that often goes with it, as something that sets them above others — better, smarter, better looking.

And they treat others accordingly.

Startup ego is out of control and those who write about it are mostly preaching to the choir.

What will change it is you.

You can change it by modeling Rothschild’s words in your own company.

By recognizing that anybody in any position can have good ideas.

By respecting all your people equally and listening to them,

By telling those who believe they are better that they aren’t.

By telling yourself, if necessary.

And by channeling Nike and just doing it.

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Ducks in a Row: Rigidity — Sources And Cures

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/trombone65/16411683125

Is your boss rigid? Or maybe it’s your colleagues — or even you?

Rigid in action, thought or imagination?

Rigidity is a mental habit and, although often grounded in ego, often has as much to do with the corporate culture as with the individuals involved.

Openness is based on trust and if the people or the culture don’t foster trust then you should expect them to be ultra turf conscious, not interested in sharing, and prone to spending large amounts of energy fighting every new thing that comes along.

Twenty-somethings often regard rigidity as synonymous with age, but that’s a wildly inaccurate assumption and not born out by the facts.

While the age thing may play on the surface, it should be recognized that rigidity is present in all ages.

There are a lot of pretty rigid twenty- and thirty-somethings and no one in their right mind ever called a teenager flexible

If you have any doubts about this, try getting your twenty-something co-workers to approach a subject from any position other than the one they advocate.

Rigidity is not so much about doing it differently as it is about doing it ‘my/our way’ and that attitude has substantially worsened.

It seems that everybody has a group and while their group is OK, other groups, i.e., any that don’t agree with theirs, are rigid, inflexible and standing in the way of progress.

In many ways rigidity is a form myopia.

The cure is simple to state, but difficult to implement, because it requires truly honest self-appraisal, which is not something with which most people are comfortable.

The thing to remember is that there’s value to be found in most approaches and when that value is tweaked and/or merged with other methods the result is usually worth far more than the original.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For additional input and insights to being a boss, be sure to check out the March Leadership Development Carnival.

Flickr image credit: trombone65

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Entrepreneurs: a Tale of Two Billionaires

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasoneppink/9229714799Chamath Palihapitiya grew up poor, became a billionaire, but found it wasn’t enough.

As a VC, he is building the kind of real legacy he wants by investing in companies like Glooko, a mobile diabetes management company, and Treehouse, a company that trains computer engineers and helps them find jobs.

Compare his attitude to billionaire Vinod Khosla, who blocked access to a previously public beach and now is ignoring a judge’s order to return public access.

Khosla’s actions even spurred passage of a new law that can use eminent domain to force a sale of the property.

Perhaps it’s time to follow an old Roman custom that was used to keep victorious generals’ egos in check; they were required to have a person in their victory chariot who kept repeating “Remember, you are not a god.”

It’s definitely time to rewrite the adage, “money is root of all evil” to a more accurate “ego is the root of all evil.”

Flickr image credit: Jason Eppink

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Ducks in a Row: Empowerment Made Easy

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/memestate/3577193781/

Want to empower your team (spouse, kids, friends, others)?

Try channeling billionaire Marc Benioff, cofounder and CEO of Salesforce.com.

When someone shares a problem, skip the advice.

Ask leading questions instead.

The kinds that help the person think through the effects, reactions and repercussions of proposed actions/solutions.

Questions that don’t include what/why/when/how you would do whatever.

The secret isn’t the questions, it’s the fact that Benioff isn’t directing the answers, isn’t even interested in having an opinion and getting his way. He’s also not interested in solving the problem for his employee.

Leading questions sans ego help clarify both the question and the answer.

Amazing how empowering interaction with an authority figure can be when that person gets off their dignity and doesn’t need to vest their own ego in the solution.

Flickr image credit: Rich Anderson

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Ducks in a Row: G&S Combats Ego-merge

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vetlesk/3575715538/Yesterday we considered the dangers inherent when employees start thinking of themselves as an extension of the company/manager, as in ““I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.””

Today we’ll look at why building people, as opposed to making them dependent, is a smart move and three prime things to help you do it.

People building is imperative, because reputation, both the manager’s and the company’s, is everything when hiring, and being known for your great G&S (grow and strengthen) policies and actions will help you attract, develop and keep the best and brightest.

You’ll still lose some now and then when they’re ready for the next challenge and you can’t provide it, but the benefits resulting from their ultra-high productivity and creativeness during the time they’re with you will far outweigh the loss when they do leave.

G&S isn’t rocket science, nor does it have to be costly.

Here are three basic rules to encourage G&S and discourage ego-merge.

  1. Treat everyone on your team and in your company with the same level of respect you want.
  2. Listen to your people. Encourage and assist them as much as possible in developing the skills they need to take their next step—even when it makes your life a bit more difficult.
  3. Always remind them that for all their successes, challenges, and failures it’s “and” not “because.”

Any manager can implement these and other strategies on her own, whether the company supports G&S or not.

However, it’s to a company’s advantage to fight ego-merge and advocate G&S through its policies, then support it by hiring managers who believe in the power of G&S.

But what if you’re a manager pushing G&S down while your own manager is either blind to it or the type who sees ego-merge as a plus?

But what can you do to avoid ego-merge as a worker with no control or leverage?

Awareness is the best protection against ego-merge. Recognize that it exists, understand what it is, know its symptoms and whether you’re prone to it, then monitor yourself, always remembering that the opposite of ego-merge is not arrogance.

Here’s what you do.

  1. Post a watch for the first symptom of ego-merge: when your glow of accomplishment for an exemplary project you did is quickly quenched by negative internal news or media coverage. The greater the offset the greater the ego-merge.
  2. Listen to yourself. When describing a project (successful or not) or coup (large or small), listen to how you describe it and where and how you attribute its success or failure. Adjust accordingly.
  3. Offset and reduce ego-merge in others by publicly giving full credit to those around you at all levels up and down for their contributions.

Flickr image credit: vetlesk

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You are NOT Your Company

Monday, March 25th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/8584948105/How many times, especially these days, at a networking function have you asked someone what they do and gotten the reply, “I’m not working, I’m looking for my next opportunity.”

OK, a lot of people are looking, but that doesn’t answer the question.

Ask again and you might get the same answer, but if your face still has a look of inquiry written on it you’ll get a second answer, “I’m a [whatever].”

It’s sad when people choose to define themselves based upon how they earn a living; worse when, as in the example above, employment becomes the career validation without which the career ceases to exist.

Bad as those are, the worst is when people take another step and subconsciously merge their identity with that of their company—I call it ego-merge.

I coined the term in the eighties to describe a state of mind that is not only unhealthy for individuals, but also damaging to the companies for which they work.

Ego-merge is what happens when “me” and “my company” meld together in the mind of the employee, whether worker or manager.

It’s most obvious in tough times and most noticeable in conversation when people use “because” instead of “and” when talking about accomplishments, thereby crediting the company or manager for their skills.

“I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.”

At first glance ego-merge might actually seem to be a positive for companies—but it’s not.

When employees’ egos merge with their company’s, they often blame themselves for the company’s problems even when they have little power and may not have any line responsibility.

No matter how great their work environment, feeling responsible is a major productivity sapper when times are tough—employees with ego-merge have a difficult time believing that

  • it’s not their fault;
  • their manager doesn’t blame them;
  • they are good enough to help turn the company around,

because in their minds their skills and talent are good because of their manager/company.

Ego-merge affects the best companies/managers, where people are very involved, have high esprit de corps and are passionate about their mission and success.

But it also happens with more Machiavellian managers who intentionally foster the attitude within their organization as a retention tool.

Ego-merge does, in fact, encourage people to stay, but it also cripples them, ruins their creativity, saps their initiative and reduces their long term value to the company.

It’s every company/manager’s responsibility to help their people grow and become stronger, not to subtly cripple them in the hopes that they won’t leave.

In fact, it’s in the best interest of both the manager and the company to become people-builders.

Join me tomorrow for a look at how to recognize and avoid ego-merge, as well as why people-building pays off.

Flickr image credit: Seth Anderson

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Quotable Quotes: Richard Freyman

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_FeynmanIn addition to winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, Richard Feynman was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time by Physics World. I find most of what he says applies easily to the business world as well as my personal world.

“Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which ‘are’ there.” Innovators are supposed to see around corners and provide us with things we never dreamed of, but what of all that is and never even noticed as we pass through the world.

“We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.” This is so true; I wish more scientists would admit it and stop presenting their efforts, which change so quickly, as “answers,” especially in the medical arena.

Here is another one that should be taken to heart by pharmaceutical and medical researchers, “When things are going well, something will go wrong. When things just can’t get any worse, they will. Anytime things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.”

That statement leads us to another of Feynman’s insights, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

If you buy that, then this next idea will definitely resonate with you, “The idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

Is science a constantly expanding and changing body of information or, as Feynman says, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts?”

I’m not sure how well Feynman would do in today’s world of personal branding and flaunted ego. A guy who says, “I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb” is unlikely to provide sound bites on “lay” matters—especially one who publicly states, “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.

Hat tip to Wally Bock for introducing me to Richard Freynman

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Ducks in a Row: Worthless Offers

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

That’s right; multiple offers are worthless,.

It only takes one right offer.

Career experts and anybody with more than one job under their belt who can make the mental leap between cause and effect will tell you that culture is the number one reason to join a company, not to mention the number one indicator of how well a person will do.

Perhaps that’s starting to sink in to college dwellers, even those in the rarefied ultra-competitive Ivy atmosphere.

Yalies are a particularly competitive bunch, and nothing delights us more than an acceptance letter (though an open carrel at Bass is a close second). For us, life is a parade of applications, and acceptance is an indicator of self-worth.

During all the years I worked as a recruiter and since in this blog, I’ve spent a lot of effort to help people understand that getting multiple offers should not be their goal, whereas getting the right offer should be.

(In fact, interviewing everywhere just to get offers for the ego-boost can brand you as a shopper; no manager likes wasting time interviewing a candidate whose reputation/history says “shopper” and that reputation got around long before social media existed).

Being in the wrong culture is like being a duck out of water.

Most people aren’t looking for a job they are looking for a home.

They are looking for an environment in which they fit and feel challenged, appreciated and safe.

Isn’t that what you wanted growing up?

Then why is it considered strange that you would crave the same thing in the place in which you spend more than half your waking hours as an adult?

But even when you find the right culture and a job you love it’s worth noting that basing your self-worth on the success of your company is exceedingly dangerous.

Flickr image credit: David Blaikie

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