Brave entrepreneurs step into the arena. If they are lucky, they are nurtured in the right environment. The landscape is littered with collapsed ventures launched in harsh environments. Even passionate entrepreneurs have failed.
The myth of great business leaders is that they are born with the right stuff, gifted with a revolutionary idea that fundamentally changes business. This thread of the special maverick who becomes a successful entrepreneur can be seen running through the narratives of many of our stories about great entrepreneurs — from Walt Disney to Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
But as Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” Contrary to popular belief, great ideas sprout within a context, not in a vacuum; collaboration with others is a necessary component; and key principles of entrepreneurship can be learned, practiced and implemented to great success. A little knowledge can make the difference between missing the market and growing fast; between yielding to vultures and great personal wealth.
So what’s the right environment?
Community with other players
Just as valuable as a groundbreaking idea, an environment that helps budding entrepreneurs formulate and nurture ideas is key. An entrepreneurial environment provides opportunities to learn from the experience and knowledge of others, to collaborate, to develop alternative business models and to test ideas.
Research and experience have demonstrated repeatedly that entrepreneurs develop more effectively within an entrepreneurial community with access to complementary resources and markets. Even among the top competitors from the premier global MBA programs at the Rice Business Plan Competition, we frequently see teams respond to feedback by pivoting four or five times until they find the right business model to commercialize novel technologies. Shark tanks, incubators and business plan competitions can provide entrepreneurs a safe environment in which to take a risk, test their business plan and make adjustments.
Education and opportunities
Cities play a crucial role in providing an environment that develops and nurtures entrepreneurs. Silicon Valley is famous for the environment it has created that nurtures technological innovation; Austin does the same for musicians. And Houston has created a wonderful environment for entrepreneurial activity. Each of these cities has great universities, and Houston is fortunate to have the top ranked executive MBA program for entrepreneurs at Rice University, several other top ten programs in entrepreneurship at Rice University and the University of Houston, and a rich mix of supporting organizations such as the Houston Technology Center, BioHouston, Houston Angel Network, TiE Houston, Houston Tech Fest, Start Up Houston, and many others. It’s no wonder Forbes recently listed Houston as the No. 10 Best City for Young Entrepreneurs and the No. 2 Best City for Female Founders.
Passionate entrepreneurs need to seek environments where they can learn from others, collaborate and take calculated risks to test their ideas. In these environments, entrepreneurial ideas have the greatest chance to take flight. ●
Bill Glick is the dean of the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. The Jones School’s graduate entrepreneurship program, currently ranked No. 4 by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazines, has been ranked as a top 10 program in graduate entrepreneurship for five consecutive years.
Emerging technology: HTC’s work with entrepreneurs and startup companies provides them with in-depth guidance
I started out as a geek, a technologist — I loved dealing with technology. But as I grew in my career, I realized that technology was only a means to an end and the end was to do something interesting, something that would help people, patients or companies succeed.
So I became a business person, and I love being at the Houston Technology Center because it combines that little geek that is deep down inside me with the joy that I find in translating technology into commercial success, business success, new companies and good jobs.
The Houston Technology Center, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, is the largest technology business incubator and accelerator in Texas, advancing the commercialization of emerging technology companies in Greater Houston.
In fact, the center has been named one of Forbes’ “Ten Technology Incubators Changing the World,” and one of “Twelve Business Incubators Changing the World.”
Each day, the staff and partners of the Houston Technology Center work closely with entrepreneurs and startup companies providing them with in-depth strategic and tactical business guidance, fundraising advice and connecting them to opportunities, allies and capital.
Promoting ‘tech city’
As a catalyst for change, economic growth and development, the Houston Technology Center’s focus is to assist in the acceleration and commercialization of emerging technology companies. The Houston Technology Center also promotes Houston as a leading technology city and serves as a hub for the local technology business community.
Supported by more than 300 of Houston’s leading corporations and academic institutions, as well as the Greater Houston Partnership, Texas Medical Center, NASA-Johnson Space Center and the City of Houston, the Houston Technology Center has become the region’s center of technology entrepreneurship by assisting companies within several key sectors: energy, information technology, life sciences, nanotechnology and NASA/aerospace related technologies.
There is no end in the application of new technologies to solve the world’s problems, whether it is clean energy, remediating the atmosphere and the water, working with national defense and terrorist issues, the technologies that we see every day are applicable. And we are not talking about generations; we are talking about years.
In 13 years of operation, the Houston Technology Center has provided feedback to more than 1,000 companies and coached more than 250 companies, helping them raise $1.5 billion in capital and liquidity events, and creating nearly 5,000 jobs.
The Houston Technology Center serves as the Gulf Coast Regional Center of Innovation and Commercialization for Texas Governor Rick Perry’s Emerging Technology Fund, assisting small to midsize technology firms expediting the commercialization of new life-changing inventions and improving research at Texas universities.
It is a privilege for me to have the opportunity to work with the entrepreneurs who are making these kinds of changes for our community, for our state and for the world.
These entrepreneurs are supported not only by the Houston Technology Center, and my colleagues, but they are supported by volunteers — hundreds of volunteers — and sponsors and board members like Jim McIngvale who each contribute in their own way.
McIngvale has proven to be extraordinarily successful, but the characteristics that he brought to create Gallery Furniture are the characteristics that we look for in all the entrepreneurs we work with — hard work, integrity, persistence and a positive outlook on life. ●
Walter Ulrich, president and CEO of the Houston Technology Center, was previously CEO of several technology companies and an executive with two major global management-consulting firms. He also serves as chairman of the Gulf Coast Center for Innovation and Commercialization, serves on several boards and is active in major community organizations. Early in his career, he was responsible for the development of the first successful email service. For more information, visit
To learn more about the Houston Technology Center, like its Facebook page www.facebook.com/HoustonTechnologyCenter and follow on Twitter @HouTechCenter.
‘As the World Turns:’ We can be more productive together if we are aware of cultural nuances
When I look at Houston, the title of the long-running television show, “As the World Turns,” comes to mind. Houston is undergoing an ethnic and cultural transformation and at the same time its reputation continues to grow as a place where people can dream and succeed.
The city’s transformation into an international megalopolis has happened within the past few decades. The metropolitan region is now home to nearly 6 million people. This growth has been significant, but the nature of the growth is also of interest.
Between 2000 and 2010, Houston added more than 1 million people, which is more than any other metropolitan area in the U.S., according to the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. Additionally, the Kinder Institute found that Houston has become the most racially/ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the country during this period. Thus, it is not only Houston’s size that has grown but its diversity as well.
The Asian-American segment is booming
One demographic that continues to grow in Houston is the Asian population. According to the Greater Houston Partnership, the Asian population in Houston has grown 70 percent between 2000 and 2010. This trend is not exclusive to Houston. Asian-Americans are the fastest growing multicultural segment in the country, increasing nearly 58 percent between 2000 and 2013, which is nearly five times faster than that of the general population, according to The Nielsen Co. report “Significant, Sophisticated and Savvy: the Asian American Consumer.”
As the president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce, I have the opportunity to interact with Houston’s Asian business community and Greater Houston’s business community. Both of these groups continue to have increased interaction with one another as Houston’s internationalism continues to rise. As such, this vantage point has allowed me to pinpoint the issue of cultural misunderstanding as a barrier to better collaboration and productivity for all.
Understanding the relationships
The pattern I perhaps see most is related to how misconceptions of cultural behaviors lead to misunderstanding and sometimes missed opportunities. The truth is that when working within a global context, we encounter individuals whose behaviors in business environments are markedly different than to what we are accustomed. Sometimes misinterpretations of these different behaviors act as a barrier to productivity, collaboration and innovation.
In his book, “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies,” Scott E. Page, a professor of political science and economics at the University of Michigan, asks the essential question for a rapidly globalizing world: “How can we all be more productive together?”
Page says the answer is actually in environments with individuals from vastly different backgrounds and experiences. Our differences are what make us stronger. Other studies have shown that groups that include a range of perspectives and skill levels outperform like-minded experts.
In the global world today, we must all play an active role in breaking down barriers that prevent us from reaping the rewards of embracing diversity. One of the most common barriers we face are cultural ones. We may perceive the cultural social practices of one group to signify something completely different than intended because we understand it through our cultural lens. However, it is to our benefit to educate ourselves and look below the surface.
This can often be done by studying the practices of other countries or by joining diverse organizations. Often, we share the same values with those we interact and hope to collaborate with. We must not let misperceptions stand in the way of realizing the true potential of what can come of embracing diversity. ●
Linda Toyota is president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce of Houston. With more than 20 years experience in the nonprofit community, she has worked with a wide array of nonprofit organizations including the Holocaust Museum Houston, the Houston Technology Center, the Texas Heart Institute and the Houston Area Women’s Center. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donate with a plan: Is charitable giving good for business, or just good business?
Companies big and small are seeking ways to give back to their communities. As they do, they’re marrying corporate objectives with community needs, resulting in a victory for businesses and charities alike.
The days of absently writing checks have passed and the era of strategic giving is upon us, which means more work for both parties.
For companies, it means having a well thought out strategic plan for community investment, which includes internal and external engagement. For charities, it means they must better understand each company, their philanthropic programs and business goals, and offer appropriate options for support.
For a company to create a sustainable strategic plan that supports its triple bottom line — people, planet and profits — it must first determine the types of contributions it may offer. A robust philanthropic program will typically offer a combination of non-cash or in-kind product, cash through foundation, or corporate grants and volunteerism.
Non-cash or in-kind product could include software, hardware, printing services, computers, airline tickets, books or corporate assets such as used tables and chairs. Cash is the top means of support offered to charities, which may fund events that in turn fund programs. But it’s advisable to review a full list of funding options to determine the best strategic fit.
As for volunteerism, there are many ways to engage employees, but here are a few:
Employee giving programs
Employees are often looking for ways to get involved. Offering them a structured program such as United Way, EarthShare or your own signature program through which they can engage a charity will empower generosity and engagement. Company matching goes a long way as well, but isn’t a must.
Day of giving
Create an occasion to come together as a group for a day of volunteering or a community project. It will show your employees and the community that you care, and you will find employees are happier because helping the community is the right thing to do. It’s a great team building opportunity, too.
Paid volunteer time-off
Offer employees one day off per year to support causes that are aligned with your business. It promotes goodwill and allows your company to work together with employees to make a difference. Skills-based volunteerism, or volunteerism that capitalizes on talents, business skills, experience or education, requires more thoughtful engagement and is the perfect intersection of business and community.
The biggest challenge I see with corporate giving today is what I call “repeat philanthropy,” meaning companies will fund the same causes and organizations year after year. While repeat philanthropy is financially beneficial for charities, it also introduces risk when budgets, management or focus areas change.
Thoughtful planning will promote proper engagement on all levels and build sustainable programs to ensure long-term success. After all, corporate giving can help attract and retain employees, imbue employees with pride and let employees know that the company cares about not only building its profits, but about the community and the planet, which certainly makes charitable giving good for business as well as just good business. ●
Deena Carstens Munn earned a degree in sociology from the University of Florida. She has over 10 years of experience in corporate philanthropy and over 20 years of experience working with nonprofit charitable organizations. She is the founder of the Houston Philanthropic Society and also works for IHS as a senior sponsorship manager for CERAWeek. Munn has enjoyed volunteering for Hospice of North Central Florida, Texas Children’s Hospital, the Greater Houston Partnership (Energy Collaborative), Houston Technology Center, Christian Community Service Center (CCSC), P.A.W.S. Houston and The Nature Conservancy. For more information, visit www.houstonps.org.
To learn more about the Houston Philanthropic Society, like its Facebook page www.facebook.com/HoustonPhilanthropicSociety and follow on Twitter @HoustonPS.
Re-evaluate and refocus: These five resolutions for the New Year can help you tone up your business
It’s 2014 and time to think about those New Year’s resolutions that can help you shape up. No, not your waistline — your bottom line. For many businesses, the past few years have been anything but kind. If you’re lucky, your company is still relatively fit — it may just need to tone up. Other companies, however, are far from peak condition.
As a smart business owner, you know what you need to do to keep your company in shape, but like most of us, you need occasional reminders. The following tips are just that, simple reminders of what you need to do to get your business in tip-top shape and ensure your company is strong enough to bear the weight of whatever lies ahead in 2014.
1. Refocus on fundamentals — To identify growth opportunities, business owners often focus their energies externally. Don’t lose sight of hopeful prospects, but refocus some of your time and attention internally. Examine the core functions of your business operations to be sure the fundamentals are sound and the infrastructure is strong.
2. Repair what’s broken — If some aspect of your business isn’t working, it’s time to fix it. Managers are often so busy they don’t focus on functions that aren’t operating as efficiently or effectively as they should be. Take time to examine your processes, procedures and even people, and make changes where necessary.
3. Re-evaluate and retrench — In the same way a few extra pounds can make you feel sluggish, having your company grow beyond a level it can comfortably sustain will cause it to be out of shape and ineffective.
Are you operating outside of your wheelhouse? Have you expanded beyond your core business — and beyond your comfort zone? Just as it is easier to lose five pounds than 10, it is better to recognize issues early than wait and let the burden of added weight take a toll on your business’ long-term health.
4. Reduce waste and reinvest in your business — Reducing your waistline is one way to shape up, but may I also suggest reducing your “waste line.” Look around your company. Where can you reduce costs?
And while you’re at it, look for ways to reinvest in your business, especially infrastructure. Sometimes you need to spend money to save money. Investing in advanced technology or more automated processes can help you save money over time.
5. Re-engage and reward employees — It’s been a challenging few years. At one time or another your employees have probably worried about their jobs and their financial futures.
Such distractions can lead to reduced productivity. Keep your employees engaged and productive. Communicate openly, honestly and often. Offer opportunities for professional development, such as a training seminar, a mentoring program or a challenging project. Reward key employees with new responsibilities or a new job title to recognize their hard work and keep them motivated.
Just like getting your body in shape takes willpower and resolve, getting your company in shape also takes discipline and determination. The process, however, can be energizing and exciting, and the results can ensure your company’s strength and long-term health. Get moving and have a great year. ●
John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and Administrative Services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information, visit www.gnapartners.com.
To learn more about G&A Partners, like its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/gnapartners, and follow on Twitter @GAPartners.
Most employees are far removed from the design and analysis of their compensation plans. Behind the scenes, the employer is investing time and resources in designing the plans that attract, retain and motivate top talent.
While every company plans compensation packages differently, there are some core strategies that can be applied to attain success in recruitment and retention.
You can plan big with these five strategies to building a successful employee compensation plan:
1. Communication is key.
Good intentions behind the design of a compensation plan do not necessarily deliver the intended results. Communication is the driver. Management is responsible for communicating the “why’s” and “how’s” of the plans it has designed. In addition, keeping people abreast of performance — both corporate and individual — is paramount when a company has a pay-for-performance culture.
2. Good corporate strategy equals successful compensation plans.
All too often, compensation plans are in place because “it has been done in the past.” For a compensation plan to be truly successful, it must be tied directly to corporate strategy.
One of the biggest failures of pay plans is they do not take into account all the key drivers that will make the company successful. Without this “linkage,” pay plans can actually promote unwanted behavior that offsets the overall strategy of the company.
3. A sound employee performance evaluation process is essential.
The employee evaluation process may be tedious, but it is the catalyst that drives most, if not all, pay decisions. The employee evaluations and the process utilized should have direct ties with the compensation plans used. It gives the company the ability to show definitively that results impact rewards.
4. Pay is not perceived the same by all.
Abraham Maslow’s theory of the “hierarchy of needs” directly pertains to this strategy. Base salary and benefits are typically essential to all employees in the corporate workplace. These are key “building blocks” of pay.
Beyond these basic building blocks, the “hierarchy of compensation needs” changes as much as the demographics of the organization. Giving appropriate consideration to these unique needs and tailoring portions of total compensation allows an organization to reinforce its culture while maximizing the utility of the total compensation dollars.
5. Recognition, recognition, recognition.
Acknowledgement is a fundamental human need. Compensation is a great way to express appreciation and acknowledgement of a job well done; however, compensation plans are typically based upon milestones in the calendar year.
Remember, everyone wants a “pat on the back” or some form of recognition when they, as an individual or as a team, have achieved something worthwhile. Recognizing and reinforcing top performers through compensation will promote the corporate culture, promote desired work ethic and achieve results.
Well-designed compensation plans have the ability to propel an organization forward. These strategies, among others, should be considered by those responsible for compensation design — the CEO, CFO or vice president of HR — in order to achieve success. Leading organizations are built on talented, committed professionals — competitive, well-planned compensation packages are vital to recruiting and retaining these top performers. ●
Brent Longnecker is chairman and CEO and Chris Crawford is president of Longnecker & Associates, and are experienced in the field of compensation and corporate governance consulting. They have authored 15 books on compensation, including “The Power of Restricted Stock.” For more information, visit www.longnecker.com.
How well thought-out and executed is your customer engagement model? Is it something that has developed by default without proactive and deliberate thought? In your company, does every salesperson and service-delivery team member develop his or her own engagement model?
Simple sales typically involve commodity items such as printers or copiers. The customer’s engagement with the seller ramps down quickly after the sale.
Complex construction projects, medical treatment and legal representation are examples of complex sales. The customer is acutely dependent on the seller’s services once the deal is inked. The service the customer buys has a material impact on the reputation and/or well-being of the customer.
If your company is in the business of complex sales and you have not thought through and designed your customer engagement model in detail, your success is at risk. Consider these points:
Apprehension, confusion and distrust
If a large construction project fails or is derailed, it may cost the customer executive his or her job. Customers involved in a complex sale are understandably apprehensive because of the risk factors and high stakes.
Further, every vendor promises high-quality and superior products. It is often overwhelming for customers to sift through all the claims and counterclaims about vendor capabilities and competencies.
Your job, as a vendor, is to help reduce the confusion and address the apprehensions. If you do that, you will earn the customer’s trust and business.
Reduce the noise
How do you reduce confusion and apprehension? You must develop and detail your customer engagement model. The vendor’s well-thought-out customer engagement process is the customer’s insurance against things going wrong.
You must start with the problem. Develop a model to describe the problems and needs so you and the customer can be on the same page.
Next, focus on the solution. Develop a model to explore possible solutions. Help the customer understand how he or she can influence the solution, and what factors constrain the solution choices.
Remember, you know more about the solution than the customer will ever know. They want to know that you have a systematic process to consider and analyze all the choices, and there is a way for the customer to guide you in aspects that matter to them.
You do not want your attorney to impart all his legal knowledge to you; all you want to do is understand the process enough so you can provide relevant information and know that the attorney is thinking things through and not overlooking items because he is extremely busy with his other clients.
Project implementation is part of the solution. Educate the customer about the steps involved, what the deliverables are at each stage that will demonstrate credible progress and what the gates/points are that the customer can provide input to fine-tune the project’s direction and thrust. Address the risks involved and explain how you will manage them.
Engage the right team
Your credibility increases as you involve the right experts during the customer education process. It communicates to the customer you are serious. Customers do not always trust sales people and their promises, but they will almost always treat as gospel what your engineers and delivery-personnel say.
Develop a comprehensive customer engagement model to earn credibility and trust. It is the best way to serve your customers. ●
Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the BusinessMakers show, CBS Radio, TEDx and PBS Nightly Business Report, he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or feedback@ cohegic.com.
Connect with Ravi Kathuria on LinkedIn http://linkd.in/1cfmLUZ
The idea of driving aimlessly seems glamorous in movies and songs. In reality, few of us get in a car without knowing how to reach our destination. We’ve created smartphone apps, GPS devices and satellite mapping to make our trips as efficient as possible and to avoid what we know to be an inconvenient, expensive outcome — getting lost.
I bring up this idea because many companies using social media have inadvertently become lost drivers. They start using social platforms with the goal of reaching some number of likes, retweets or shares, but as they embark on their social media strategies, many experience a disconnect between the content they post, blog and tweet and their progress on measurable business goals. These companies are driving without a roadmap; they just don’t know it.
Sound familiar? If social media isn’t working for you, your social media approaches may be missing a fundamental component: an effective content strategy. Here are three ways a solid content strategy will enhance your company’s social media success.
A like is just a like
All social media engagement is not created equally. To be successful, the social media activity that you generate needs to support your marketing goals — whether you want to improve employee engagement, boost customer conversions or build interest in a new product.
Creating a content strategy before you engage in social media will help your business clarify the specific marketing goals you want to achieve through content, as well as what messages you need to communicate to reach those goals. This process will ensure you get the right likes, shares and retweets from social interactions.
Social is a vehicle
Social media is a vehicle for sharing compelling content with your audience, and it doesn’t work if you don’t know what issues, topics and trends your audience finds compelling. Part of developing a content strategy involves learning how those you are trying to reach want to be talked to. Where do they go for information? How much time do they spend online? What kind of content are they looking for from your industry?
By getting to know the interests and pain points of your audience (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.), you can develop tactics to reach your online audience more effectively, saving you time and enhancing your company’s social influence.
Relevant content is meaningful
Kings of social content don’t become that way by luck. They use strategic tactics to connect with their audience through the right channels at the right times. More importantly, they make these connections meaningful and memorable by posting and sharing strategic, relevant content that their audiences desire.
When you deliver social content that your audience members find valuable or interesting, they’ll reward you by sharing your content, engaging with your business and, ideally, helping to promote your reputation as a thought leader in your business or industry. A content strategy allows you to do that by providing a roadmap for what kinds of informative, helpful, educational or creative content you need to make meaningful interactions.
As a recent Huffington Post article put it, the golden rule of the web is clear: “To know us better is to sell us better.” Ultimately, being successful in the social media space means taking the time to map out what success looks like. In this sense, a solid content strategy is not only an important component of any social media strategy, it’s the key to driving the results your business wants.
Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business and SBN Interactive. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7078.
When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.
While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.
They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.
Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.
And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.
You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?
During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●
What would it take for a company to succeed if its leader could effectively do only one of the following: innovate, instigate or administrate? We all know that an innovator is the one who sees things that aren’t and asks why not? The instigator sees things that are and asks why? The administrator doesn’t necessarily ask profound questions but, instead, is dogged about crossing the “t’s,” dotting the “i’s” and making sure that whatever is supposed to happen happens.
Ideally, a top leader combines all three traits while being charismatic, intellectual, pragmatic and able to make decisions faster than a speeding bullet. Although some of us might fantasize that we are Superman or Superwoman, with a sense of exaggerated omnipotence, the bubble usually bursts when we’re confronted simultaneously with multiple situations that require the versatility of a Swiss army knife.
Business leaders come in all shapes and sizes with various skill sets and styles that are invaluable, depending on the priorities of a company at any given point in time.
Every business needs an innovator to differentiate the company. Without a unique something or other, there isn’t a compelling reason to exist. Once those special products or services that distinguish the business from others are discovered and in place, it takes an instigator to continuously re-examine and challenge every aspect of the business that leads to continued improvements, both functionally and economically. It also takes an administrator — someone who can keep all the balls in the air, ensuring that everyone in the organization is in sync and delivering the finished products as promised to keep customers coming back.
As politicians and pundits of all types have pounded into our heads in recent years, “It takes a village to raise a child.” All who practice the art and science of business have learned that, instead of a village, it takes a diverse team working together to make one plus one equal three.
On the ideal team, each member possesses different strengths, contributing to the greater good. The exceptional leader is best when he or she is an effective chef who knows how to mix the different skills together to create a winning recipe.
In many companies, however, leaders tend to surround themselves with clones who share similar abilities, interests and backgrounds. As an example, a manufacturer may have a management team comprised solely of engineers, or a marketing organization could have salespeople who came up through the ranks calling all the shots.
If everyone in an organization comes from the same mold, what tends to happen is, figuratively, one lies and the others swear to it. This builds to a crescendo of complacency and perpetual mediocrity.
There is a better way. Good leaders surround themselves with others who complement their capabilities, and savvy leaders select those with dramatically different backgrounds who will challenge their thinking because they’re not carbon copies of the boss. This opens new horizons, forges breakthroughs and leads to optimal daily performance.
Strange bedfellows can stimulate, nudge and keep each other moving toward the previously unexplored.
To have a sustainable and effective organization, you can’t have one type without all the others. While everyone on the team may not always agree, each player must always be committed to making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
The single most important skill of the leader who has to pull all the pieces and parts together is to have the versatility of that Swiss army knife — selecting the precise tool to accomplish the objective at hand. ●
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.