Looking out the window of my personal office, I was watching the sun come up. I had come to the office extremely early because I couldn’t sleep and I needed some answers. Our business was officially bigger than me and it was scaring the crud out of me. I was going to have to add more layers of leadership, which meant I was going to have to relinquish control or not grow. Sounds simple, but I am a control freak extraordinaire, so turning loose tasks and responsibilities is not easy.
Those of us who are small-business people have stacked our own boxes, answered our own phones, and served our own customers. So making sure business is done the way we would do it matters a lot
to guys like me. No corporate training program that creates plastic scripts that mannequins spit out, where the customer leaves feeling like something fake just happened. Oh no, guys like me want everyone we come in contact with to feel our dream. We want and demand that customers have an experience. And many of us have had our corporate experience, and we didn’t like it. We want something that is real for us, our team, and our customers. So turning loose is a really emotional thing... ’cause the person you task with that area really has to breathe air the way you do.
After having mentored and grown my first three key leaders over several years with one-on-one instruction, I was seeing the benefit of growing fellow believers in the cause. But this hand-to-hand method of growing leaders was way too slow and was holding back our business. I needed new leaders and I needed them faster than three years. In order to raise new leaders, my core team and I set out to teach a class that is our playbook on how to do business our way. We mentor, cuss, and discuss with our leaders daily—and in a very intentional way. But the EntreLeadership class is the foundation.
Tons of books have been written on growing leaders. There are famous leaders in all walks of life whose leadership principles I have learned from. As I sat that first morning trying to find a way to communicate to our next new leaders what we wanted them to do, I thought it might be as simple as teaching leadership.
What Is a Leader?
When I teach this course live, I ask the audience to picture the face of a wonderful leader. Then I ask them to write down the best one-word character qualities these great leaders have. What one word best describes the character of a great leader? When we do this we always get character qualities like:
Taken together, this is a good definition of leadership. It’s interesting to me that most of us can list what we want our leader to look like, but we don’t apply it to ourselves. Have you ever asked yourself what kind of leader your team members want? If you want to lead, or you want to grow or hire leaders, they and you must have the above listed character qualities. We all have some of these qualities and we all have some we can work on. The big deal here is to remember that the very things you want from a leader are the very things the people you are leading expect from you. You must intentionally become more of each of these every day to grow yourself and your business. And to the extent you’re not doing that, you’re failing as a leader.
What Is in a Name?
As I sat in my office with the sun coming up writing the first lesson and thinking what to name our little leadership course, I hit a snag. I know that the title is supposed to give an indication of what is in the material (duh). When I thought about calling this material “leadership,” I knew that wasn’t right. Because there is so much more to business than simply leadership and leadership theory. I have sat in “management classes” and “leadership seminars,” and for a practitioner, a doer, like me, they weren’t enough. I learned something, I always do, but those classes were too much about concept for a guy who has stacked his own boxes and answered his own phone. I concluded that I didn’t want to grow my business simply with leaders—that was a little too dry, a little too theoretical for an entrepreneur like me.
Maybe I was trying to grow entrepreneurs. Maybe I wanted a company full of little mini-mes. After all, when you think of an entrepreneur, what words come to mind to describe that animal?
· Risk taker
· Work ethic
· Out of the box
As I thought about what a pure entrepreneur is, I decided in three seconds I didn’t want to grow a company full of us. Leading that group would be like herding cats or trying to nail Jell-O to a tree. I do want the spirit of the entrepreneur woven into our cultural DNA, but a whole building full of us would be a really bad plan.
So growing leaders was too refined and calm for me, but growing entrepreneurs was too wild and chaotic for me. So I decided we needed to grow a combination of the two... and thus the EntreLeader was born. I want EntreLeaders who can be
· Passionately serving
· Mavericks who have integrity
· Disciplined risk takers
· Courageous while humble
· Motivated visionaries
· Driven while loyal
· Influential learners
Are you getting the idea? We wanted the personal power of the entrepreneur polished and grown by a desire to be a quality leader. We wanted big leaders who have the passion and push of the entrepreneur. These character qualities are what we look for in potential leaders and what we intentionally build into our team every day to cause us to win.
Words matter. So when we call someone a “team member” at our place, that means something; it isn’t some corporate HR program that tries to make slaves to jerks feel better by changing the words. It means you will be treated like and expected to act like you are on a team. When we call someone an EntreLeader it means something. It means you are more than a renegade lone ranger and it means you are more than a corporate bureaucrat who treats his people like units of production.
A leader, according to Webster’s Dictionary
, is “someone who rules, guides, and inspires others.” The dictionary says an entrepreneur is “someone who organizes, operates, and assumes risk for a venture.” The root of the word “entrepreneur” is a French word, “entreprendre,”
meaning “one who takes a risk.”
So for our purposes EntreLeadership is defined as “the process of leading to cause a venture to grow and prosper.”
Once we had our title and definition, we had to determine the components of our playbook. We began to list what is essential for other new and growing EntreLeaders to know about starting, operating, and leading a business the way we do it. Because we are practitioners
we ended up addressing mechanical things like accounting and contracts. Because we are very concerned about our culture
as well, we needed to explain how a team is grown, motivated, compensated, and unified. Because we are also marketers
we knew we needed to sell some stuff in order for all of us to eat. So our playbook has truly become “everything you want to know about building and running a business but didn’t know who to ask.”
Let’s start at the beginning: your mirror. John Maxwell has written a wonderful leadership book entitled The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
. In this book John discusses one of his laws, the Law of the Lid. Basically he says that there is a lid on my organization and on my future, and that lid is me
. I am the problem with my company and you
are the problem with your company. Your education, character, capacity, ability, and vision are limiting your company. You want to know what is holding back your dreams from becoming a reality? Go look in your mirror.
When I first started leading in my early thirties, I was a horrible leader. My ambition and drive caused me to accomplish the task and pick up the pieces later. One cold winter morning when we had about fourteen people on our team, I became angry over people coming to work late. I don’t get it—come to work early like I do. Don’t come dragging your tail in twenty minutes late and mumble something about traffic. I have noticed there is less traffic before the sun comes up. Get to work on time. I am paying you, and when you don’t come to work on time you are a thief.
We were at the beginning stages, and every sale meant our survival. Every customer was a big deal, and every person on the team had three jobs. I couldn’t grasp how these people I hired didn’t understand that if they slacked off, they would lose their jobs because we would go broke. Get with it. So I got angry. Sometimes it is good to be angry, but what you do with it can have lasting consequences. I am not proud of this, but on that Monday morning, for the staff meeting I moved fourteen chairs out on the sidewalk in sixteen-degree weather. I gave a talk that morning about showing up to work on time and said that if every one of us didn’t do two people’s work, we were all going to be “out in the cold.”
I know those of you who lead and have experienced my frustration are smiling right now, but I will tell you that leading by fear and anger is not leading—it is bad parenting for two-year-olds. And if you “lead” like this, your company will perform like scared two-year-olds. I still to this day deliver the message to our team periodically about our expectations for work ethic, but that message is much more polished and pulls our team rather than pushes them.
So the problem with my company then and now is me. The problem with your company is not the economy, it is not the lack of opportunity, it is not your team. The problem is you. That is the bad news. The good news is, if you’re the problem, you’re also the solution. You’re the one person you can change the easiest. You can decide to grow. Grow your abilities, your character, your education, and your capacity. You can decide who you want to be and get about the business of becoming that person.
I was teaching this lesson to a group of future EntreLeaders, and during the break George came to me to tell me I was wrong. George explained that he was in the drywall business and that there was no one in the workforce who was worth hiring. They were all slackers who didn’t work, and when they did work, they did poor work. He stood there red faced explaining to me that the problem with his business was his horrible employees. This big tough construction guy’s face got even redder when I told him his “turkey” employees were his fault. “How’s that?” he asked with attitude. My answer was simple: he hired the turkeys in the first place, and worse than that, he kept them. His employees are his fault. George continued to argue that with what he pays he can’t attract great people. That is your fault, George. Pay more, which means you may have to charge more, which you can do if you don’t have to explain away the bad quality and constant drama brought on by having turkeys in your business. Your problems in business are your fault. That is the bad news and the good news.
Here’s a great head-to-head comparison of what I’m talking about. Within the same week our team counseled two different guys in the landscape business, both in the same area of town. One was closing his business because he couldn’t make a living, saying, “Nobody can make a living in this economy.” And the other was having the best income year of his life. They were in the same
business in the same
end of town. What was the difference? You’re catching on, right? It was the guy at the wheel. The person driving the ship was either a captain or he wasn’t. You get to decide what you are. Starting now. Ready, set, go.
From the Top Down
To further motivate you as an EntreLeader you need to know that whatever is happening at the head of the organization will affect the entire body. The Bible says the anointing drops from the beard. In Old Testament days when someone was pronounced king, the Israelites had a tradition of pouring oil (lots of it) over that person’s head. The oil symbolized God’s spirit being poured over the leader. And the oil that was poured heavily over the head ran down the hair, the beard, onto the rest of the body, symbolizing that as goes the king, so goes the kingdom. That is a great picture for remembering that as the “king” of your business, your personal strengths will be your company’s strengths and—you guessed it—your personal weaknesses will be your company’s weaknesses.
I grew up in sales, so our company has always been great at marketing and selling. I am very entrepreneurial, so my company tends to be impulsive and too quick to act. We have had to counteract that by honoring and raising up team members who are more strategic in thought and practice. We have had to work with our natural strengths and against our natural weaknesses. And it is all my fault.
I spoke with the son of a billionaire who had been given his father’s company. This intelligent and successful EntreLeader had taken his father’s billion-dollar company to a three-billion-dollar company in just one decade. He had become more successful than his dad and yet was very respectful and grateful toward his father. He explained to me that the strengths of his father, who founded the company, could take the company only to a certain point, and then new approaches were required. The way he described the situation was, “The quirky brilliance of the founder could take us only so far.”
EntreLeaders Are Powerful
To be a real EntreLeader you have to realize you have great power but seldom use it. Having great power and managing it as a tool is what real EntreLeaders do. When you hold the pen over the paycheck—the right to fire a team—you have power over their lives. That is positional power, the power given to you by your position. If you lead only with positional power, you are simply a boss. Any idiot can be Barney Fife. A “boss” is the kid at McDonald’s who has been there a week longer than everyone else, so the manager gives him a twenty-five-cent-an-hour raise and promotes him to be in charge of fries. He then becomes the Fries Nazi—he has positional power and he uses it.
I actually was
that guy for a few weeks once. When I was twenty-two years old I was selling real estate in a new subdivision for a large national home builder. I outsold everyone on the team, so they made the stupid decision to promote me to sales manager. I immediately became the Sales Manager Nazi, bossing everyone around, even those who didn’t report to me. It didn’t take them but about three weeks to take away my promotion and put me back where I belonged, in sales. I lost several friends and damaged relationships in my three-week tenure because I confused having a position
with real leadership. Having children doesn’t make you a good parent, it means you had sex. That’s all.
EntreLeaders understand that ultimately the o...