Following You Around for a Day

[iPhone shot from Port-au-Prince, where I visited two days ago just to get away]

I’ve been doing some research on the common traits of successful entrepreneurs, trying to understand my clients better so that I can help them build stronger businesses. Here are a few things that you might find interesting–particularly the last item. What’s it like to be in your shoes? How do you understand your world? What would I see following you around for a day? Successful people like you:

  • Take significant risks. That’s about the most obvious thing I could say, but it needs some context. When someone who isn’t a risk taker keeps telling you how to run your business, maybe pretend to listen for the sake of social convention but don’t listen too carefully, and certainly don’t do everything they say. You might actually want to do the opposite.
  • You cringe when you feel like things are out of control, which doesn’t mean that they are out of control but that they are out of your control. You don’t trust “the system” and feel like it’ll hide some essential insight that the business needs. You’re a data-sifter, and you want unfiltered access to all the data so that you can see patterns in your own way.
  • Your blood pressure rises like clockwork when you feel taken advantage of, by a client, an organization where you volunteer, or an employee who is wondering why this end of year bonus is too much like last year’s.
  • You love the insights that come from solid data, but you have no interest in data compliance yourself. That right there, folks, might be the world’s funniest hypocrisy!
  • Since you are comfortable with change and quick responses, you are frustrated with inflexibility from people who get in the way of progress. They are always questioning your ideas and poking holes in them but don’t regularly offer better ones (coughthe controllercough).
  • Because you rely on your gut when making hiring decisions, certain hires are difficult for you to do well. It’s hard to argue with the results, because you do have a very good team, generally within a strong culture, but there are certain positions where the team could be stronger. First, you struggle with hiring the right head of operations, project management, or what I call Resourcing head. Why? Because what makes these people effective is their objectivity, but you misunderstand objectivity as a lack of deference. They fight you, as they should, because you have consistently demonstrated that you cannot be trusted with pricing or promises to clients and they want to clean that up. Just like you think of them as the obstacle, they think of you as the obstacle, too, and since you own the company, well, they aren’t going to win that battle until you mature a little and recognize your weaknesses and are grateful for their help. The other difficult hire for you is in business development because those folks don’t strike you as substantial enough and because they talk too much. Thank goodness the world of professional services has been steadily moving away from “sales as a technique” toward “clarifying our insight and helping you see what it’ll be like to work together” for more than a decade. That’s a movement you can join.
  • Doesn’t celebrate success. You just don’t do that. Maybe it’s because you think they’ll relax and quit reaching. Maybe it’s just your impatience. Maybe it’s just that you are never satisfied. “Yeah, I know we just reached base station no. 3, but we’re not at the summit yet. Let’s go.” Your people need you to notice and encourage them more, and it’s just the right thing to do. The most effective, mature people on the planet–at least those who accomplish things as a team–understand that other people are different and thrive in an environment where you notice and behave accordingly. The usually successful entrepreneur of a firm like yours shares common traits with other successful principals, but not as much with their other team members. And in your constant quest to accomplish more, you flat wear them out.

Hey, a year has gone by. You’re still alive. You’ve met another 24 payrolls. You’ve learned a lot. You got rid of that loser who was killing the culture. Most of the same strong contributors still love coming to work with you. There’s some new blood with energy and new ideas. You’ve been a little more forthright with clients and employees. You think of yourself less and less as a creative firm under the marketing umbrella and more and more like an advisory firm built around creativity and innovation. You can stand and talk to prospects or a large audience and sound smart. You know more about what you want and what you don’t.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, okay? Life is good. You’re a little weird, but the people on your collective team know that and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now go tell them that you love them and act like it the next day.

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