Category Archives: Entrepreneurial Mindset

In The Turn

From Unproven to Unprecedented: How to Get Buy-in For Something That’s Never Been Done Before

 

Doing something new and different sounds exciting. But it’s almost never easy. In fact, it can be downright lonely as you work to convince the world of the beauty and wonder of your great idea.

It’s always harder than it seems in real life. Whether you’re launching a startup or creating a new approach to a persistent problem, it takes more than a passionate speech to get buy-in from influential champions for your cause. If it’s new, it’s unproven. And risky. And no matter how much you believe in it, your passion will only take you so far.

So, how can you win over customers, influencers and decision-makers for something that’s never been done?

I had the privilege of building a company from scratch, so I’m very familiar with the inevitable challenges of launching something new. And my good friend Lauren Wesley Wilson founded ColorComm, a business community for women of color in the communications industry. So, we sat down recently to talk about what it takes to go from unproven to unprecedented success.

Here are 6 takeaways from that conversation you can apply to your own launching pad.

1. Meet an unmet need – This is the one of the best places to start when thinking up new concepts, so look for the opportunity to position your idea in this way. Show how your solution delivers something unique, or how you can do it better, faster or cheaper than an existing solution.Lauren saw that women of color lacked opportunities in the communications industry. While supporting women in business isn’t new, focusing on women of color is. Lauren developed a vision for ColorComm, shared it with others and generated a lot of interest for meeting an unmet need.

2. Adapt and evolve – Very rarely does a successful idea look the same from launch to maturity. Most go through numerous revisions and adaptations, responding to market dynamics and customer feedback. We certainly have pushed – and still push – Mitchell Communications to evolve to serve our clients’ ever-changing needs. You have to, or you’ll get left behind.Once she had ColorComm up and going, Lauren learned the importance of listening to her supporters to find ways to improve the organization. “At the beginning, I was focused on realizing my vision,” said Lauren. “But over time, as I listened to others, I heard them bring new ideas forward. For example, they wanted resources and a community to help them when they faced challenges in their careers.”

Lauren used that feedback to develop new services for members that led to more business opportunities, advanced programming, and a talent initiative.

3. Earn trust – Overcoming the skepticism of others is one of the biggest obstacles when launching something new. Demonstrating your credibility and reliability is particularly difficult if people don’t know you or haven’t worked with you. They’re taking a chance on you, not just your product.

David Maister, author of The Trusted Advisor, created the trust equation as a powerful way to illustrate what it takes to earn trust:

Source: trustedadvisor.com

Each of these factors is critical to earning trust, but reliability can be particularly important if you don’t have a long track record. If that’s the case, start with a smaller ask that has a quicker payback and then deliver an early win.

In the early stages of launching her big idea, Lauren said she focused on showing others they could count on her, that she could do the work, and that she had staying power and determination.

“Many new organizations are not sustainable,” said Lauren. “People wonder if you’ll be around next year. You have to show some results as quickly as possible to give them confidence to invest in you for the long-run.”

4. Move with speed – In the early stages of a project, move quickly to seize opportunity, especially when the competition is stiff. This requires you to be available, responsive and accessible.

In the early years of Mitchell Communications, we often turned projects at breakneck speed – sometimes overnight, if needed. This was a competitive advantage because our competition, while more established, was too big and too slow.

Lauren said that type of agility also helped her build an effective team, earn sponsorship support and recruit top executives for her board.

5. Deal with “no” – There are those who simply won’t share your confidence in your idea, and that can be hard to take. That’s why founders and innovators must be resilient and thick skinned.

“You’re not going to appeal to everyone,” said Lauren. “Accept that fact from the beginning, and instead concentrate your efforts on searching for your audience. It can be scary to champion an untested idea, but you have to put yourself out there.”

If you are authentic and your passion shines through, the naysayers won’t get you down and your confidence will spread. “This will win others over,” Lauren said, “and trickle down to your team.”

6. Take smart risk – It’s tough to know when and how to take risk when starting something new. So much is on the line. Lauren’s experience shows you must consider several things:Your intuition – Follow your gut. There are times you will just know it is the right thing to do.

  • Your intuition – Follow your gut. There are times you will just know it is the right thing to do.
  • Balance your emotions with reasoning – There are times you will want something so badly. But some of the most important factors — like timing, audience, resources – aren’t there yet. In that case, you must be patient and wait for a better opportunity.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail – Fear of failure is one of the biggest reasons people don’t take risk. But you can’t fixate on it. Lauren learned to think of failure as a catalyst for growth. “If we fail, how can we recover quickly, learn from our mistakes and never make them again. We’re hurting ourselves and our organization if we don’t learn. That’s just how you grow.”

BONUS

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor ever gave you?

Focus. Don’t get caught up in distractions or try too hard to prove yourself. Concentrate on doing what is most important. You know what you need to do. Do it. — Lauren Wesley Wilson

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In The Turn

How to Make the Toughest Calls of Leadership [BONUS]

The buck stops here. How true. President Truman knew it. And all great leaders embrace it. We can (and should) empower others to make decisions whenever possible. But leadership will always involve making the toughest decisions.

Having the authority to make decisions is one of the most rewarding parts of leadership, but actually making the tough calls is seldom easy.

Think about a time when the odds were stacked against you and the risk of failure was high. You didn’t have all the information you needed, yet you had to make a decision. Your team was waiting, and your organization was depending on you to provide direction. What do you do?

When we face the most complex and critical decisions as a leader, we need to recognize the fears and emotions that often hold us hostage and then lean into three powerful “must-haves” for great decision-making.

Recognize the Enemy

A wide range of emotions can cloud our judgment and hold us back when we find ourselves in those crossroads moments that we’d often rather avoid but must face as leaders.

Difficult decisions can make us feel:

  • Overwhelmed – A tidal wave can hit when the potential consequences of a decision we face are significant, we are unprepared, or we feel like we are in over our heads.
  • Anxious – Becoming overly stressed often leads to poor decision-making. The more anxiety we feel, the less likely we’ll have a clear enough head to make the best choice possible. Neuroscience shows anxiety suppresses the activity of pre-frontal cortex neurons, which play a pivotal role in cognitive functions such as calculating risk/reward, problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Indecisive – We sometimes feel paralyzed by too little or too much information. We might be unclear about which criteria we should use to help us decide. Or we might see multiple solutions that all look good.
  • Cautious – We’re hesitant to share information about a decision with others because we’re not sure things are going to turn out the way we want. We’d rather stay quiet, hedge our bets, and leave people to wonder what we decided and why.
  • Pressured – We feel pressured to decide in a certain way by others who have a stake in our decision.
  • Challenged — Similarly, no matter what we decide we know we’ll experience push-back from those who will disagree with our choice. Perhaps they will even challenge us publicly and inappropriately.

Fear rests at the heart of all these decision-making roadblocks. These fears don’t just make decisions harder than necessary, they cause us to question our instincts, project self-doubt and feel out of control. We’re then more prone to make poor decisions, and we risk losing the respect we’ve earned from others – something no leader wants.

So how do we avoid that?

Lean into the Fundamentals

Great leaders are willing to embrace uncertainty as a part of the journey, but they don’t walk down that road unprepared. They lead with authority and confidence because they know and practice the essential fundamentals that help them overcome their fears and make sound decisions.

Here are three must-haves of decision-making that have helped me deal with my most complex and challenging leadership choices:

  1. Process – Establish a tried-and-true decision-making process to help you make and manage any type of decision, but particularly more complex ones. This doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible. It means you’ll have guideposts and guardrails to move you forward and that you’ll make exceptions by design.
  2. Clarity – Learn to manage emotions that cloud your thoughts during decision-making so you can think clearly and rationally. The process will help with this, but you also need to do the hard work of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. This is an area where other trusted leaders can hold you accountable and help you see when your emotions are stifling your common sense.
  3. Consistency – Create patterns in your decision-making that minimize surprises and build trust. Having a standard process and managing your emotions will help you determine in advance how you will handle certain types of decisions so you can create greater consistency in your leadership.

What if you don’t have a process, or you’re looking to improve the one you have? Well, glad you asked.

I’ve created a free download that includes a detailed decision-making process, as well many of the benefits you will enjoy when you have this type of framework in place. Take a look. And here’s to better decision-making in your future.

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In The Turn

How to Go From “I’m Overwhelmed” to “I’ve Got This”

Your car wouldn’t start this morning. You’re behind on finishing the report that’s due tomorrow. Your boss just called an urgent meeting for late this afternoon. Your daughter’s dance recital is this evening. And on top of that, you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a week.

That’s it — you’re officially overwhelmed, something all of us experience at one time or another. The mental and physical reactions are unmistakable: anxiety, helplessness, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath.

It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed. As leaders we are often asked to do more with less, and the stakes get higher in a rapidly changing business environment. Our concerns at home can escalate at any time, too.

How do you find some peace? There are a number of things you can do to reduce the causes of stress in your leadership journey and minimize the chances for a pile-on. Here are six tips along with some steps you can take to help you move from “I’m overwhelmed” to “I’ve got this.”

1. Accept that you don’t have an answer for everything – Many times we feel overwhelmed because we want to maintain an appearance of having everything under control. But there will be plenty of situations for which you simply won’t have an answer, especially when you confront new problems that require new solutions.

>>> Start by telling yourself, “It’s okay not to know.” But you can’t end the sentence there, you must do whatever it takes to find out. Adopt the mindset of a learning leader, and role model this for your team, too. Welcome new challenges as a chance to grow and develop new knowledge and expertise. Remind yourself how empowering it will feel on the other side when you can say, “Now I know.”

2. Win where it matters most – On many occasions you can determine what does/does not go on your list of priorities. But too often we allow our to-do list to become longer than it should be, in part because this make us feel useful.

I remember a time in my career when I proudly showed my boss a list of more than a dozen goals I was planning to work on that year. His reply was to pick the top three and do everything I could do to ensure these were accomplished because they mattered far more than the others. The lesson was clear – I needed to focus my efforts and deliver where it counts.

Wiser leaders understand they can have a far greater impact by focusing on getting two or three crucial things done rather than a lot of little things.

>>> Get clear on what really matters. Assess your assignments and focus on the ones that support your organization’s most important goals. Move everything else to a “later” list, negotiate for more time to address anything that crops up, or see if someone else has the interest, ability and capacity to handle something you can hand off.

3. Focus on what only you can do and give the rest awayMastering the art of delegation is an advanced leadership skill that will prevent a lot of your stress. You may know how to do lots of things, but that doesn’t mean you should regularly do them all, especially if it means you’re routinely working late into the night and on weekends.

Like the point above, you must change your thinking about the value you bring to the organization and recognize that hoarding responsibilities is not healthy or respected. Leaders who empower others and get more stuff done through others are far more valued and promoted than those who hold tightly and try to control everything.

>>> Focus on what only you can do and give the rest away. What do you give away? Not just responsibility, but also all the good stuff that goes with it – authority, recognition, relationships, information, resources. The whole package. Once you’ve given away the things others can do, you’ve freed yourself up to focus on more strategic things. And as a bonus, you win back some time for your personal life as well.

4. Say “no” more often so you can say “yes” to the best – In your leadership journey, you’ll be asked or enticed to do a number of things – serve on a volunteer board, take a leadership role for a special project at work, join an exercise group, attend a long list of social events, write a book, etc. But you can’t realistically do everything well.

>>> Develop a list of criteria to help vet opportunities that come your way and evaluate opportunities based on these things. For example, what will help attract new clients or raise visibility for your organization? Could an assignment broaden your professional network? Also, instead of just saying “no,” consider saying “not now.” That might sound like this: “That commitment is more than I am able to make now. Please consider me again for future opportunities.” By saying no more often you create space in your life to say yes where you want to be your best.

5. Schedule unscheduled time for yourself – Some of the highest achievers I know block off their calendar with a “Do not schedule” planner every so often. Scheduling unscheduled time like this gives you some much needed buffer you will otherwise never capture if you don’t plan for it. These blocks of time, no matter how long or short, can be used in very productive ways.

>>> Place a 30-minute or one-hour planner on your calendar twice a week (or whatever you can reasonably block off). Set aside email and your phone. Use that time in one or more of the following ways:

  • Think time to go deeper on a complex problem or to develop a new strategy;
  • A chance to reflect on a situation you could have handled better and make note of a few things you will do differently next time;
  • Seeking a mentor’s advice;
  • Nurturing your network by sending an email to a colleague or friend.

It’s also important to put personal appointments, family events and vacations on your calendar well in advance so you can work with others to plan around them as much as possible.

6. Get some rest – As elusive as sleep might be during stressful times, you must try to get all you can. Science shows the benefits of sleep to include enhancing, among other things, your immune function, metabolism, memory and learning.

Obviously you will think and perform much better when you are rested. For example, I know that getting a good night’s sleep helps me give better presentations the next day. I can think on my feet much more effectively when I’m willing to get to bed sooner rather than staying up late into the night preparing.

>>> Be more intentional about going to sleep earlier, especially when traveling or getting up for early-morning meetings. If you keep your phone by your bedside, turn it over when you lie down so it doesn’t light up while you are trying to go to sleep. Make time for some regular exercise such as walking or running to help improve the quality of your sleep and minimize chances for sleep issues such as restless leg syndrome or back pain.

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In The Turn

How Successful Entrepreneurs Navigate The Journey

The journey matters as much as the destination.

Well-intentioned people like to drop this pearl of wisdom on entrepreneurs who are single-minded in their determination to reach their goals. But the adage doesn’t sit well with destination-oriented people. In business, partnerships or parenthood, they like to know where they’re going and how they’re getting there. The rest is just scenery, right?

Not true.

It’s true that as an entrepreneur, you must be focused on the destination. If you don’t know where your company is headed, who does? You can get a lot accomplished if you’re a driven soul. But in your constant attempt to find the next “there,” it’s easy to forget to enjoy the ride. As a result, instead of taking time off for yourself, your friends and your family, you double down on your efforts to hit your goals — sometimes even raising the bar after you make progress.

When everything is about professional goals, however, there isn’t much room left for personal joy. And without personal joy, your chances of professional success are small. Shawn Achor‘s positive psychology studies have shown that when we’re happily living in the moment, “our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive at work.” Another study found that, similarly, “happy people appear to be more successful than their less happy peers in the three primary life domains,” including work.

I’ve reached a lot of destinations in my career, but many of them weren’t all that satisfying when I arrived without fully engaging in the journey. I learned to ride a motorcycle several years ago, and it helped me find joy in the journey. Many times, you ride with no particular destination in mind but just for the pure pleasure of riding. Through these experiences and others, I’ve realized that the journey isn’t just a means to an end; it’s something to be savored and experienced. That realization has transformed my approach to both my work and personal life, and it’s made all the difference.

Here are three ways successful entrepreneurs embrace the journey to make it matter as much as the destination.

1. They embrace uncertainty.

Much of entrepreneurship is about taking calculated risks and then adapting and responding to whatever happens next. I’ve spent many sleepless nights wondering about the impact of a decision and thinking through various options for next steps. It’s maddening not having more clarity about how things will turn out.

One of the qualities that will endure is your willingness to embrace uncertainty as part of the journey. I started my company when I moved to a relatively small market years ago, feeling like I’d been bumped off the fast track in my career and unsure of how to reclaim it. But with the help of a talented team, I managed to build a successful business despite the challenges, eventually selling it to a global organization that I’m still part of today.

Life will take you places you never thought you’d go. You can have a plan, but it rarely works out just the way you’d hoped. It’s up to you to be willing to scrap the map and follow the detours, even when the way forward is unclear. You must be nimble, resilient and patient enough to stay on the journey — no matter where it leads. When you do, you’ll find yourself reaching destinations you never thought possible.

2. They don’t sacrifice the journey for wealth and power.

Financial success is always a top priority in business. Everyone wants to make money. At some point, however, you must ask yourself how much you really need. When material wealth becomes more important than life experiences and being with those you love, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Only a few years ago, success was defined largely by what people acquired: job titles, bank accounts, homes and cars. But according to a Xero survey, safeguarding your personal relationships makes good business sense, too. Among 2,000 business owners, nearly 60% said the ability to spend time with their families in the evening was essential to their success.

More business owners are striving to build companies that have a positive impact on their employees, customers and communities. They value work-life balance for themselves and those around them, and they want to find passion and purpose in what they do — those things that make life worth living.

The same can be said for power.

Even the best leaders struggle to share authority

Even the best leaders struggle to share authority. But power is unfulfilling if it alienates you from those you want to be close to. The journey is more rewarding when you make it about connection and collaboration, exchanging ideas and bringing them to fruition as part of a team.

Victories begin to feel hollow when you can’t share them with anyone. So be willing to examine your leadership style in a new light: Do you let people in? Are you empowering your staff members so they can excel with you? Do you need to practice trust more often with your team? Sharing power is challenging at first, but freeing up your time and resources is crucial to finding greater balance and enjoying the journey.

3. They define their own measures of success

In a study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, researchers found a positive correlation between engagement and performance in the workplace and a negative correlation between workaholism and performance. Rather than working tirelessly to hit traditional milestones, focus on doing your best as a leader every day and building an exceptional company along the way. Don’t just try to create the biggest brand or make the most money possible; instead, try to create a company that is known for excellence and empowers people to do and be their best.

Once that mindset became my “there,” the journey became much more satisfying — and, surprisingly, we achieved many of the traditional measures of success, anyway. As long as you commit yourself to these lasting ideals and keep your focus where it should be, you’ll reach the destination.

Embracing the journey requires courage and a shift in thinking. It’s hard to look at the challenges and volatility of running a business with an open mind and a positive heart. But there’s more to being an entrepreneur than making money. Personal and professional success will follow if you make the journey matter as much as the destination.

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    Are you stuck on a difficult decision?

    When we face the most complex and critical decisions as a leader, we need the right tools to help us get the job done. The most successful leaders have put a few fundamentals in place.

    This guide includes a step-by step process for effective decision-making as well as two hands-on resources to help you make the toughest calls.

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    This guide will help you gain clarity about your purpose and the kind of life you want to lead. Two practical exercises take you through a very personal thought process, enabling you to write your own Purpose Statement.

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    • Accelerate toward your goals while being fully present on the journey
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