There is nothing better than working with entrepreneurs.
Dan Sullivan, the top coach for entrepreneurs in the world, has a great quote (which I am paraphrasing):
Entrepreneurs never have to “give back” since they never took anything…they just “give.”
Today I want to share some observations I have made over the years working closely with entrepreneurs and being one myself.
These observations crystallized three years ago when I began interviewing dozens of entrepreneurs for seats in my Titans Mastermind.
Everyone I interviewed had two things in common: They were (and still are) best-in-class marketers and they are all incredibly successful at generating excitement (and profit) in a specific area they are passionate about.
I asked the same question of every one of them after spending some time talking about the history and trajectory of their businesses:
“What is holding you back in the growth of your business?”
Almost all of the answers I received related to one of the following issues:
1) Having too many ideas…and not knowing which ones to focus on first. I heard over and over again some version of, “I have more good ideas than I know what to do with; it’s the implementation that screws me up.”
2) Not receiving enough candid feedback and constructive criticism on all of those new ideas. Although the follow up question would be, “Can you (the entrepreneur/owner/leader) hear the opposing view?”
3) Not receiving enough new ideas from others. Of course this could add to the list of “too many ideas” and also might relate to the entrepreneur having some selective hearing too…
Too many ideas
This is a problem we all face whether we are entrepreneurs or senior executives.
And the extension of “too many” is “too many and not enough time or resources to get them all done.”
It’s all about that constant battle to create the right balance between idea generation and getting the essential stuff done (and staying focused).
Having the right staff is essential as is what to say “NO” to.
The country’s foremost expert in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) Ned Hallowell, believes that there would be no entrepreneurs if this “affliction” called ADD, that affects so many of us, did not exist.
Shiny objects definitely serve a purpose as it pertains to innovation but is also creates some frustration.
I’ll leave it here by saying that ADD is far from being a stigma…although it clearly can get in the way of productivity.
Ned (and many others) also believe that controlling and resisting the urge that all entrepreneurs (and “intrapreneurs”) have to chase every shiny object is the key to achieving their greatest success in business.
There is no quick solution to this problem but most of the entrepreneurs I interact with regularly understand that if they can get the right systems in place for implementation (which in most cases is not their strong suit), the results can be extraordinary.
And many work rigorously on how to systematize more and they make creating better systems a priority.
For many, it is their first big step in attacking this ongoing problem.
Over these last three years, this has been a major theme among the members of Titans Mastermind to tackle…business by business…and it’s also something I work on with all of the businesses I consult to regularly.
I’m sure many of you are doing the same as clients or consultants yourselves.
Not getting candid feedback
Being able to tell the emperor he or she has no clothes has been a problem forever.
And the problem arises from employees not wanting to rock the boat AND the leader not really listening for subtle (but potentially powerful and useful) criticism.
It’s been my observation that a little extra open-mindedness and a true open-door policy from the entrepreneur can be game changing.
If you are the CEO, always know that everyone is looking for ways to not be in conflict with you…and surrounding yourself with “yes men/women” will not lead to the results you really want.
I know you know this already but rarely do we get introspective enough about it.
Having the ultimate power to hire and fire at will always lead to getting a lot less of truth…but you must work to get the truth…and make sure your team knows that they will not be penalized for telling the truth or giving their contrarian opinion.
I know this sounds obvious but it’s amazing to me how many business owners and leaders never get proper, candid feedback.
But that is also because they rarely look for it and as I said previously, they can’t hear it either.
And if you can’t hire folks who will speak up, you better be in groups (Vistage, Young Presidents, Entrepreneurs Organization, Strategic Coach, high end masterminds etc.) to get your dose of honest feedback.
Some leaders believe the opinions of “outsiders” way more than the folks close to them on the inside…not a mistake in itself…but getting both perspectives will lead to chasing after fewer bad ideas and pursuing more good ones.
I’ve always said that your true friends are the ones who will tell you if you have something hanging out of your nose, if you have spinach in your teeth or if your idea sucks…and in all of those instances, love never leaves the room.
I would recommend that you demand that of friends and family in your personal life…and also demand that of the folks that would die on a sword for you in your business as well.
It’s not easy…it takes time to build that trust…but it is so worth it.
New ideas that may not be yours
This is the area that fascinates me the most.
I already said that most entrepreneurs I interact with have more ideas than they knew what to do with…however, it’s the new (big) ideas that drive exponential growth.
But here’s the issue that comes up time and again from business owners:
The belief that every good idea worth pursuing needs to be their own.
This is the toughest one for entrepreneurs to accept and to even recognize it’s happening…since no one else had the “big idea” to get the party started in the first place (i.e. launch the company).
But I have seen so many businesses fail in the long term because the founder didn’t recognize great ideas from others in the organization readily.
Finding what I call “the second rainmaker” is the key…and it is by far the biggest void I find in the companies have the most difficulty making the next big jump in revenue and profit.
In most entrepreneurial businesses I encounter, most if not all of the “best ideas” come from one person…the person at the top of the food chain.
In addition, those leaders rarely have someone in their company that gives them candid feedback to every brilliant idea they have (which happens about every 15 minutes or so); and they also rarely have no one else in the organization coming up with new ideas that they can build on.
How lonely is that?
In almost every case, the CEO/owner does not have a “second rainmaker.”
I know that when you have a mission or vision that is so much a part of your DNA, it is sometimes hard to hear other folks who might actually share that same mission/vision…and are actually ready (or “deserving”) to contribute at a much deeper level with their own ingenuity.
Please read my post “From intrapreneur to entrepreneur” which talks about my personal experience regarding growing idea generators from within…and also making sure you are working to be one of those internal rainmakers if you are not the owner/CEO/founder.
Recognizing talent, hiring them and growing them…and then actually listening to them (and their ideas)…is what will lead to the most exponential growth in your business.
There is a risk that your second (or third) rainmaker might then add even more shiny objects to the idea mix… but who is to say that one of theirs can’t replace one of yours?
Having been lucky enough to be a “second rainmaker” in a company where I shared the vision of the founder at the deepest level…and then definitely got heard…all I can say is that it is doable.
To summarize my prescription for success in any entrepreneurial company that successfully moves itself to what author Peter Senge calls a “learning organization ”:
1) Make sure, as the leader, you are doing only the things you are best at and the things only you can do better than everyone else. This is the wisdom of the previously mentioned Dan Sullivan. The core premise of what he teaches is that it is critical to only work in your “unique ability.
In addition to Senge’s book and everything Dan Sullivan has written , I also highly recommend the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
2) If you are like most of the entrepreneurs Ned Hallowell talks about–and you have no shortage of new ideas but can’t get them all done–figure out a system to know a good one from a bad one. That is, choose wisely and make sure you have people around you who tell you the truth about your ideas, good or bad. Reward them for candor and don’t punish them for honesty.
If you can’t hire for this, get it from key peer groups on the outside.
And if you are part of the staff, be that honest person once you have earned the trust of your superiors.
Top down or bottom up, be transparent that there will be no room for “yessing everything to death.”
3) Once you have the implementation and feedback loops handled, get yourself a second rainmaker. I know that is not an easy button/easy hire and it’s a long term play. But it is best if you can have one at your side.
And if you are the “intrapreneur”, working closely with an entrepreneur, look to be a rainmaker for them…always…
Back to the entrepreneur: If you can’t grow a second rainmaker, you still need to find one. Go to outside experts or be part of a mastermind group to help you make rain (i.e. consultants and colleagues who want to be your partners, not just creators of chaos). Do that at a minimum.
If it sounds like I have all of this handled myself, I don’t…but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that this is what we all need to do to achieve at our highest levels.
I just wrote this on a post-it note and hung it at eye level on my computer monitor:
Refrain from doing things someone else can do better, find great implementers who complement your tendency towards shiny objects, find employees and friends who tell you the truth and don’t think that you are the only one who can make rain.
And I just bought a bigger umbrella which I am very excited about too…
P.S. I want to thank so many of you for filling out the survey I sent a couple of weeks ago. I’d still love to hear from you if you haven’t taken it.
Takes about 2 minutes and you can do that here …