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In the sheikh's tomb on my birthday

In the sheikh's tomb on my birthday

May 12, 2017

It was my birthday this week and a I went for a late afternoon hike in the hills. I had a few minutes for contemplation, and put my thoughts into a video.

Local legend says that the rounded stone mound I came across is the burial place of a long dead sheikh. His name has been forgotten: only the stones bear tribute to the man buried within.

Right next to his tomb is a large fig tree. It grows bigger each year, providing nourishing fruit to anyone who walks by. For free.

Let’s play a game of Compare and Contrast.

What can these two objects tell us about being an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs tend to think mostly of themselves when building their businesses. “If the business isn’t successful on my terms, why bother? Am I only building a “glorified job”?”

That’s “sheikh’s tomb thinking”. It’s all about you.

In my experience as a business leader, I see many entrepreneurs with what’s called the “Selfish Gene”. There is a tendency to hoard the wealth, honor, leads, awards, you name it. Altruism is tossed out the window; it’s all about you.

Successful entrepreneurs make sure their companies are not just good for themselves, but good for others.

Let’s go back to our fig tree. It gives and benefits everyone, not just itself.

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Zig Ziglar

A thriving company has 3 components. It’s:

  1. Good for the customer.
  2. Good for the shareholder.
  3. Good for the team.

It’s a big mistake to be only (mostly) concerned with yourself, the shareholder. In my opinion, if you can’t focus on the other 2 components, you should become a “SoloPreneur” without a team.

Here's the magic formula to developing a balance to make sure you can serve all 3 masters:

1. What’s good for the customers? Ask yourself the “Lean Principle” question: “Does this add value to the customer? If not, it’s ‘waste’ and must be eliminated or reduced. This is the first and most important principle and should drive the organization. Continually ask the questions, “what's best for the customer?” and “how do we make sure they’re getting more value and then they’re paying for?”

2. What’s good for the team? Ask yourself, “will this action help us attract more and better team members? Or will this behavior silently drive away the best performers, while only the mediocre ones will tolerate it and stay?”

How do you relate to your team? Are you a cop or a coach? How well do you listen? Can you have Courageous Conversations when necessary for the benefit of the rest of the team?

Consider this like an emotional bank account. You can’t make a withdrawal until you've made a series of deposits. You must have a 3 to 1 ratio, at least three deposits for every one withdrawal. Get in the mindset of, “if my team is doing well and then I also am doing well.”

I love this story. There is a renowned cancer researcher named Judah Folkman. When his research finally gained in popularity, Dr. Folkman refused to be photographed alone for publications because he didn’t want to be singled out for research he insisted was collaborative. His team, he insisted, was the key to success. And his team would do anything for him.

3. What’s good for the shareholder? Can you build a scalable asset with recurring revenue, or are you creating a one-off product, never to be used again? Do you take a big deal that will consume all of your team resources, knowingly taking the team away from other important projects? Take a look at your business and ask yourself - “are we focusing just on getting the next job and making a sale or are we building a sustainable process and business?”

The exceptions to the rule

As we said, successful entrepreneurs make sure their companies are not just good for themselves, but good for others. However, sometimes, you have to take sides.

  • When a customer is unruly and unreasonable, support your team. Some customers should be fired, not team members who have demonstrated patience and loyalty.
  • When a team player is a phenomenal individual but wreaks havoc in a group, consider reorganization. And sometimes the only reorganization that will truly work is to cut them from the team. (Think Terrell Owens and the Cowboys in 2009.) Just last week I had a conversation with a Brand Launcher member who is trying to decide whether to keep or let go of a phenomenal employee. The employee has been like a rotten apple that’s spoiling the whole basket. Post script, they ultimately decided to let the employee go.
  • I’ve seen occasions when there is an older employee who is detrimental to the business, and unwilling to adapt to new circumstances. My advice here is to manage them in or manage them out: but manage them. Have a Courageous Conversation. They are drilling a hole in the team’s proverbial boat. When someone is failing it's actually a disservice to them keeping him in a position where he knows he’s not doing a good job and he doesn’t feel good about himself.

[Watch my thoughts in the sheikh’s tomb.]

Make your company good for yourself and good for others. Give like the fig tree. Regardless who planted the tree, it provides for all and regenerates its fruit each year. And if fruit is a metaphor for wisdom, the more you give, the more it multiplies.

The ancient Pharaohs, and possibly our friend the sheikh, had the desire to take it all with them. Buried with their personal possessions, jewels, household items, and even their pets, they left very little for their descendants. Seeing their tombs we realize, “you can't take it with you”.

What’s your legacy? Do you want to nourish others or build a burial mound and be buried with your cat?

Taking you from where you are to where you want to be.