Your business. Your creation. Your dream.

business_dreamWhat you read in these Monday Morning Wake-Ups is about real life entrepreneurial leadership. I write for you, the small business owner, because you were crazy enough and bold enough to risk everything for the dream of building a company your way. I write for you because tough challenges come along with building a company that test your tenacity and capacity to manage stress. I write for you because you are wise enough to know that the decisions and business disciplines you avoid and procrastinate on the most are the ones that always get you into trouble. I write for you because I know all too well that an entrepreneurial dream can quickly turn into sleepless nights and get scary as hell. Lastly, I write for you because I respect and honor the level of responsibility that rests on your shoulders. Like you, I too am an entrepreneur.

The lessons we learn in business are priceless. Every day we learn a lesson on how to lead our employees a little bit better. Every day we are reminded that if we spend more than we generate in revenues, we are digging a financial hole a little deeper. Every day we are reminded that we can only put so much on our “leadership plate” before stuff begins to fall off. Every day we learn more about the meaning of trust and what it feels like when trust is broken. We entrepreneurs are the brave souls that create opportunities for others, so we can have an opportunity to lead and own a viable enterprise.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership insights into what it means to be an entrepreneurial leader:

  • The people thing: The fine art of leading people is a blessing and curse. For leaders, it’s a never-ending quest to assemble that perfect team of people. And when you finally get it just right, take a picture of it, because your perfect team is going to evolve and change as people come and go. You will have the pleasure of coaching and mentoring some extraordinary people. You will have the displeasure of having to deal with toxic thinking and behavior. Yes, your dream includes that task of having to fire people. Through it all, leaders must never lose their belief in people. And when times get tough, those you believe in will rally around you, protect you, and lift you up. Pay attention to your people.
  • The money thing: A viable and sustainable business is a profitable business. Creating profit and turning profit into cash is a discipline that many entrepreneurs struggle with. Why? Because entrepreneurs are primarily risk takers and free thinkers. They see budgets and cash-flow plans as cramping their style. What they quickly learn is that when cash gets tight and the debt load gets too big … the severe cramping pain will increase until it grabs their attention. Buy the gotta-haves first and the nice to haves if there is money left in the budget. Credit card debt is pure evil. Too much debt means using today’s cash flow to pay off yesterday’s bad decisions. Never forget that building a cash reserve is your sleep good at night money.
  • The time thing: You are the only one who can take control of and manage your time. Yes, there are times when working seven days a week is what you have to do. But working non-stop is not sustainable. Doing so will compromise your health, your family and your effectiveness as a leader. The best leaders share the load. They manage what they allow on their plate. They coach and mentor people to solve problems in their area of responsibility rather than be everybody’s grand go-to problem solver. They understand that well-designed systems set them free. If you feel like you’re a prisoner in your own company … that it only performs well when you’re present … it is time be coached on how to take control of your time.
  • The change thing: Change is a good and necessary part of leading and growing a business. Many embrace change while others fear and resist. Great leaders understand how vital it is to embed ongoing incremental change into their culture. It’s the same principle as locking into a workout program. Stick to a workout program and you’ll see and feel the difference in your appearance and performance. Every time you stop and restart your workout program, your muscles are going to hurt and it will take time to regain your level of fitness. The longer your company delays implementing change, the more change resisters hunker down in their comfort zones. No-Compromise Leaders always maintain a little rocking in their company boat so people are prepared for the more intense rocking when the time comes for major change or a culture shift.
  • The “what the fungawee” thing: Shit happens. Bad decisions will be made. Trust will be broken. Things will wear out or break. It’s not bad luck and your name is not on some “lets see how much stress these leaders can take” list. In business and life, the unplanned and unpleasant is going to happen. This is when you are called upon to muster all of your leadership capacity to lead your company through the turmoil. If your employees see you twirling a “throw in the towel,” you are signaling that it’s time for them to start twirling their towels too. The best leaders rise to the challenge in tough times. No compromise.
  • The passion thing: As time passes, your passion for your business will certainly ebb and flow. That’s why it’s important to feed your entrepreneurial passion by engaging in work that feeds your passion. Too many entrepreneurs bury themselves in reports and numbers and other tasks that sap their passion. You didn’t get into business to be a report reader, bookkeeper or disciplinarian. You got into business to build something great … to chase your dream. The minute you disconnect from that dream, your passion is compromised, and once that happens, you surrender your leadership role and devolve into being a manager. I write this stuff because it is the work that feeds my passion for business. I coach and teach because it feeds my passion. I innovate new business strategies because it feeds my passion. I designed my company to allow me to do what I love. If you’re stuck and question your passion … it’s time rethink your role in your company.

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Time to remix and drink your Kool-Aid

kool-aidAs kids, we loved to drink Kool-Aid. Just water sweetened with sugar, tart fruit flavors, artificial coloring and absolutely no nutritional value, it was just fun to drink. Maybe that’s why “drink the Kool-Aid” became a metaphor for a group’s shared belief in some intangible thing. If you drink the Kool-Aid, you believe and instantly become a group member. If you don’t drink the Kool-Aid, you’re with the non-believers.

When we were kids, mom mixed the Kool-Aid … and it tasted good. In business, leaders mix their own Kool-Aid for their followers to drink … and that first sip tastes so good. It tastes so good because the mixture embodies the leader’s vision, passion and drive to create a company that stands for something special and unique. That Kool-Aid captures the imagination of like-minded people. A dynamic culture evolves that is innovative, energizing and seemingly invincible. To be part of such a company, or group culture, is a privilege and a life experience that resets and raises your belief in your own potential. And it all started with a sip of Kool-Aid.

The lasting effects of Kool-Aid are unfortunately short-lived. Companies grow, get stuck and disappear. Key team members move on because someone else’s Kool-Aid tastes better and has a bigger kick to it … or it’s just time to mix their own Kool-Aid and find their own followers. New team members come onboard and hear stories of the mystical Kool-Aid but never get to taste it.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership strategies on how to mix and prescribe Kool-Aid for a variety of essential situations:

  • Mix it for today: The Kool-Aid mixture that got you and your company started, is not the mixture to keep it vibrant, engaged and determined today. That mixture was full of vision and promise. Today’s mixture is about endurance, tenacity and getting the work done. It needs the understanding and discipline of creating and refining systems, procedures and standards. It needs a solid foundation of shared values. Today’s Kool-Aid mixture is about getting better and going the distance. And the final ingredient; it needs a preventative for entitlement, indifference and apathy.
  • Mix it for tomorrow: This Kool-Aid mixture is heavy on innovation and differentiation. It is formulated on the premise that “Past successes are no guarantee of future success.” It embeds the “innovate or die” mindset to keep the company as far ahead of competitors as possible. This mixture creates the shared thinking that being different is about doing what the competition is too short-sighted, inept or too lazy to do. It also instills a sense of pride that being on the cutting edge of delivering an extraordinary service or product is earned, by building and innovating a better tomorrow, in the work you’re doing today.
  • Mix it for newbies: Newbies are your future. Newbies will carry the company torch into the future when their moment arrives. This mixture of Kool-Aid is about investing in the company’s future by preparing and nurturing new talent today. This mixture is as heavy on culture, thinking and behavior, as it is on skill development. It has ingredients that diligently promote mentorship and the handing down of skills and qualities of the company’s most experienced and talented team members. This mixture is all about getting newbies up to speed and engaged in the company culture as quickly and efficiently as possible. The newbie Kool-Aid is about sustainability.
  • Mix it for key staff: This Kool-Aid mixture is specially formulated for those individuals that have gone the distance for the company, the team and all that the company stands for. They embody the vision and values of the company and what makes it special. And during the daily fight to push the company forward, they are also the ones that can unintentionally be taken for granted. The ingredients in this Kool-Aid mixture are heavy on appreciation and rich on culture and pride of accomplishment. Key staff need a regular dose of this Kool-Aid because it reminds them that all their work and their contribution to the company has been worth it, recognized and appreciated. Leaders are advised to take a shot of this mixture on the same cycle as key staff.
  • Mix it for yourself: As the leader, you are susceptible to all the stress and emotions that are part of growing a company. Wins lift you up. Failures, bad decisions and setbacks wear you down. This rare and precious Kool-Aid mixture is for the sole purpose of keeping you grounded and functioning in your role as leader. This mixture contains high doses of fairness, integrity and belief in people. It also includes ingredients that support consistency, accountability, attention to detail and balanced communication. The very last ingredient in the leader’s Kool-Aid supports healthy optimism and the ability to manage what’s on your plate. It is recommended for daily use.

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The Choice: Take control or make excuses

take_controlThings happen for a reason. There is always an explanation for an outcome … whether it is good or bad. It can be an inspiring story of a leader stepping up and taking control of his or her reality to create the best possible outcome. In contrast, it can be a docudrama describing all of the real, and perceived, obstacles and hurdles that prevented the most desirable outcome. Before the elements of the inspiring story or docudrama explanations begin to unfold, the leader makes a choice to take control or begin manufacturing excuses. It’s a choice to take control your own destiny or abdicate control and mask the outcome with excuses.

Stepping up and taking control is what leaders are supposed to do. As a leader, you’re supposed to be fearless, focused and inspiring to lead your company through good times and bad. However, leaders are not superheroes able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Leaders are a collection of skills, strengths and weaknesses. Some leaders step up and take control with ease … but struggle to get initiatives across the finish line. Some leaders need to process every element before taking control by obsessing over a decision that is often too little too late. Of course, there are leaders that are masters of avoidance and procrastination … as well as making excuses and playing the blame game.

The choice to step up and take control can be difficult for many leaders because it requires them to overcome their fears, insecurities and their known weaknesses. No matter what, the choices always remain the same … take control or make excuses.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership insights to control your own destiny, create the right outcomes and leave the excuse making behind you:

  • Weaknesses lurk to ambush: Your known weaknesses are those patterns of thinking and behavior that lurk and ambush your best intentions. Things like fear of confrontation, unpopular decisions, living your cash-flow plan, and “not being liked,” can ambush your intent to step up and take the necessary control that you, your team and your company require – and do it now rather than later. The key to overcoming your known weaknesses is to recognize their triggers. The triggers are almost always feelings of discomfort or dread. Humans have the same “fight or flight” wiring animals do. The “fight” choice pushes you out of your comfort zone. It makes you stretch and grow. The “flight” choice pushes you into excuse and blame mode. It does nothing for you other than create more excuse and blame opportunities. Leaders take control.
  • Taking control of opportunities: Taking control to create the right outcomes opens the door to new opportunities that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. It’s the difference between taking a journey to a foreign land, versus sitting on your front porch talking about all the amazing places you want to visit. Knowledge, experience and mastery are derived from doing, not dreaming. Testing your abilities and challenging yourself to create breakthroughs are the steppingstones to success. More importantly, for leaders, taking control of the outcomes is the only way to ensure that a company can grow and endure. Leaders take control.
  • Taking control – not control freak: A conductor controls the flow, rhythm and intensity of the orchestra without ever touching an instrument. As a leader, you control the flow, rhythm and intensity of your team and your company – and can do so without ever touching another person’s work. Taking control is more about directing, coaching and empowering others. Leaders that confuse taking control with dictating and micromanaging people create toxic and dysfunctional cultures that feed on excuses and blame. Leaders take control respectfully and with integrity.
  • Down the excuse rabbit hole: By not taking control, you leave the Four Business Outcomes (productivity, profitability, staff retention and customer loyalty) to fate. It’s like being in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, drifting wherever the current takes you. Once there is the need to explain why something went wrong, missed deadline, blew up or never left the starting gate … the journey down the excuse rabbit hole begins. And the deeper and faster you go, the more blame spews onto others triggering more excuses and blame. That’s a whole lot of needless fire fighting, leak plugging and damage control. It’s exhausting, stressful and totally avoidable. The only way to have a chance to succeed and win is by taking control of your own destiny. Leaders take control.
  • The responsibility factor: Leadership is as much about taking responsibility as it is about taking control. A leader is responsible for the safety, operational integrity and financial viability of the company. The only way for a leader to fulfill his or her role is to take, and be in control. The only acceptable excuse is that the best and most tenacious efforts of the company failed to achieve the desired outcomes. You can stand tall and be proud of the fact that you played your best game. There is no pride in giving manufactured excuses for a half-baked try where responsibility failed to show up for the game. Leaders take control.

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Tapping into Team Bonus

team_bonusIn every conceivable way, business is a competitive endeavor. You compete against other companies for market share. You compete to beat last year’s numbers. You compete to hit monthly and quarterly goals. You compete to improve productivity, efficiency and to reduce costs. You compete twelve times a year to drive profit to the bottom line on your monthly Profit and Loss Statements. As a leader, you compete to maximize your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. And … you compete to keep your team engaged, motivated and inspired to deliver their best every day, because excuses, apathy and indifference relentlessly test the strength of your culture. Business is about teamwork and winning because, in every conceivable way … losing sucks.

In business, there are no trophies for winning. Winning simply means your company survived to fight another day. A track record of winning adds meaning to the term “sustainability” but by no means assures it. Winning is also tied directly to your company’s payroll. When you’re winning, you can reward employee performance with pay raises. Winning also gives you the funds to hire the right talent to strengthen your team. However, no matter how you pay your employees … their personal incomes are about the individual’s performance and contribution. Personal incomes are not about teamwork.

Rewarding your team for a winning performance is where team bonus can be a powerful tool in your leadership toolbox … if you understand the in’s and out’s of building a team bonus into your game plan for winning.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership insights to help you make the most of a team bonus system:

  • It’s the cause – not the cash: The instant the cash from a win takes precedent over the cause, meaning and purpose of the win, intent of team bonus is compromised and depowered. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that cause remains the driver and not the bonus. The cause is the motivator. The cause is what makes teams dig deep to create the shared sense of urgency to win. The win is simply about driving the cause across the finish line. The win is the trigger that releases the team bonus. Champion the cause. Push for the win. The team bonus is reward.
  • Carrots, apples and oranges: Team bonus means different things to different people. To some, winning most certainly is about the cash. To others, the win is about the celebration and shared accomplishment of achieving goal. And to others, the win and team bonus has a very personal meaning that they are part of something special … that they belong. It is the leader’s responsibility to tap into all of the touch points of winning and team bonus. The worst thing a leader can do to take the meaning out of team bonus is to distribute bonus without any expression of the meaning of the win and showing gratitude for a job well done. Otherwise, team bonus can become an entitlement.
  • The “But wait … there’s more” pitch: Too often, like selling ginsu knives on television, leaders make it all about the team bonus. It sounds like, “If we win – you’ll get team bonus.” As detailed in the first bullet point, the cause must always supersede the team bonus. Making it all about the team bonus and the money bypasses the emotional and motivational intent of winning. Leaders lead people. Pitchmen sell ginsu knives.
  • The “But we were so close” trap: Only an authentic win can trigger team bonus. All a near win triggers is another chance to play for a win. The worst thing a leader can do to depower team bonus is to reward a full or partial team bonus for a near win. With all due respect, if the team came close enough for a near win … they played a good game, but not good enough to win. The learning experience is in analyzing and isolating what prevented a win and making the necessary adjustments. Acknowledge the near win – only reward a real win.
  • When the carrots, apples and oranges go bad: There are times when things just go sideways and a win looks more like that dubious light at the end of the tunnel. Business is never about guaranteed wins. Business is about good times and having the tenacity to make it through the tough times. There are times when winning simply means surviving the tough times and regrouping. In these times, dangling an unattainable team bonus does more to demoralize a team than inspire it. The best course is to take team bonus off the table and suspend it until the company regains forward momentum. Focus on what matters most.
  • It’s just about winning: Team bonus is nothing more than acknowledgement for the efforts and performance of your team. Team bonus is about appreciation. It’s a “thank you” from the company. It’s fine to have basic team bonus rules, but never contaminate it with consequences. People don’t willingly deliver their best efforts to avoid consequences. Team wins trigger team bonus. Teams help those that fall behind. Teams fight for what they believe in. That’s the magic that creates wins.

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Because it is about The Cause

Businessman demonstrationCall me crazy, but I have never gone to work for the money. If the work I do is meaningful to others, the money will come. If the work I do is specialized and addresses urgent issues, the money will come. If I do my work with passion, integrity, respect and a profound sense of caring, the money will come. If the work I do is for a worthy cause with higher purpose, the money will come. To me, money is an outcome. Money is a measurement of the effort, results and quality I put into the work I do.

My work has always been about a very personal cause. The cause is about helping entrepreneurs to grow truly amazing companies with amazing cultures that are emotionally and financially sustainable. It is the “cause” that created my company, Strategies, and kept it thriving for over 21 years. It is the “cause” that attracts clients and talented and passionate staff to Strategies. It is the “cause” that provides a living and security for my company’s employees and my family.

That’s my story. That’s why myself, and those around me are so passionate and committed about the work we do … because it’s about the “cause.”

So what’s your cause? What cause do you and your team fight for? What cause embodies all that your company exists and stands for? What cause gives meaning to your work?

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership thoughts to help keep you and your team focused on the “cause”:

  • Work is work … sucks: In the absence of a cause, work is nothing more than work. It’s putting in the time in return for money. Yes, people need to pay the bills, put food on the table and have a place to live, but working solely for a paycheck does little to feed the human spirit. The cause gives meaning and purpose to work. The cause creates that empowering above and beyond thinking and behavior that drives extraordinary team performance and wins. The cause weeds out culture killing indifference and entitlement thinking. When work is work … work sucks.
  • The cause attracts and retains: All leaders want great talent on their team. It’s the cause that you and your team embrace that represents your brand and makes your company stand out from the competition. Talented people gravitate to standout companies that believe in and fight for a cause. They want to join in, participate and contribute. They want to belong. More importantly, they want to stay, because leaving means separating from the cause and the culture. Talent doesn’t gravitate to companies where work sucks – they avoid them. If your company is having challenges recruiting talent and having issues with turnover … your cause may have lost its glow and work became work. Who wants to go to work at place that lost its purpose and work sucks?
  • Relentlessly communicate the cause: A worthy cause needs to be fed a steady diet of information flow. People need persistent reminders of why the work they do is essential, vital and uniquely special. People need and seek meaning in their work. People thrive when they know they are making a difference and that their work matters. The wins are more significant when they support the cause. And when the inevitable dark times occur, it is the relentless communication of the cause that provides the collective will to overcome. No other leadership responsibility takes precedent over relentlessly communicating the cause to ensure it endures through time.
  • Compensate the cause – not the work: The cause is all about “we” … not “I/me/mine.” Pay based on individual work and output can and will compromise the cause because it is all about “I/me/mine.” It fractures teamwork by creating the haves that see little, if any, benefit in helping and mentoring the have nots. It feeds “It’s not my job” thinking to anything above and beyond “their work.” I have been, and will forever be, a proponent to pay based on overall performance that includes thinking and behavior that supports culture and teamwork.
  • Beware the weary cause: Over time, a cause can lose its focus and therefore its followers. I’m going to rephrase this in a way that I hope smacks you in the head and gets you to assess the current state of your cause. Here goes; if your work as the leader has made you weary – your company’s cause has become weary. Yes, there are times when you need to recharge your leadership and entrepreneurial batteries, and that’s OK. But if you’ve grown weary and question your ability and passion to continue fighting for the cause, your company will remain stuck and eventually begin to fracture. As a leadership and business coach, I urge every leader to constantly assess their personal state of being for signs of weariness. As long as the desire and commitment to the cause is present, coaching and refocusing can rekindle your passion to once again lead the cause. The cause cannot survive without its leader.

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When your business does not feel well, you do not feel well

sickLike humans, businesses can have serious health issues too, like being cash starved, burdened with crushing debt, and a toxic culture. I always say, “My heart beats along with my business.” When it’s healthy, profitable and fun, I feel great. When it’s sick, I feel sick. If you’re a business owner, you know exactly what I mean.

If your business hasn’t been feeling well lately, then you’re feeling it too. Maybe your business is just out of shape and lethargic because it’s carrying too much baggage. You feel concerned, a bit stressed and perhaps even frustrated. If your business is sick, the concern, stress and frustration are magnified. And if your business is seriously sick … perhaps life-threatening sick … the stress and sleepless nights can be debilitating.

I know, just reading this stuff can make you queasy. That’s why I write it, because business problems are real, become progressively worse over time, and never fix themselves. You can’t be an effective leader when you just don’t feel well, and especially if you are downright sick.

The only way to feel better and get back in the leadership game is to take the necessary action to fix what ails your business. That’s where things get tricky. No matter how big or small the fix, fixing anything in a business means that stuff needs change … and change can easily add to your stress. And then there’s the “what if’s.” What if it doesn’t work? What if my employees don’t like it? What if it makes things worse? All this second-guessing does is keep you stuck as you stare at the launch button for change. In the coaching business we refer to these scenarios as “talking an owner off the ledge.”

So, if any of the preceding describes you and your company, follow these six steps to fix what’s broken, take back control of your company and regain your personal wellbeing:

  1. Fix the nasty stuff first: The nasty stuff is the problem. The small stuff can wait. If it’s a toxic employee, manager or spending problem … fix it. I mean throw everything you’ve got at the solution until the problem is gone. Most leaders know exactly what they need to do but wimp out at the last minute. Of course fixing the nasty stuff first can be scary, but it’s the nasty stuff that’s making you and the business sick. Allowing the nasty stuff to hang around one more day means one more day before the healing process begins. Fix the nasty stuff first. No compromise.
  2. Check in and lead: The nasty stuff happened on your watch and while you weren’t feeling well, you weren’t being the leader your team and company needed. It’s easy to check out as a leader when you feel beaten up. Checking back in means stepping up, taking ownership for allowing the nasty stuff to happen in the first place … and re-engaging as your company’s leader. It’s time to show your team that you’re back and decisively moving forward.
  3. Plot a new course: When you jettison the nasty stuff, you grab everyone’s attention. Heck, you finally rocked the boat and shook things up. Your team needs to know what’s going on and what this means for them and the company. More than anything, they need to know where the company is going. I could have labeled this step “create a new vision” but plotting a new course accomplishes more. To plot a course there needs to be a destination. Your team needs to know both. The course will give them the next steps and the steps after that. Creating clarity is the quickest way to eliminate uncertainty.
  4. Communicate like never before: If there ever was a time for you to be on your soapbox communicating, sharing your thoughts and ideas … this is it. Heck, you just slew the dragon and set your company free. You conquered the source of your fear and frustration. Your confidence is rushing back. As a business coach, I’ve seen this scenario play out in a matter of days. It is incredibly empowering and shortens the duration of the culture shift that you initiated.
  5. Start knocking off the small stuff: Okay, you’ve got momentum. Your team is rallying behind you. Engage your team in knocking off the small stuff … one fix approximately every 90 days. This creates focus and urgency on the fix and gives it the best chance of sticking long term.
  6. Distance yourself but never forget the dark days: The more distance you put between you and the dark days the better. However, as progress is made there is a tendency to perceive the fix as complete before it truly is. Always remember that your decisions, thinking and behavior played a key role in creating the nasty stuff. Like any bad habit, it takes time, often years, for new thinking and behavior to lock in. Even then, old behaviors lurk below the surface waiting to resurface. The dark days should always be your reminder to stay the course. No compromise.

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Are you working harder for less?

work_hard_for_lessThis Monday Morning Wake-Up is for all the owners and leaders that are stuck in survival mode and growing weary of being in a state of working harder for less.

Owning and leading a successful business has always been about giving it all you’ve got. You willfully give your time to the point where working a forty-hour week would feel like a vacation. You give your personal resources in terms of money, taking on debt and using personal assets as collateral. More than any other factor, you give your passion, energy and emotional capacities to pursue your business vision. In so many profound ways, what you give … and sacrifice … for your business is a commitment to perpetually live at or beyond the brink of your comfort zone.

Given all the sacrifice, what is the upside of owning and leading a business? For me, it is to control my own destiny, to build something truly unique, and to create a better life for myself, my family, my employees and those my company serves. Of course it’s about making money – but money has never been the number one driver. The purpose and content of the work has always been my number one driver. Do it right, do it to the best of my ability … and the money will come. Profit and money is an outcome.

There comes a time in the evolution of a business where the owner’s work changes. All businesses go through survival mode where hard work, long hours and sacrifice are non-negotiable. But survival mode is a portion of the journey that you and your business should eventually pass through. Like a jet climbs to reach cruising altitude, so must a business climb through survival mode to a state of sustainability.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership strategies to help you climb out of survival mode and put an end to the cycle of working harder for less:

  • Change your business model: If you and your business are stuck in survival mode, then your current business model is designed to function in survival mode. This is the toughest concept for many entrepreneurs to grasp. Their thinking is that by “working harder” things will get better. In reality, working harder at an inefficient or poorly designed business model won’t make it go faster or lift it out of survival mode. The moment an owner realizes that he or she is working harder for less … the business model must change. By business model I’m referring to the leadership approach, culture upgrade, new and better systems to inspire employee engagement, financial controls, standards of performance, accountability and a complete overhaul of customer service practices. My only warning here is that the longer you’ve been in survival mode, the more embedded the thinking and behavior – the more challenging upgrading to a new business model will be. If you want to get out of survival mode bad enough, this is your only path out. Get business a coach.
  • Change your focus: If you’re stuck in survival mode your focus is on plugging leaks, fighting cash flow problems, employee indifference and just trying to make it through another day, week or month. It’s like watching your feet walk and hoping you’ll make it to a better place. The problem is that by watching your feet, you can’t see obstacles ahead of you … or even a cliff coming up. Change your focus means stepping back for a bit to honestly and brutally assess where you are (current reality) and where you want to go (vision). It is impossible to set your business GPS to a destination of “get better.” It is very doable to set your business GPS on achieving a specific destination (goals) that includes milestones, tasks, accountabilities, measurable critical numbers, and other performance and growth factors. Changing your focus requires a high level of personal discipline to avoid reverting back to survival mode behavior. Get a business coach.
  • Change your work: If you’re stuck in survival mode, you’re stuck in your daily work doing a bad superhero impersonation of trying to carry and lift your business on your own back. Now that is the definition of insanity and a recipe for burnout. The next step after changing your business model and changing your focus to a new destination is to change your work. And the only way to change your work is to blow up your daily work schedule and rebuild it with work content designed to lift you out of survival mode. Simply put, if you’re tired of working harder for less … then work smarter for more. Again, old work habits die hard. Working smarter for more always requires new business and leadership skills and the discipline to master those skills. Get a business coach.
  • Change your choice: Yes, survival mode and working harder for less is not a good place to get stuck. It wears you down, burns you out and feeds negativity, finger- pointing and feelings of self-doubt. The hard truth about being stuck in survival mode is that it is a choice. Survival mode and working harder for less is nothing more than a toxic collection of one’s own thinking and behavior patterns. By changing your choice to a new and positive set of thinking and behavior patterns, you simultaneously change your perspective on life, business and the possibilities of a better future. Get a business coach.

I’m not trying to “sell” anyone on the benefits of business coaching. I simply know what it’s like to be stuck in survival mode and what it takes to lift yourself and your business out of it. Transformations move at the speed of the individual’s ability to change, learn and master the disciplines of business and leadership. Being held accountable to the change process is perhaps the greatest gift of coaching. So, if you’re tired of working harder for less … it’s time to change your approach and learn how to work smarter for more.

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Are you a control freak leader?

control_freakIf you want it done right, do it yourself. That’s the motto of a control freak leader. You oversee everything. You need to approve everything. You come up with the ideas that everyone else needs to execute. Your definition of delegating is allowing others the freedom to get things started, then stepping in, taking over and doing it the way you want. You’ve got your tentacles embedded into every nook and cranny of your company. Yes, you are a proud and worthy control freak leader. You are also the most frustrating, smothering and energy sapping leader to work for.

There are varying degrees of control freak leaders. Some are project and turf selective where everyone knows it’s best to keep their hands off. Some are pouncers that, like a wild tiger tracking its prey, hold back until they’re about to explode … then pounce on a project and rip it to shreds. And as described in the opening paragraph, there is the certified obsessive-compulsive control freak that meddles in everything to the point where nothing gets done.

In business, control freak leaders can be an occasional speed bump, a persistent roadblock, or the mother of all traffic jams. Simply put, control freak leaders either hinder or stop all forward progress.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership strategies to help control freak leaders transform themselves into engaging, empowering and trusting leaders:

  • Leading is not about controlling: Leadership is about guiding, coaching and empowering followers to reach a destination. People follow because they want to get to a better place. There is a spirit of shared engagement in the process. A dynamic culture evolves. Controlling is about limitations, restrictions and confinement. Controlling is about keeping people in a box. Control freak leaders may get results, but eventually, those they control want out of the box.
  • Controlling is exhausting: Controlling the execution of work, making and approving decisions, redoing work you don’t like and being wired into everything is exhausting. It is also described as “catch people doing something wrong.” Control freak leaders are often stressed out and well on their way to burnout if they’re not burnt out already. The only cure for an exhausted, stressed out, control freak leader is to shift his or her focus on clarifying expectations, creating better systems … and learning how to manage systems rather than control people.
  • Stop fixing leaks: Control freak leaders function in a perpetual dilemma of trying to control everything around them or paying attention to the opportunities and hazards approaching them. Because control freak leaders are so busy down below finding and fixing leaks, they tend to bump into one problem or crisis after another. Captains belong on the bridge of their ship, not below fixing leaks. There’s nothing wrong with leaders stepping up and doing the work of the company, but not if it leaves the company leaderless. Control freak leaders must keep their hands off the work they empowered others to do. No compromise.
  • Culture of trust or distrust: No matter how much they deny it, control freak leaders have trust issues. FACT: If a leader doesn’t trust people, people won’t trust the leader. In a culture of distrust, people are too busy watching their backs to pay attention to their work. Everything slows down. Mistakes and problems multiply. The blame game becomes the game of choice. Control freak leaders need to understand the origins of their distrusting nature. The path to building a trusting culture begins with understanding one’s own thinking and behavior. Done wisely and openly, extending trust isn’t painful or risky.
  • Freedom of letting go: I’m a leader and the last thing I want to do is be into everyone’s work. My job is to set the destination (vision), empower my team, and ensure the well being of the company. Just like every member of my team, there are responsibilities and projects I must own and deliver on. My job is not to meddle and smother the drive and enthusiasm of others. My job is to help them succeed so we can all succeed. More than anything, I enjoy the freedom to focus on the work that fulfills me. I can’t experience that if I’m stuck in other people’s work.

Control freak leaders limit opportunities for themselves and those they are attempting to lead. They function in a box of their own making by keeping people confined in their own boxes of limited opportunity. At Strategies, the hardest work we do as business and leadership coaches is to get control freak leaders to recognize that they need to change first in order for their company to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

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Do not be a business maintenance man

maintenanceMan2When I was a young man starting out on my first job, I thought to myself, “I want to be the manager.” I was always fascinated with business and what made it work. I love the energy that comes from a team of people working together and believed that I had the ability to “manage” a team. From the beginning, I worked closely with the manager to learn everything I could about being a “manager.” I learned about handling money, scheduling for productivity, setting goals, inventory control, filling out reports, performance evaluations and keeping everyone on task.

Holy crap … I wasn’t learning how to be a leader – I was learning how to become a business “maintenance” man. I mean no disrespect to managers, nor am I suggesting that managers do not lead people. My point is that the primary role of a manager is to ensure the successful operation of a business or department and to make sure that the work gets done. Yes, a manager is responsible for hitting goal and ensuring growth … but the work of leadership is something different – something uniquely special. FACT #1: A leader in maintenance mode is stuck. FACT #2: An enlightened manager can rise to become an extraordinary leader.

Here are my No-Compromise Leadership thoughts on why the role of leader extends far beyond the role of manager:

  • Leaders set and protect the vision: A manager adheres to and supports the company’s vision. A leader creates and tenaciously enhances the company’s vision. Leaders chase the dream and the achievement of that elusive next level. Leaders look beyond tomorrow and see the possibilities. Managers maintain and focus on the work that needs to be done today and tomorrow. Leaders and managers can both get stuck in manager mode.
  • Leaders are culture builders: Culture is the collective outcome of a company’s thinking and behavior. Culture is the energy that drives excellence as much as it drives the achievement of goals. Managers that are focused on systems, numbers and accountability may get the work done … but it’s the company’s culture that gives life and meaning to doing the work. Managers that are all about driving numbers, hitting goal and consequences may look good on paper … but their cultures may be toxic, indifferent and change resistant. Leaders bring meaning to the work. Leaders create unity. Leaders create cultures that want to win.
  • Leaders are coaches: If the leader’s role is to create a dynamic and empowered culture, then the leader’s role is to be a coach – to bring out the full potential of individuals and teams. Coaching is about incremental improvement. Coaching is about helping individuals and teams achieve breakthroughs in performance. Coaches can be tough. Coaches can be demanding. But coaches must always be passionate and respectful when bringing out the best in people. Leaders that coach inspire those they lead. Managers push for results. Do you want lead and inspire as a coach or demand, dictate and supervise like a manager?
  • Leaders find a way: Challenges and problems are part of doing business. Setbacks will occur. A crisis will sneak up and make a surprise attack on your company. Managers will depend on the tools in their toolbox to fend off the attack … even when those tools lack the strength and horsepower necessary to be effective. Leaders are creative and flexible. Leaders seek out viable options. Leaders work through their fears to inspire confidence when times get tough. Leaders tap into the human spirit. Managers keep pushing through even when the body count keeps rising. Leaders see and believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Every leader and manager has the choice to be a business maintenance man or a company leader. Leaders, by choice or circumstance, that get stuck or devolve into maintenance mode, are no longer leading … they are simply managing to maintain status quo. Leadership is a complex and often intimidating role to fill. The persistent need to perform, inspire, grow, deliver excellence, innovate, console, discipline, hire, fire, manage cash flow, etc., etc., is not a job for the hesitant, timid and faint at heart. One’s ability to become and remain a No-Compromise Leader will always be the road to self-discovery.

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Consistency is a choice

consistencyJust how good do you want to be? What level of the game do you want to play? How important is that vision of yours? How passionate are you about the work you do? How committed are you to achieving excellence? If you were an aspiring athlete with your sights set on winning Olympic gold, your coach would tell you in extreme detail what that road map to winning would look like. The coach would explain the relentless hours of training and the pain of pushing through your perceived physical limits. The coach would simply detail the process of achieving consistency in execution at a world-class level. Then, it would be your choice to choose the path to consistency.

Consistency is about repeatability and the achievement of incremental performance gains. In the beginning, the gains can be significant and impressive. However, at the higher levels of consistency, the gains are hard earned through continuous refinement and practice. And it is when the going gets tough that your answers to the five opening questions are put to the test. Winning your version of Olympic gold may be the ultimate prize … but achieving your personal best level of consistency is what matters most. It is also what separates those that are committed more by words, from those that are committed by deeds and hard work.

Here are some No-Compromise Leadership thoughts on choosing the path to consistency:

  • It’s a timeless process: I cringe when I hear the comments about the “millennials” and how they are the entitlement generation. I agree that each generation (I’m a baby boomer) has its unique traits, but being the best at what you pursue in life is a constant and timeless process of commitment, hard work, sacrifice and perseverance. Simply put, millennials seeking Olympic gold have to choose and commit to achieving consistency, just as every Olympian before them. The same goes for building a world-class company or team. Choosing the path of consistency is the defining choice. Anything less is choosing inconsistency.
  • It’s where you set the bar: You can be mentored, coached, pushed and prodded … but only you have the ability to set your consistency bar. It’s your choice to set it at wimpy, almost breaking a sweat, or at no-compromise consistency. At wimpy, the choice is inconsistency and doing enough to get by. Why even bother? At almost breaking a sweat, the choice is that average is good enough and dreams remain dreams. At no-compromise consistency, the choice is clear and the path is clear. You show up to work and play hard. You hone your skills and practice until you get it right. You push for wins. You inspire those around you to be their best. You earn every gain, every win and every success.
  • It’s a discipline: At Strategies we teach and coach business owners and leaders in the disciplines of growing dynamic, profitable, team-based companies. All that means is that we teach and coach the disciplines of consistency. The discipline process of creating consistency begins with the leader and flows throughout the company. The Four Business Outcomes that we teach are discipline and consistency based. The Productivity Outcome is about systems discipline and consistent execution. The Profitability Outcome is about the disciplines and consistency of cash-flow and financial management. The Staff Retention Outcome is about the disciplines and consistency of information flow, culture building, individual and team development, and establishing trust. The Customer Loyalty Outcome is about the disciplines and consistency of executing world-class work, embracing protocols, anticipating needs, teamwork, and delivering on your company’s promise to its customers. Individual and company consistency cannot exist without discipline.
  • It’s never always perfect: I always say, “If you execute something perfectly … take a picture so you’ll remember what that perfect moment looked like.” In life and business, achieving perfection is a worthy, yet preciously rare, occurrence. As I stated earlier, consistency is about repeatability and the achievement of incremental performance gains. But, in the quest for consistency, there will be setbacks, detours and breakdowns. Sometimes you or your team may be off your game. Sometimes reality throws you a curve. That’s why high levels of consistency can fluctuate at times. The only way to maintain high levels of consistency is to continuously refine your skills, techniques, systems and processes. It also means being capable of responding and adapting to changing conditions.
  • It’s worth it: Consistency in individual and business performance is the foundation that success is built on. The higher your level of consistency, the more you and your company stand out from the crowd and the more control you have over your success. If you have personal goals … choose consistency. If you have a company vision, or a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), choose consistency. Anything less is a commitment to accepting and tolerating inconsistency. If you’re a No-Compromise Leader, consistency is a non-negotiable.

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