Helping Others Succeed Through Their Strengths

ENT 630 Wk 7-Reactions to It’s a Jungle in There

The self-examination question for chapter 22 of It’s a Jungle in There, asks, “Are you willing to help other people succeed even when it’s not a requirement of your job to be of assistance?” (p.165)

For many years and multiple organizations, I’ve been known as the “Interview Prepper.” Whenever someone I know is interviewing for a promotion, they schedule time with me for mock interviews and prep. I help people talk about themselves, their skills, their talents, and their drive for success. I offer constructive criticism and remind my colleagues of good examples to use from their professional projects. I delight in the success of my friends and colleagues. I also help them to pick up the pieces and try again if at first, they don’t succeed. Everything is a learning opportunity.

I can say, without a doubt, chapter 12 resonates most with the way I choose to operate as a leader. Developing and coaching others is a passion for me. I also found out a few years ago that these behaviors are classic signs of one of my top two strength roles. By using the StandOut strengths assessment I discovered, I am a pioneer/teacher. The going rate is about 15 dollars for the assessment alone, or there are companion books like StandOut 2.0 that you can buy on Amazon in e-book format for less than $15 (then, just use the code that comes with the book). This assessment is a situation judgment assessment, which means it helps define through behavioral questions how you show up to others, not necessarily how you perceive yourself. I have a 12-page report ranking my strengths, telling me about my most powerful attributes, what to watch out for, how to hone my strengths, etc.

The combined role summary for a pioneer//teacher describes me perfectly: “You take risks. With people. Not in a reckless, thoughtless way, but rather from a profound belief in their potential. And, in your view, that potential can be best realized through experiment and risk. You say “experience is the best teacher” and so you expose and encourage people to embrace stretch assignments. You put your own skin in the game too, recognizing that your own abilities are amplified when you seek opportunities to reach beyond your current comfort zone. Your world is a generous place in which people will be provided for. You, therefore, come from a place of faith, not fear. If there’s anything to fear, it’s missing opportunity’s knock.” (StandOut 2015)

The combination of my top two strengths roles is my competitive advantage. Strengths are also the completive advantage of those around us. As the owner of the company or the leader of the team, it’s our responsibility to give people the opportunity to live in those strengths.

I felt pretty powerful and validated to read that strengths summary. I do have a profound belief in the potential of others. To Schussler’s point in chapter 22, it’s important to find out about people, figure out what makes them tick, what makes them feel energized or drained and then match them with opportunities to help them be their best selves.

When you help others succeed, the whole team is better for it. The Marcus Buckingham Company (TMBC) has some compelling evidence to back-up the claim that teams who concentrate on strengths outperform non-strengths-based peers. And as for me, I’ll keep helping those around me work from their strengths, because I’ve seen how much happier and more productive we all can be when a leader cares enough about you to know what makes you tick.

You Can be Pokey or You Can be Gumby Riding Pokey* Into the Sunset; Your Choice

ENT 630 Wk 6-Reactions to It’s a Jungle in There

A colleague of mine teaches a class on resiliency, and I’ve been a participant in both his full-length session and several mini sessions for work groups or leadership teams from across our organization.

He starts the class with a tale of two leaders: Don and Donna. He tells the group about the differing mornings that Don and Donna have had before arriving at work. Don, woke up 15 minutes late, he had a fight with his teenage daughter and spilled coffee on both his pants and his handouts for his first presentation of the day. Donna wakes up 30 minutes early, she exercises and meets a friend for lattes before carpooling with her friend to the office.  My colleague then asks the class, “Which leader will feel better and have a more productive day?”. The class usually responds with varying answers, ultimately agreeing that Donna will obviously have the better day. It’s at this point that my colleague drops a truth bomb.

The truth is, it depends. The major concept that catches participants by surprise each time he delivers his content is CHOICE. Most of us would rather have a magic wand or someone else to blame than to be told that our own happiness and success depends on our personal choice. How dare you put this back on me, teacher guy!

And yet, that’s the truth. None of us choose what happens to us in our lives, in our businesses, or in our entrepreneurial pursuits. What we do choose is how we react. We can choose accountability over a victim mentality. We can choose to not let spilled coffee define our day. We can even be like Steven Schussler in chapter 19 of “It’s a Jungle in There.” He tells a reporter (and means it) that he has never had a bad day in his whole life, while a utility crew dug a 25-foot hole in the street to cut off the gas line to his home, once and for all.

Resiliency isn’t about putting on rose-colored glasses, sugar coating the situation, or any other overly positive analogy that you can think of. Resilience is the capacity to be resourceful and creative, to make choices, and to take effective action no matter what is going on– Definition provided by the Mission Health Center for Leadership & Professional Development.

As individuals, when we are resilient, we are making a conscious choice instead of letting the world and all its forces just happen to us. And while this may seem like a “fluffy” concept, one that might be told to you by a woman smelling of patchouli at the Asheville drum circle, the concept of resilience has been extended to and accepted by the business community.

PWC, one of the world’s leading business consultants, defines resilience (in the business context) as “the ability of an organization to recognize, rapidly respond to and recover from changes in the environment and their resulting risks. Resilience allows businesses to seize the opportunities hidden within those risk events.”

Even if you feel like Schussler was a little out of touch by saying he’s never had a bad day, recognize and appreciate the sentiment behind his statement. Developing our own individual resiliency and resiliency within our businesses might be the most effective and accountable thing we do all week.

*That is a picture of my Gumby and Pokey figurines that can be found in the window of my office. My boss gave them to me. Most days I choose to be helpful and flexible like Gumby (shown holding a “sandwich sword”).

Just What the Shark Tank Ordered: Market Yourself

ENT 630: Wk 5-Reactions to It’s a Jungle in There

Every time I’ve ever watched the show, Shark Tank, I’ve actually watched no less than four episodes in a row. Curse you CNBC Prime! Stop luring me in with your savvy investors, entrepreneurial sob stories, and brilliant business ideas. In spite of the manufactured drama, I have learned a lot of helpful tips for entrepreneurs and investors by watching this campy show.

One of the questions the “Sharks” ask entrepreneurs quite frequently is, “are you doing THIS (insert business venture) full time?”. Typically, they ask this question to measure the entrepreneur’s commitment to the company, level of comfort with risk, and generally to see if the person is “all in.” I’ve even seen Kevin O’Leary turn down adorable kids with thriving businesses because school takes up too much of their time and he would rather invest in an entrepreneur, founder, or CEO who can devote all of their waking hours to the business.

This concept of investors only investing in the company if they believe in the entrepreneur behind the company is not unique. We all might roll our eyes at Kevin O’Leary, but Schussler in his book, It’s a Jungle in There, echoes this same exact sentiment in chapter 15: Marketing Yourself to Market Your Product. He says, investors often ask him, “How invested are you in your idea?” (p. 110) Schussler says it’s easy to say “I’m invested 100%”, but when you show them, you are invested by your actions they can’t help but be convinced. Not everyone has to turn their home into a rainforest café prototype or spend millions of dollars mocking up restaurant concepts in a Minneapolis warehouse. There are easy, no-brainer things you can do to show how serious and dedicated you are to your ideas when meeting with investors. Schussler has strong ideas about sending the right message to investors through:

  1. Physical appearance- wear a suit
  2. Hand Shakes– know the right balance
  3. Body Language- act interested; nod your head up and down, etc.
  4. & Business Cards- convey your concept through the item you leave behind

Don’t forget, not all meetings are scheduled. You might meet an investor at a party, on an airplane, or in the elevator. Always be ready to impress. Make an impression by making the person laugh or tell a story. Stories stick with people and leave an impression. And finally, if you are at a point in your entrepreneurial journey that you can quit your day job, you are approximately 50%* more likely to make a deal on Shark Tank if you are “all-in.”

*success odds calculated purely from my “expertise” in binge-watching Shark Tank. Not statistically valid.

No Back Stock! – A Lesson in Sales & Marketing

ENT 630- Wk 4-reactions to It’s a Jungle in There

My first Human Resources role was with Target. I was a store side Executive Team Leader of HR. Store side, meant I also had retail responsibilities beyond managing schedules, payroll, benefits, etc. I had to know the business of the store: sales actuals vs. forecast, merchandising, front end, softlines, hardlines, and logistics. I very distinctly remember walking the floor with a visiting District Team Leader (DTL), he said, “show me the back room”. Our entourage of corporate visitors and store leaders pushed through the doors of the back room. I remember our DTL taking a handheld scanner from a stock room clerk and climbing a ladder. What we didn’t know is that he had noticed an item was empty from the shelves while walking the floor and had quickly looked up the back stock location on the hand held. As he climbed down the ladder with the items in hand, he said, “our guests can’t buy things from the backroom”.

He was right, from that day forward, when I was in charge I added “outs” to my personal check list and could be heard over the walkie-talkie coaching our mid-day replenishment team.

More importantly, our DTL’s words still ring in my ears from an entrepreneurial standpoint. When I read chapter twelve of Schussler’s book, the title reminded me of my DTL’s words. The chapter title is: “Marketing: Customers Won’t Buy What They Don’t Know Exists”.

In a large retail chain, it was as simple as keeping items pushed to the floor. We couldn’t make sales from an empty shelf. For an entrepreneur, the process is more complicated. For an entrepreneur, we must market twice without the power of the big red bulls eye behind us. Schussler had to market his ideas to investors long before he worried about direct marketing to customers. And there is a lesson here: entrepreneurs have to empty out the proverbial backroom and put everything they have out there for their investors and customers.

Holding back can mean missing a sale. The back room doesn’t clean itself out, just like ideas and products don’t market themselves. It’s worth writing a formal marketing plan around how you want to get your name out to the customer. Customers can’t buy what you are selling unless they know your product and/or company exists.

Big Picture Thinkers and the Details

ENT 630: Wk 3- Entrepreneurs run the risk of micro-managing if they focus too much on the details.

Like most entrepreneurs I consider myself a big picture thinker. In fact, I used to say things like, “don’t bother me with details”. In Steven Shussler’s book, It’s a Jungle in There, he says, “the truly successful entrepreneur has to have what has been called the ‘helicopter view’: the ability to gain enough mental altitude to see the big picture while retaining the ability to descend, hover, and see the details, too” (p.61). This is a very descriptive analogy for the flexibility needed to both dream up a concept and execute the vision. I agree with this balance between the big picture and detailed execution. And also, I have seen leaders who “crash their helicopter” when hovering too low. While this section of the book is talking about “Product”, for many of us the product of our labor is knowledge or service through consulting. While Shussler is speaking of product, my mind jumps ahead to the section on people.

Well intentioned business owners and leaders can run the risk of stifling their teams by micromanaging day-to-day work. Should we set high expectations? Yes. Should we all pick up trash if we see it in our work environment? Yes. Should we write detailed work instructions and plan-o-grams for every project? No!

I strongly believe that as a leader, it’s my job to both liberate the means and define the ends of a project and let my team fill in the details. Their path to success is dependent on their ability to use their unique blend of strengths in accomplishing the goal. As I mature as a leader, I have grown to see that my desire to be delightfully oblivious to details (once trusted to someone else) is not because I don’t care. Rather, I care deeply and I do have an ability to “hover low” and see every single step. My team members neither grow nor develop if I “hover”.

While I agree that an entrepreneur needs to be aware and attentive to the details of their business, that awareness should be controlled as to not impede or micro-manage the work of others. There is a strong business case for a strengths based approach.

To the entrepreneur who is still managing their business alone: it is your job to worry about the micro and the macro. For the small business owners and entrepreneurs with teammates or direct reports: it’s your job to learn the strengths of your team and give up a little control of the details if you want your team to be engaged and successful.


“As we look into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”– Bill Gates

 

 

Superman in a Barrel

ENT (630): Wk 2: What are you willing to risk for your ideas?

In his book, “It’s a Jungle in There”, Steven Schussler, serial entrepreneur and founder of the Rainforest Café, speaks candidly about his tolerance for risk.  On a scale of 1 to 10 he’s a 15 on his propensity toward high risk ventures.  As a young man he was repeatedly turned down for jobs in his desired field of radio and TV advertising. Steven decided to dress as superman and have himself delivered in a barrel to his “would-be-boss’s” office. The picture he paints is quite hilarious and you should read it for yourself. Spoiler alert: he gets the job.

While vivid and funny, this scenario brings up big questions for an entrepreneur. We ask ourselves: what am I willing to risk for this venture? For this idea? For a chance at success? For the answers, we must search our souls (and/or study our own cognitive bias) and decide what we are comfortable with.

For the bigger question of: how do I begin to analyze this risk? The good news is, there are resources to guide you. Well respected analysts publish articles on risk, business strategies, and entrepreneurial endeavors on a regular basis.

The word risk implies a certain amount of assumption. However, not all assumptions are healthy or accurate. Four great risk assumption “don’ts” are outlined by Scott D. Anthony for HBR. Here are the big four flawed assumptions and how they relate to Steven Schussler’s Superman approach:

  1. Assuming that taking action is the biggest risk. – Steven had more to gain from donning the superman suit than to stay in his dead-end job and keep getting turned down in interviews.
  2. Believing that good entrepreneurs seek out risk. – Steven didn’t try to find the hardest path possible. He tried many traditional avenues like sending out his resume, calling stations, and interviewing for positions before pulling his superman stunt.
  3. Celebrating failure to encourage risk taking. – Steven never celebrated an uncalculated failure because he didn’t take one. He did his homework on his “would-be-boss”, had interviewed with the man several times before, and knew he had a sense of humor.
  4. Thinking that rewarding success will boost risk-taking. – This assumption doesn’t fit Steven’s superman scenario, but it does fit a later anecdote in the book where Steven starts a side business and is fired for calling in sick to his day job. His risk taking was boosted by his failure rather than his success.

Avoiding these common four assumptions is a great starting place for gauging entrepreneurial risk.  Combine these “don’ts” with extensive research and an awareness of your own cognitive biases and you will be well on your way to setting realistic expectations for the risk you will assume in your next venture.

The Detour is Over

Several years ago, an opportunity to further my education presented itself. I was all in. An opportunity through my employer, in cooperation with a local school with an amazing reputation? Yes, why not!? Between 2013 and 2014 I completed my Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Innovation Management. After the joyful day when I shook the hands of leaders from both organizations, I told myself, “this is it for now, I’m tired. I’m done for a while”.

Not too long after that joyful day, I was also promoted to a position with much more responsibility. I saw people around me going back to school, but I told myself it wasn’t right for me. I thought about going back to school quite a bit, but the timing and the programs never felt right, until now.

I’m back; the detour is over. Western Carolina offers such a great opportunity that seems to fit my personality and my needs. I have high hopes in the Masters of Entrepreneurship program. I am determined to fit the work around my already full schedule, I have hopes that other members of this program support one another, and I am ready to finish what I started back in 2013.