May 232012
 
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be a better leader

Want To Be A Better Leader?  Be An Inspiration.

There are many paths to becoming a better leader.  You can read books.  You can follow the careers and actions of people you consider great leaders.  Or, if you’re really motivated, you can take courses or become an officer in the military.  If you stop and think about it, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways, big and small, to become a better leader.

In my opinion, the most direct route to becoming a better leader right away is to be an inspiration to those you would like to lead.  But how do you become an inspiration?  On paper it doesn’t sound too tough, but what does it really mean to inspire others?

Let’s look at three examples of people who are widely considered great leaders and consider whether they inspired others, and if yes, how they did it.

In the business realm, one of the names thrown around quite a bit as one of the great leaders is Jack Welch.  He ran GE for several decades and did so with extraordinary and consistent profitability results.  Was he an inspiration?  Most would say that yes, he was an inspiration.  He inspired his team members and employees to achieve extraordinary financial results.  Did he do so by being a nice guy and making a bunch of friends along the way?  Not really!  I’ve known a bunch of people who worked for Jack Welch and the stories they’ve told me about interactions with him, especially during periodic and “special” meetings, would not cause you to label him a nice guy looking to make friends.  Instead, he had extremely high expectations of his employees, particularly his direct reports, and he required that they showed up to meetings very prepared, with well thought out strategies and answers to tough questions.  If they didn’t, they may not be with the company much beyond the end of the meeting where they exhibited their lack of preparation and diligence.  So, one way to be a better leader and inspire others is to have very high expectations of them and to accept nothing less.

Human beings, especially achievers, want to be challenged and will perform extraordinary feats for leaders who believe in them and hold them accountable.

In the social realm, there are many examples of great leaders who inspired others, but it would be hard to find a better one than Mahatma Gandhi.  Anyone who can lead the charge to completely change the reality of hundreds of millions of people, in a non-violent way, is worthy of study and recognition.  Unlike many leaders who have led revolts and changed the direction of entire societies, Gandhi did so through a non-violent, civil disobedience approach.  This flies in the face of what we often think of as rallying the troops and charging toward the enemy, in a classic military sense.  Civil disobedience is a much more subtle game, which requires a leader who can paint a vision of a future worthy of fighting for, a future that is, in fact, so worthy that it warrants not seeking immediate gratification, but continuing to sacrifice in the name of the ultimate goal of freedom and self-rule (in Gandhi and India’s case).  This is a form of leading through inspiration that requires a leader with extraordinary willpower and commitment to their ideals and goals.  Gandhi was such a leader, as were Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa, among many others.  If you seek to become a better leader through inspiring others to take on a tough, even seemingly impossible, cause and continue persevering until the end goal is reached, these are some of the role models you will want to emulate.

Finally for this article, let’s look at a leader in the sports realm.  He was a coach who led his teams to a still-unmatched ten national championships, with seven of them in consecutive seasons in the late sixties and early seventies.  He was the legendary John Wooden, who coached the UCLA men’s basketball team from 1948 to 1975.  He is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all time.  In a testament to the power of perseverance, he did not win his first national title until 1964, his sixteenth year coaching the UCLA team.  Wooden was an inspiration to his players and to many coaches and players since.  Famously, he coached in great part based on a seven-point credo given to him by his father when he was a young boy (see Forever Coach by Eric Neel: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=wooden):

1.)    Be true to yourself.

2.)    Make each day your masterpiece.

3.)    Help others.

4.)    Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.

5.)    Make friendship a fine art.

6.)    Build a shelter against a rainy day.

7.)    Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

Though Coach Wooden did go on to develop a more in-depth roadmap that he called the Pyramid of Success (find it at http://www.coachwooden.com/pyramidpdf.pdf), these seven principles were the foundation of his own success and philosophy on coaching and life.  This goes to prove that being a great leader and an inspiration to others does not have to be complicated.  In fact, it’s often a mistake to make it too complicated, as that can be intimidating and can lead to inaction in yourself and others.

If you seek to become a better leader, I encourage you to “drink deeply” from the wisdom and experiences of other great leaders and find ways to be an inspiration to others.  Remember, there are many ways to inspire others; find those that work for you.  By doing so, you will find that your leadership abilities and impact will grow at a faster rate than you may have thought possible and they also will likely be more sustainable over time.

I look forward to your thoughts.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

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May 022012
 
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share the credit

We, Not Me, Will Take You A Lot Further.  Share The Credit.

In the realm of entrepreneurship, as in most endeavors that require a team effort to undertake successfully, a focus on “we,” not “me” will take you much further.  Share the credit.  Share the limelight.

Recently I was reminded of an entrepreneur with whom I used to work, who found it very difficult to use the words “we” and “us” and “our”.  His preferred vocabulary included “I,” “me,” and “my”.  I suppose that would have been OK, but for the fact that he needed the input, cooperation and collective effort of at least ten team members to successfully complete a project (a Merger/Acquisition transaction in this case).  This created a couple of key problems.

First, given that the M&A transactions were quite complex and often involved tens of millions of dollars, many of the team members wanted to be recognized for their contributions and sacrifices (20-hour days at crunch time on a deal) in getting a deal done.  The more the entrepreneur threw around the word “I” and effectively took credit for all that went well, the more certain team members became frustrated and demoralized.  Since deals often lasted several months, even a year or more, as morale slid, mistakes and undermining behavior became more frequent and jeopardized the successful completion of many deals.

Second, and perhaps more important, the more the entrepreneur threw around the word “I,” the smaller he made his company seem in the eyes of current and prospective clients.  It made it sound like the company was just him and his efforts, rather than the collective effort of a well-managed team with an effective leader.  Since the company was often competing against bigger, better-known rivals to win deals, this had the potential to become a major issue in sales and marketing efforts.

In short, this entrepreneur’s desire to take credit for everything and receive personal recognition, rather than allowing his team to feel like an integral and important part of the company’s success, threatened to undermine the organization’s talent base, deal performance, and credibility in the marketplace.

I spent about eighteen months attempting to convince the entrepreneur that it would make sense to give credit to the team, rather than trying to continuously keep himself individually in the spotlight.  When he’d send me documents to review that were loaded with “I,” I’d send him back a message along the lines of “change I to we and my to our”.  When I’d hear him being self-congratulatory in meetings and sales calls, afterwards I’d gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) remind him that he needed to change his vocabulary and use the word “we” more.  I’d emphasize to him that the only way for the company to grow was to build a strong, capable, motivated team.  I’d tell him to share the credit and that there was no way to do it all individually, nor was there much rationale for pretending that was how it was happening.

I’d like to tell you that the story has a happy ending, but in fact, it did not end well.  The entrepreneur had a hard time taking advice and continued to focus on himself and tout how great he was, rather than building up the people and the organization around him.  He had an inability to understand how others perceived his words and actions, and a lack of desire to make much progress on improving in this area.  His case was a bit extreme, almost to the point of being in sociopath territory.

Eventually, this entrepreneur ended up alienating everyone around him who could help him, including clients, prospects, employees, business associates, family members, and finally, me.  I may have been the most “long-suffering” of the lot, as I looked at helping him improve as a personal challenge, but at the end of the day, he was not capable of changing and ended up with his business and the rest of his life in shambles.  It’s been several years and he has not yet bounced back from this experience.  Meanwhile, the team that was around him at that time has bounced back nicely.  They did not suffer from the same “I-centered” personality flaw.

This is a cautionary tale.  If you think you have some of the tendencies highlighted in this article, be careful.  Be honest with yourself.  Seek counsel from credible sources.  Be willing to change, before you suffer a similar fate to that of the entrepreneur in this article.  Share the credit for all that goes well in your business.

I look forward to your thoughts.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Sep 132011
 
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flock of eagles - family business leadership succession

 “Flock Of Eagles” – Family Business Leadership Succession

This is a family business leadership succession story; however, the concepts and issues illustrated herein apply in most non-family business succession scenarios as well.  The context may vary, but human nature in such situations is remarkably consistent.  The key is to plan “early and often” to avoid unnecessary complications.  Note: names and some facts in the following story have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty and the “eagles”.

At Lerona Systems, it was time to bring the family together once again to discuss leadership succession.  William Lerona, the third generation Chairman and CEO of Lerona Systems had just celebrated his 58th birthday and was becoming concerned that there were too many questions amongst the successor generation family members posturing to become the next CEO of the company.

Lerona Systems had been started by William’s grandfather nearly 80 years earlier.  His grandfather grew the company, a manufacturer of industrial pumps, to nearly $100 million in revenues before passing away at the young age of 65.  William’s father and uncle then took over the business about 50 years ago and through a series of sizeable deals and beneficial alliances, grew the company to $250 million in revenues.  William’s uncle then passed away unexpectedly at age 63, of the same ailment that had claimed his grandfather’s life.  William’s father decided that it was time for him to step down and enjoy the fruits of his labor while he was still healthy and capable of getting around well.  He passed on leadership of the company to William, as his brother’s and sisters’ children were still too young to take on such responsibility.  William had now been running the business for almost 20 years and not dissimilar to his father, decided that he would like to look for a way to pass on the leadership of the company in a timely, orderly and logical way.

William’s uncle had three children, Aaron, Tom, and Howard (William’s cousins), all of whom were now in their late-forties.  Additionally, William’s two aunts each had three children, five of whom had worked in the business in various capacities and one of whom, Russell, had excelled and advanced to the point of becoming the Vice President of Marketing.  While Aaron was perfectly content to run the maintenance operations of Lerona, Tom and Howard had also both reached Vice President level, with Tom running Finance and Howard being the COO of the Company.  Thus, all major functional areas of the company were run by family members, with the exception of Sales, which was run by an outside professional, Tim Stevens.  The cousins, Russell, Tom and Howard were very close to one another and all had aspirations of becoming the next CEO of Lerona Systems.  William got along well with his cousins, but kept a bit of a distance given his need as the CEO to sometimes make tough decisions that weren’t necessarily the most popular with the cousins, or with the rest of the family.  William’s cousins were so close and cliquish that he had given them the nickname, the “Flock of Eagles”.  He didn’t use this term often. Mainly, it was an ironic expression he kept in his own mind, but he did privately share it with the Board of Directors of Lerona, which was comprised of William, his two aunts, his mother and father and two outside professionals.  The outside Board members were a seasoned banker and a college professor from a prominent business school.

When William used the Flock of Eagles term in jest, the Board members immediately questioned him as to what he meant by this term.  William explained that the irony for him was in the fact that eagles hunt alone; they don’t form flocks.  They are amazing predators, but they typically do not work as a team; they simply eat and nourish their young with what they kill, and they are more than satisfied with that approach.  Their proficiency as solo hunters has led them to become symbolic of individualism and the ability to excel alone.  As William explained his reasoning, the Board became reflective and considered interactions they had had with these “eagles” on a personal basis and when they had been asked to provide reports to the Board at previous meetings.  They recalled the exceptional competence and focus of each eagle in their area of competence, but they also recalled the inadequacy of their responses when they had been asked pointed questions that required cross-functional knowledge and cooperation, in order to be answered well.

The Board asked William directly:  “Do you think Russell, Tom and Howard are team players?”  William hesitated.  They drilled further:  “Do you think Russell, Tom and Howard collaborate well with other members of the senior management and the next level management team of Lerona?”  Again, William hesitated.  Finally they said: “William, we know that they are strong performers in their respective areas, but do you think Russell, Tom and Howard have developed the cross-functional expertise to run this company as effectively and successfully as you have”?  William felt compelled to answer honestly and concisely, for the good of the family and the future of the company.  He simply said, “no, I don’t”.  As time was running short, there was no further discussion of the topic at this Board meeting, but it was resolved that William would come to the next Board meeting prepared to discuss the topic further and to lay out his plan for leadership succession at Lerona Systems.

Three months down the road at the next Board meeting, William came prepared.  He had spent the intervening time carefully considering the succession issue, and given his introspective nature, he had asked himself whether he had failed in his task to build a next generation leadership base at Lerona.  If he was being honest with himself, he had to answer “yes” to this question.  He had grown the company well and maintained strong profitability and paid healthy dividends to the family member shareholders, in the same way his father, uncle and grandfather had done before him.   However, he had to admit to himself and to the Board that rather than cultivate an environment of sharing, learning and development at the company, he had helped to nest a “flock of eagles”.  Previously, the term had seemed ironic to him, particularly when he didn’t consider that at least a portion of the blame for the “flock” and resulting lack of well-developed cross-disciplinary leaders, rested with him and the company culture he had helped to create.  William felt extremely fortunate that, at least, he had had the presence of mind to begin to take a closer look at the issue of leadership succession at Lerona when he was 58 years old, rather than say, 63, the age at which his uncle had passed away unexpectedly.

He, along with the Board, resolved to put a structured, formal leadership training and succession plan in place, which would allow William to retire two or three years down the road, comfortable in the fact that constructive steps had been taken to cultivate cross-disciplinary leadership development and collaboration at Lerona.  While he knew that it still may be the case that one of the current “flock of eagles” took over leadership of Lerona when he retired, he took comfort and pride in the fact that this only would occur after a minimum of two to three years of conscious and deliberate cultural change for the better.  He resolved to stop using the term “flock of eagles” with the Board and even in his own mind and decided to begin using “leadership lions” as a term more descriptive of where he wanted to see the culture go.  He liked this term better as he knew that while lions have remarkable individual strength and abilities, they are nurtured and taught to work as a team and to hunt as a group.  They nurture their young to survive and flourish individually and as a pride.  This seemed a fitting term to William, as he took enormous pride in his family business, and he wanted to see the family and the business flourish well into the future, long after he left the CEO role.

What have your experiences been with leadership succession planning?  I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Sep 062011
 
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ineffective leaders

7 Common Traits Of Ineffective Leaders

We have some great leaders in our world.  Unfortunately, we have some very ineffective leaders as well.  Here we’ll look at seven common traits of ineffective leaders, so you can try to avoid emulating them as you strive to expand your leadership capabilities.

This list of seven traits is not all-inclusive, nor is it in order of importance.  These are simply seven traits that I see all the time, which undermine the ability of leaders to help their organizations and themselves achieve all that they can.

I also want to point out that not all the following characteristics are intrinsically “bad”.  There are certain situations that call for some or all of them.  In “everyday” leadership scenarios and organizations not in crisis though, the following seven leader traits are not likely to result in an optimal outcome.

Common Ineffective Leader Trait #1:  Micro-Managing

Wait, are we talking about leadership or management?  Sometimes the line becomes blurred.  My favorite metaphor illustrating the difference between management and leadership is from Stephen Covey’s story of a logging crew working in the forest.  The crew is working hard and someone yells from atop a nearby mountain (paraphrasing), “Hey, you down there” … “What? We’re busy making progress, don’t interrupt us” … response:  “You’re in the wrong forest”!

The effective leader is not the one that goes around “getting into everyone’s business”.  Rather, the effective leader makes sure the organization and everyone in it is in the “right forest,” then let’s them get their jobs done.

Common Ineffective Leader Trait #2:  Unclear Objectives

Many, if not most, organizations do not have clear objectives for where they are trying to go.  The leadership of the organization has not taken the time to define where the organization is trying to go or what it is trying to achieve.  In other cases, the objectives have been clearly defined, but they have not been effectively communicated to the members of the organization.  Following on the forest metaphor above, the organization may even actually be in the “right forest,” but due to poor communication, the team may not know whether they’re supposed to be cutting it down or planting more trees.

Common Ineffective Leader Trait #3:  Frequent Direction Changes

There aren’t too many things more demoralizing to someone working hard toward an objective, than having it change, constantly.  We’ve all seen, and some of us have had the displeasure to work in, organizations where the direction and objectives seem to change with the capriciousness of the wind.  We all start “rowing in the same direction” only to be informed, or worst yet, find out second-hand, that the objectives have changed and we’re supposed to be rowing in an entirely different direction.  If you want to be an effective leader, don’t do this to your team on a frequent basis, and if it’s absolutely necessary at some point, explain it well.  Your team will hold it against you a lot less if you communicate with them as openly and honestly as possible regarding why all the work they just expended “was for nothing”.

Common Ineffective Leader Trait #4:  No Culture Of Accountability

Once you have clear goals in place and have communicated them effectively to your team, it’s critical to develop a “culture of accountability”.  Your team must understand that they have their part to do, in order to help the organization achieve its goals.  This “part” must be well-defined, with milestones and target dates for completion.  Progress toward the milestones and overall completion must be tracked and reviewed on a regular basis.  Variances or deviations from plan should be explained and if necessary, course correction must be facilitated and monitored.  Without a “culture of accountability,” it’s too easy for members of the team to get sidetracked “putting out fires” and to never quite complete their “part”.  If this happens systemically, the organization will never reach its goals and the leadership will have failed.

Common Ineffective Leader Trait #5:  Don’t Walk Their Talk

There are some leaders who are tremendous talkers.  They can “wax eloquently” on most any subject and they inspire confidence with their bold pronouncements.  The issue arises when all the hyperbole does not coincide with reality and specifically, when the leader displays behavior that is inconsistent with what he or she is “preaching”.  Leaders, as persons who are supposed to inspire confidence, like it or not, are held to a higher standard.  If you aspire to be a “great leader,” it’s important that you “walk your talk”.  Don’t make eloquent pronouncements, then contradict them with your behavior.  That will be the quickest route to lose the respect and confidence of your team and other relevant constituencies.

Common Ineffective Leader Trait #6:  Run People Over

Ineffective leaders, frequently unable to persuade with logic or emotional appeals that make sense to their team, often just “run people over”.  That usually takes the form of “you’ll do it because I said so”.  This approach can be necessary in certain situations, particularly where a team member does not want to listen to reason, or simply cannot be given enough information to fully grasp the rationale for a particular mandate.  However, if this approach is used as a matter of routine, then it is likely to alienate many members of the team.  This point is highly related to the point above regarding effective communication.  If you communicate effectively as a leader and you have selected good members to your team, you typically will not have the need to “run people over”.  That would be ideal, because when intelligent people get run over, they typically find a way to use their formal or informal power within the organization to make you “pay the price”.  They undermine you every chance they get, even if just in a passive aggressive way.

Common Ineffective Leader Trait #7:  Take Credit For Everything

If something works well in your organization, give credit to your team.  Why?  Well first, it’s the right thing to do.  If you are playing a leadership role, while you may have put everyone in the “right forest,” it’s highly likely that the remainder of your organization did the execution necessary to “make it happen”.  Second, you will look and feel a lot better if you “give credit where credit is due”.  Even if the reward is not monetary, pretty much everyone appreciates a pat on the back for a job well done.  Remember the adage, “praise in public and criticize in private”.  Don’t be shy about highlighting the tremendous performance of your team and certain individuals with your team.  While some underperformers may get jealous, the achievers will appreciate the recognition and are likely to continue performing at a high level, for you and for the organization.

So there you have “7 Common Traits of Ineffective Leaders” and some ideas on how you can avoid those traits and continue on your path to becoming an effective leader.  As I said at the outset, I realize that this is not an all-inclusive list and I realize that in some situations, these “bad” traits may be necessary.

What has your experience been in working in various organizations and in developing your own leadership style?  Please share!

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Aug 042011
 
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A Leader’s Dream.  Or Nightmare?

I recently had an experience where I was coaching someone and something happened that made a big impression on me.  It’s certainly not the first time something similar has happened, but this time it really affected me.  We were talking through how to prepare for a certain event and I told him, you will need a schedule in which you detail what you are going to do daily over the next four months.  He said to me, “Please make me the schedule and I will just follow it”.

My first thought was, ok, this is perfect – I will just make the schedule – it will save me a lot of time if I don’t have to explain it and the result will likely be the same – a leader’s dream, right?  Given what I do for a living on the coaching side, which is work with entrepreneurs, senior executives and other high-achievers to help them achieve peak performance, I quickly had to step back and point out to myself that the easiest route is not always the best route.

Sure, by just setting up the schedule and letting him perform the activities like a mindless automaton, he probably could have performed quite well on this particular project.  However, where would he be on the next project?  Would I really have been doing my job as a coach and a leader?  Some would argue yes, that the simple, straightforward, mindless approach was fine, as long as the results of the project were good – the ends justify the means argument.

I came to a different conclusion.  Even though it cost me and the person I was coaching a bit of extra time, I decided it was worth it to walk that person through the rationale for each activity and the timing of each activity on the schedule.   How do you think this went?  You are correct – it was “like pulling teeth”.  The “mentee” already had his mind up that he did not want to know any of “the why”; he simply wanted to know exactly what he needed to do, then go do it.

This led me to a few specific conclusions about this individual and one general and more troubling thought.  First, I realized that unless this person changed their mindset, they were not likely to progress much further in that particular field of endeavor.  Second, I also concluded that without a change of approach, this person could not very easily become a leader – after all, how could they ever lead someone else if they themselves did not want to understand the “why” behind what needed to be done?  Finally, I concluded that while this approach of “tell me exactly what, how and when to do it” may work for some relatively simple tasks and situations, as soon as this “paint by the numbers” trainee ran into a more complex and dynamic scenario, they would likely have no idea what to do.  That is not very useful in the exceptionally dynamic world in which we live.

The more general and troubling thought I had based on this interaction is that this individual is not unique.  There is a massive group of people out there, probably a significant percentage of the Earth’s population, who would rather be told exactly what to do than to have to spend one second thinking for themselves.  That is a scary thought indeed!  You can call it human nature if you’d like.  You can call it laziness.  But whatever you call it, it’s hard to disagree that if we only have a small percentage of the population willing and capable of thinking and planning for themselves, we have a real problem!  We must also ask ourselves how we can change this.  On a macro level, it’s going to be a tremendous challenge, starting at the beginning of how we raise and educate our children.  On the micro level, we stand a better chance of making a positive change in the short term.

What if, in our businesses and any organization in which we participate or lead, we slowly, but surely push ourselves and those around us to cease being automatons and start thinking for themselves?  Do you think we’d develop more effective organizations that way?  Do you think we’d develop organizations that are more capable of adapting to our dynamic, rapidly changing macroeconomic and global political environment?  I would say that the answer to these questions is a resounding, “Yes”!  We must create more leaders, not more followers.  Through our leadership, we must strive not to tell our followers exactly what to do and be content when they obey our orders.  That will not get us nearly as far as creating followers who are capable of thinking for themselves and becoming the next generation of leaders.  If we don’t do this, then who will become the leaders of the next generation?  How will they know how to lead?  Will they even want to try to lead?

Given the time pressures we are all under, it would be easier to just make the schedules and task lists for our followers, but we need to resist that temptation.  Work with your team, your mentees, your followers, your children and anyone else you may influence to teach them how to think for themselves.  Reward them for thinking and for being creative.  Tell them that the end result matters.  Of course, it always matters.  But emphasize to them that it is much more important that they can figure out how to get to that end result individually and in collaboration with their team, than that they can do a specific set of well-defined tasks from rote memory.  Reward problem-solving initiative and creativity as much or more than you reward results on specific tasks.

Another related and very important topic, which is too much to cover in detail in this article, is the importance of willpower in overcoming any problem.  Regardless of how well you teach your team to solve problems, unless they have the willpower (perseverance, determination) to follow through until the job is done and the goal is reached, it will be all for nothing.  As a leader, you must help your team develop not just the knowledge and capabilities necessary to succeed in dynamic environments, you also must help them develop the confidence and perseverance necessary to follow through until the desired results have been attained.  That’s the topic for another discussion.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

paul@CompanyFounder.com

www.CompanyFounder.com.

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Jul 112011
 
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Leadership: Great Leaders Often Lead From Behind

The classic image of a great leader is someone leading their troops into battle, or standing in front of a crowd, giving an inspirational speech. This classic image almost always portrays the leader out in front, at least metaphorically, if not literally.

While this standard representation is pleasing on one level, on another it is misleading. In my experience and observation, great leaders often “lead from behind”. By leading from behind, I mean to say that they get their troops, their employees, their team, or whatever the case may be as prepared as possible, they make sure they are clear on the objectives, and then they get out of the way, or they “get behind” their followers. They don’t go away completely, rather they just make way and allow the people they are leading to get in front, take charge, take responsibility and get to work. In my experience, this is what the best leaders do, as the consequences of not taking this approach doom the leader to having to ALWAYS be there in front, or their followers feel lost. Let me explain with a few concrete examples.

First, let’s say that you are the leader of a technology security consulting company. You are the founder of the company and the one who possesses the great majority of the client relationships, the technical knowledge and the presentation skills for selling and presenting client solutions. As such, and given that you have the greatest financial interest in the success of the company, you have your fingers in everything. You are, as they say, the “chief cook and bottle washer”. You sometimes take other employees with you to client presentations and you listen to their suggestions, but you always take the lead on everything and you never give your employees a chance to “own” or be in charge of anything. What are the consequences of this approach? First of all, you are a prisoner to your business and your desire to always be the one in the spotlight. You have not developed confidence in any of your employees, nor have they developed confidence in themselves. Second, you have created a culture of followers, with none having experience in leading or taking accountability for anything. What if, alternatively, you worked with your employees to develop a clear strategy and a clear set of goals, then gave them incremental leadership opportunities, “got behind them” and gave them ownership and accountability for successively more important tasks and projects? Would that likely lead to a stronger team, better results, and ultimately, more freedom for you to not have to “lead from the front” all the time? With this alternative approach, you’d be able set up a system, goals, expectations, commensurate rewards, and then set your employees loose and “lead from behind,” just giving them feedback and guidance as they reached successively higher levels of competence and became leaders themselves.

Next, let’s consider a simple leadership example on the parenting side that applies equally in the work or personal environment. Let’s say you are trying to teach your child to pay closer attention, to work hard and to not give up in challenging physical tasks. A recent example that occurred for me was out on an intensive cycling training with my son. I had taught him to draft off my back wheel so that he could avoid fighting as much wind resistance and conserve his energy to stay strong throughout our three hour high-intensity rides. He was doing pretty well and was strong enough physically, but I noticed that he was often getting distracted and falling behind. In this way, he’d lose the advantage of drafting and continue to fall further and further behind throughout the rides.

So I decided to try an experiment. I told him that now that he knew how drafting worked and how much easier it could make pedaling, he’d understand that since I was feeling a bit tired, it would be nice for me to draft behind him for a while. I wanted him to LEAD. The kid who couldn’t keep his concentration and was constantly falling off the pace was now put on the spot to set the pace for me. At first, he was a bit startled. He said, “You want ME to set the pace”? He spoke in a surprised tone, but I could tell that as much as he was a bit scared by the thought, he was also intrigued by the idea and the challenge. He liked the thought that he may be able to lead for once, instead of always following me. I said, “Yes, I’d like you to lead the next two laps. I don’t care what pace you set, but I want you to stay focused, keep pedaling and let me rest a bit by drafting off your back wheel”.

So we set off to see how it would go. You can probably guess what the results were. He set a faster pace than I had been setting, as he knew I could keep up and he wanted to impress me. He stayed focused the entire time. As we were finishing the second lap, he said to me, “You know Dad, I’m pretty proud of myself that I can take the lead and you can draft off me. I must be making great progress and getting in really good shape”. What could I say to that, but, “Yes, son, your progress is excellent”. Even better, once we were done taking a rest, I said to him, “I feel better now, you can get back on my wheel, so you can conserve your energy and stay up with me for the next hour and a half”. His response was, “No thanks, Dad. I still have quite a bit of energy and I liked taking the lead. It made me feel good. Let me continue to take the lead for a while”. For me, this was a great opportunity to continue to “lead from behind”. The collateral benefit was that, now that I was behind him and not working quite as hard at setting the pace and keeping us on track, it gave me an opportunity to observe his form, which allowed me to give him further insights into how to keep improving. This only continued to improve the quality of our workout and our progress. Leading from behind in this example, as is frequently the case, resulted in a “virtuous circle” that led to steadily improving team performance.

Finally, a common example of a leader leading from behind in a sports setting is the quarterback in American Football. The quarterback stands behind the line of scrimmage and directs the offense. From that point of view, the quarterback can see how the defense is set up and can thus make real-time adjustments. There is another layer of leading from behind in the case of American football and many other sports. In fact, it would be more accurately referred to as leading from the side(lines). The head coach, the offensive coordinator and the defensive coordinator are on the sidelines providing yet another point of view and adding further perspective to the planned and real-time decision making on the field of play. In fact, there is YET ANOTHER layer of perspective in many professional sports, particularly in American Football. There is another group of coaches that could be said to be “leading from above,” as they are usually located in a luxury box above the field and look down on the action, then send suggestions for adjustments to the sidelines coaches, who then communicate the messages to the quarterback and other players on the field. In the end, it’s all about having many points of view and a variety of perspectives that can lead to better decision-making and better results on the “field of play”. This approach and metaphor of leading from behind, from the side and from above can be extended to many other sports and to many other organizational settings.

One of the key takeaways is that sometimes trying to lead just from the front is not the smartest way to go. It’s important to gain insights from as many perspectives as possible. Perhaps even more important is that once you’ve provided your input and guidance to the players (or employees, etc.) on the field of play, you have to give them a chance to execute, make mistakes, and grow in their own ability to make decisions, play the game and ultimately, become leaders themselves.

Have you worked with leaders who have “led from behind”? In a business setting? In a sports setting? In a family setting? Have you done so yourself?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin
paul@companyfounder.com
www.companyfounder.com.

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Jun 022011
 
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If You Want Success, Learn To Navigate For Yourself

We’ve all heard the expression “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else”. Let’s take that to the next level: If you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t take charge of charting your own course, you probably won’t end up going anywhere.

Take a look around at the successful entrepreneurs, CEOs and other people that you know or know of. How many of them are current or former pilots or avid sailors? Ted Turner, Richard Branson, and Michael Bloomberg come to mind, but the list is much longer. What does one have to do with the other?

In all my time as an entrepreneur and now increasingly as I have started doing more coaching, research and writing on the topic of human “greatness” and peak performance, one trend I have noticed in those who succeed in all sorts of endeavors is that they take control of their own destiny. They leave the “employee mentality” behind, they determine and describe in a detailed way all that they are trying to accomplish, and then they chart a course to get there. When they chart that course, they know that there will be obstacles and they know that they will likely be off-course a good portion of the time, but they also know that it is far better to have an imperfect path charted than to have nothing at all and just hope for the best.

At its essence, this mentality boils down to taking control and taking ownership of your life, your ventures and your future. You must become the “pilot” of your life – even if you don’t literally become a pilot, you must take the leadership, responsibility and control of where you take all aspects of your life. And like those mentioned above, you must do so realizing that life hardly ever goes exactly according to plan; you will need to monitor your progress and course-adjust on a regular basis. You must also learn to react calmly in the face of changes and danger – only by overcoming your fears will you be able to reach your goals. The knowledge and confidence inherent in having a course charted and having developed contingency plans will help considerably in maintaining calm and “pressing on”.

Be bold. Take charge. Overcome your fears and other limitations. Become the “pilot” of your life and all your ventures and watch how the results you achieve improve markedly.

Oh, and by the way, punching coordinates or a street addresss into a GPS is not navigating – it does not teach you to think through the route you want to take, consider alternatives, take note of the landmarks you should expect to see, react with calmness to changes in the roads, etc. While GPS is a wonderful technology and, like any other technology, should be used to support you as you chart your course and embark on your journey in business and in other aspects of life, you should not become so reliant on it that you learn not to plan, think for yourself and stay aware en route. It’s like my father said to me back in the day, when he saw me using a calculator for my homework – it looks like a nice toy, but make sure it doesn’t keep you from learning the basics of math, the foundation upon which you will build all your other learning.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com
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Apr 182011
 
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Make Sure You Have a Big Vision!

In my personal experience and observation in over 30 years in entrepreneurship (I started young :-)), if you want to achieve great things, you MUST have a big vision! Why? Well, let’s look at some examples to gain a better understanding.

Let’s say you want to start up, or you already have, a retailer of electronics, software and books. It doesn’t matter if it’s online, bricks-and-mortar, or both. You decide that your company vision will be as follows: “Our vision is to be the best provider of electronics, software and books on the planet”. That’s an interesting vision, agreed, but how does it compare to: “Our vision is to be the earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can find and discover anything they might want to buy online”?

The latter version in the example above is Amazon.com’s vision statement. We can observe a similarity and a couple of key differences between the first version and Amazon’s. They are similar in that they both refer to the whole world – “on the planet” and “earth’s”. That’s good! That’s thinking big! They are different in that the first one refers to being the “best provider” of electronics … this language is quite generic and doesn’t evoke a call to action. Amazon’s, on the other hand, talks about being the “most customer-centric company” – this gives one a sense of mission, and it’s specific enough to put the customer right at the center of the action. It’s something you can rally around. You can get behind this and feel like it gets to not just the vision of the company, but its mission as well.

Another difference is that Amazon’s vision statement does not limit the company to providing just a few items. It talks about building a place where customers “can find and discover anything they might want”. If you remember when Amazon started, they were really mainly known as an online provider of books; however, they have now expanded to all kinds of stuff for sale, new and used. Although they started with books, this was likely their vision from the very beginning. They did not want to limit themselves to just books.

Here is another corporate vision statement to further reinforce these points. Avon Products’ vision statement is “To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women, globally.” Notice again how Avon does not limit itself to a small geography, nor does it limit itself to a few products. It doesn’t even mention specific products, rather it focuses on understanding and satisfying certain needs of one half of the people on the planet – women! That’s a grand vision! That’s something worthy of a great company! That’s something that can motivate and inspire all people associated with Avon for a very, very long time!

When you are crafting your company vision statement or your personal vision statement, a step you should absolutely take, think BIG. Don’t limit yourself! Create a vision that touches you emotionally, that motivates you, that when read, will inspire you and others to accomplish great things. Remember, a fish in a small fish bowl can never become larger than that fish bowl. Don’t artificially and unnecessarily limit yourself to a small “fish bowl”.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on the topic of creating a vision and vision statement.

Paul Morin
www.CompanyFounder.com
paul@companyfounder.com.

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Apr 062011
 
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Originally published at www.PlanRiver.com

The Seven Deadly Sins of Strategic Planning

Introduction

The strategic planning process in most organizations, if there even is a process in place, is severely flawed.
The planning process in most cases consists of a two or three day retreat each year, wherein the senior management of the organization, and sometimes the board of directors, discuss where they want to take the business. Many times the chance to get away from the day-to-day exigencies of operating the organization puts the planners in a great frame of mind, and the retreat yields some great ideas. The output of the process is often a Word document full of ideas and perhaps an Excel document with some goals and milestones. Unfortunately, as the following cartoon depicts, that’s where the planning process for that year often ends.

This article talks about the common mistakes we see in strategic planning, which here we call the “Seven Deadly Sins” of strategic planning. These “sins” include:

• Not Executing The Plan
• Not Taking Risk Factors Into Account
• Not Making Sure The Goals And Strategic Initiatives Are In Line With The Vision/Values/Mission Of The Organization
• Not Getting Everyone Involved
• Not Having Accountability, With Specific Initiative Owners and Deadlines
• Not Allocating Budgets To Meaningful Initiatives And Projects
• Not Prioritizing Activities Based On Potential Impact And Contribution To Identified Goals, Initiatives and Projects

Each of these “sins of strategic planning” will be explored further herein.

Deadly Sin One: Not Executing The Plan

This is, of course, the “cardinal sin” of strategic planning. A plan that sits in a drawer is not worth much. That being said, it is valuable to go through the planning process, even if the plan is not excuted, as the process itself causes those involved to consider and examine many issues that otherwise may go unnoticed.
In our experience and research, a large percentage of strategic plans (or “business plans”, if you’d prefer) end up in the drawer of someone’s desk, never seeing the light of day until the following year’s planning process, when someone asks, “Hey, what did we do with last year’s plan”?

Why do most plans go unexecuted? Is it simply human nature, or are there other forces at work here? In our estimation, the lack of execution typically has a lot to do with the lack of a system, structure and flow for documenting and tracking progress against the objectives of the organization. We like to characterize the planning system as represented in the following flow chart. The various levels and elements of this flowchart will come up repeatedly in the “sins” explored in this article.

Exhibit 1: Strategic Planning Flowchart


Deadly Sin Two: Not Taking Risk Factors Into Account

It is hard to dispute that we live in a “risky” world.

Far too often, we see organizations embark on the strategic planning process without taking into account the risks associated with each potential Goal, Strategic Initiative, and Project. All elements of the plan and process are subject to risk, in fact, but for these elements, it can be particularly problematic if such risks are not identified up front and mitigated to the extent possible.

Let’s take, for example, a Goal of increasing revenues by $30 million within six months, for a company that currently has $100 million in sales. In the absence of considering risk factors, while a Goal of increasing revenues in six months may sound aggressive, it would nonetheless seem appealing on the surface.

Now let’s consider for a moment some of the potential Strategic Initiatives and Projects associated with such a Goal. One strategic initiative may be moving into three new geographic markets. Another may be introducing two new products. And another may be increasing prices on existing products by twenty percent. There could be several more Initiatives associated with this Goal, but let’s just take these three for the moment. If we weren’t to consider risks, we would just plow ahead with Projects associated with accomplishing these three Initiatives. These Projects could include hiring a Director of International Business Development, picking two products to launch, and communicating to our channel partners that prices were rising by twenty percent, among other potential Projects.

Now let’s consider risk factors for a moment. First, and perhaps most importantly, is six months enough time to accomplish all this? Can we wisely select the correct new geographic markets, the right two products to come out with first, and the effect that a twenty percent price increase will have with existing customers in such a short period of time? This is an extreme example and the answer is “of course not”.
Risks must be identified as much as possible, quantified, weighed for severity, then monitored on an ongoing basis. A well-structured and executed planning system and process can help significantly with such risk management. A “shoot from the hip” approach can be very risky indeed. 

Sin Three: Not Ensuring Alignment Of The Goals And Strategic Initiatives With The Vision/Values/Mission Of The Organization

Most organizations that go to the trouble of strategic planning, do develop at least a Mission Statement, if not a Vision and Values Statement as well.

The Mission Statement usually talks in broader terms about how the organization sees itself making a grand contribution to its markets and to the rest of the world. The Vision Statement usually addresses where the leaders of the organization see it going over the short, medium and long term. And the Values Statement usually states those things the leaders of the organization value in their approach to employees and other constituencies with which they deal and whom they serve.

The Vision, Values and Mission Statements are very important, as they define the parameters within which the organization is run, where the organization is expected to go, and the “contribution” that the organization is expecting to make to the world.

The mistake or “sin” arises when the Values/Vision/Mission are created, but then are not used as the yardstick by which to measure potential Goals, Strategic Initiatives, Projects and Tasks. What value is there in creating the Values/Vision/Mission, if they are not going to be used as a consistency or integrity check for the activities of the organization?

As Exhibit One above illustrates, Values/Vision/Mission are at the top of the heap – the top level of the flow chart. They are the guiding light. When a member of the team is looking at a their Task list for the day, or considering the Projects they are trying to accomplish, they should not have to wonder if what they are doing is making a contribution. All Tasks should flow into Projects, which flow into Strategic Initiatives, which flow into Goals, which flow up into and are consistent with the Values/Vision/Mission of the organization. If any of these cannot be traced upward, or are inconsistent with the Values/Vision/Mission, then they should not be part of the activities being conducted by the organization. 

Deadly Sin Four: Not Getting Everyone Involved

While it may be the reality that the leadership of the organization may set the Values/Vision/Mission, Goals, Strategic Initiatives and even many of the Projects of the organization, it’s unlikely that they will be executing everything themselves.

It has been proven beyond doubt that people will put in a much better effort to accomplish objectives if they have a part in formulating them. In fact, if they don’t have a part in formulating them, or don’t at least understand how their efforts fit into the bigger picture of the organization, they may simple bide their time, doing the minimum possible to take home a paycheck.

While it is typically not realistic to have everyone involved in determining the Values/Vision/Mission, the Goals, and the Strategic Initiatives, they will undoubtedly be involved with the Projects and Tasks that contribute to the successful execution of the plan. Make sure that they understand how their activities are contributing to the overall success of the organization, in line with its plan. With this approach, most of the time you will be pleasantly surprised by how much more engaged and enthusastic everyone is about helping the organization accomplish its Goals and fulfill its Mission/Vision/Values. 

Deadly Sin Five: Not Having Accountability, With Specific Initiative Owners and Deadlines

Accountability is without question one of the most uncomfortable, yet essential elements in allowing your organization to accomplish its Goals and Strategic Initiatives, and ultimately, fulfill its Vision/Values/Mission.
In order to increase the probability of success of Goals, Strategic Initiatives, Projects, and Tasks, it’s key that each have just one “owner”. It is fine if that owner has one or several collaborators, but there must be one person ultimately responsible. As some like to call it, the “single neck theory” – having one’s neck on the line can be particularly motivating.

In order to have accountability, it is also important to have target dates (deadlines). Without such targets, one’s feet don’t get “held to the fire” and there is no true accountability. Constantly moving target dates, budgets, and Project owners, does not lead to a culture of accountability and accomplishment. Such behavior simply leads to a lack of execution of the plan, another of the “deadly sins” of strategic planning.

Deadly Sin Six: Not Allocating Budgets To Meaningful Initiatives And Projects

Making sure the activities of the organization are consistent with its Values/Vision/Mission is, of course, important. Setting measurable Goals, with a target completion date and accountability, likewise, is obviously essential. So what about the Strategic Initiatives and Projects that will help your organization accomplish its Goals and stay true to its Values/Vision/Mission? Should we expect to be able to get these done without allocating any budget to them?

Let’s take the example again of trying to increase revenues by $30 million within two years. Will this happen magically? It’s not likely. If we need to pursue particular Strategic Initiatives to accomplish this Goal, we may need to be willing to invest a bit in those Initiatives. For example, if we want to go into several new geographic markets, we may need to hire new employees to help us get there, or we may need to purchase certain market data in order to better understand the potential new target markets. In both cases, we may need to invest some money and take some risk in order to accomplish our Strategic Initiatives and Goals. We simply cannot expect it to happen by chance.

The estimate budget should be assigned to the Initiatives and Projects at the beginning, so that the “owner” has a target in mind from the start. While budgets may have to be adjusted, given inaccurate forecasting without complete information at the beginning of the Initiative or Project, the budget should not be changed constantly, just to “come in under budget”. There must be a sense of accountability and for this to exist, target dates and budgets cannot be constantly moving. 

Deadly Sin Seven: Not Prioritizing Activities Based On Potential Impact And Contribution To Identified Goals, Initiatives and Projects

Given the world we live in, full of distractions, it is important to have a way to prioritize the Tasks at hand on a daily basis. There are many potential ways to prioritize activities, for example, those that are easiest to complete or those that are most enjoyable often get done first.

It makes more sense though, to prioritize based on the potential impact and contribution to the accomplishment of the Goals, Initiatives and Projects of the organization. In order to do so, it is important that each Goal, Initiative and Project is given an estimated “Impact”. For simplicity, we recommend a potential Impact score between 1 and 10 be assigned.

Thereafter, when you are considering which activities to focus on, you can do so according to which activity has greater potential Impact. Low impact activities thus naturally fall to the bottom of the list and high impact activities are always given preference. Such an approach should lead to less wasted time, better results and quicker accomplishment of the organization’s objectives.

Conclusion

Many organizations do strategic planning. Most great organizations understand that while planning is important, it is equally or more important to execute effectively. In order to plan and executive effectively, you must avoid the seven “deadly sins” of strategic planning, which are:

Not Executing The Plan: it would, of course, be tough to “execute effectively” if you don’t execute at all. Don’t fall into the trap of going through the motions of strategic planning, and then have your organization’s plan sit in a drawer somewhere.

Not Taking Risk Factors Into Account: plan and execute, but do so mindful of the various risk factors involved with each of your organization’s Initiatives. Take the couple of extra moments necessary to consider what may go wrong and try to put mechanisms in place to mitigate those potential risks.

Not Making Sure The Goals And Strategic Initiatives Are In Line With The Vision/Values/Mission Of The Organization: make sure you have an approach, or better yet, a system that ensures that the activities of those execting your plan are aligned with the Values/Vision/Mission of the organization.

Not Getting Everyone Involved: try to get as many persons as you can involved in the strategic planning and execution of your organization. While it is typically not realistic to have everyone involved in determining the Values/Vision/Mission, the Goals, and the Strategic Initiatives, they will undoubtedly be involved with the Projects and Tasks that contribute to the successful execution of the plan. Make sure that they understand how their activities are contributing to the overall success of the organization, in line with its plan.

Not Having Accountability, With Specific Initiative Owners and Deadlines: accountability is essential to successful execution of your organization’s strategic plan. Make sure that a particular individual “owns” responsibility for the Goals, Strategic Initiatives, Projects and Tasks of the organization. That individual may have one or several collaborators, but they know that they are ultimately responsible individually to meet the relevant deadline for completion.

Not Allocating Budgets To Meaningful Initiatives And Projects: make sure that your organization acknowledges the reality that some, if not most, Initiatives and Projects may require budget dollars in order to make the necessary contribution to the achievement of particular Goals. This will, of course, entail a certain amount of risk, but it is not realistic to think that the organization’s Goals will be accomplished without risk.

Not Prioritizing Activities Based On Potential Impact And Contribution To Identified Goals, Initiatives and Projects: sensible prioritization of the activities of the organization is necessary in order to increase the probability of accomplishing Goals and fulfilling the Vision/Values/Mission as expeditiously as possible. The best way to prioritize is based on the potential impact of a particular activity. The potential impact of all Strategic Initiatives, Projects and Tasks should thus be estimated and taken into consideration in the prioritization process.

We look forward to your comments and questions! You can leave them below or in the top right corner of this post.

About the Author

Paul Morin is a strategic advisor and serial entrepreneur who has dedicated the majority of his career to entrepreneurship. Mr. Morin is the Founder and CEO of Plan River Systems, the company which brought the Strategic Plan Dashboard™ to market, which is a system for strategic planning and execution. Mr. Morin is an advisor to entrepreneurs, senior management, owners and Boards, in the areas of proactive management of risk, strategic planning and analysis, financial modeling, and identification of and diligence on acquisition and strategic partner targets. Mr. Morin has worked extensively with publicly-traded, privately-held, and family owned business in North, South and Central America.

Mr. Morin holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Morin has lived, worked and traveled extensively in Latin America, Europe, and Asia and speaks and writes English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Paul Morin
Author contact: paul@planriver.com or paul@companyfounder.com
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Jan 192011
 
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I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep, I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.
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Alexander the Great

As an entrepreneur, you need to be a leader. And if you believe what Alexander the Great says here, you’re better off being a lion than a sheep. Not everyone perceives themselves as a lion or believes that they are “cut out” to be a lion. That said, once you identify what you love to do and become fully committed to doing it and reaching your goals, regardless of the obstacles you encounter, you will be far more likely to take on the “lion” leader persona. There’s no need to go over the top, but you will find it a lot easier to achieve your dreams if you are willing to be a leader, a “lion”.
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