Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

Being Sensitive

“It is… axiomatic that we should all think of ourselves as being more sensitive than other people because, when we are insensitive in our dealings with others, we cannot be aware of it at the time: conscious insensitivity is a self-contradiction.” W. H. Auden

The topic of discussion today is not a subject you usually find on business blogs. Being sensitive is commonly associated with weakness and insecurity in business. I do not believe this however, I believe this is an essential personal characteristic, specially one that entrepreneurs must possess. Understanding this, is the result of interactions with my mentors, who have constantly impressed upon me the importance of being sensitive to your team members, customers and suppliers. I have seen and experienced this in my own interactions of working with several teams over the last couple of years. Being sensitive to the feelings of others, situations and circumstances allows you to focus on larger issues in a more comprehensive manner.

Being a team member will inevitably result in times when the situation requires compromise and taking action in ways you may not always be comfortable with. Reactions to such situations can often be the ‘make or break’ factor for some teams. The key factor in all of this, boils down to balance. Being either overly sensitive or insensitive, bring their own share of difficulties. Maintaining a balance between both extremes requires discipline, an open mind and flexibility. I have worked with several people who have had trouble maintaining this composure, it has invariably led to difficult situations. 

Highly effective team members understand the need for sensitivity when dealing with issues which impact the entire team. Some areas requiring sensitivity are:

1. Dealing with conflict: The manner of handling conflict is a telling sign of whether balance can be maintained between extremes. For example, an individual is in a conflict with another team mate for not contributing adequately to the team. If you were the person who brought up this issue with your team member, your tone, rationale and way of handling this issue is critical.

2. Dealing with change: Whenever an organization undergoes a structural change process, substantial friction is created. This could be when individuals are required to move out of their comfort zone. As an effective team member, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone on the team is given enough support during this transitional period. Focusing selfishly on yourself or how this change process will impact you alone, is not a winning attitude.

3. Dealing with loss: Every organization has its share of ups and downs. It is during down periods that a team is required to come together and figure out how to fix the situation. I have learnt, dealing with organizational loss tends to bring out the ugly side of people. The fact is, no one likes to lose, but it is a part of life. The success of a team comes down to, how we react to such situations and whether we are able to handle it well collectively as a team.

I agree entirely that some people are more sensitive than others. It is important however, that everyone on the team does their best in dealing with difficult situations and individuals, with an open mind. This attitude will not only help create stronger bonds between all team members, it will also make you stronger as a person. The next time you find yourself in a difficult situation, do your best to understand where the other person is coming from as well. Always remember to treat others in the same manner you would like to be treated yourself.

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Do you give and ask for feedback?

“What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef? Answer: feedback. Don’t forget that feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication.” Anonymous

Regular readers of my blog will be able to identify with the topic discussed today, feedback. Today, we will discuss feedback specifically in relationship to teams and it’s members. When working with any team and specially a close knit startup team, it is essential that communication remain open at all times. In the flurry of developing the product, chasing the suppliers and completing the marketing material, communication channels tend to get clogged up, resulting in much distortion. This break down of communication eventually leads to the creation of an environment in which it is difficult to work with each other. To avoid reaching this state, we need a culture of candor and feedback in the organization.

When giving feedback to someone, it is essential to keep a couple of things in mind, to make sure that the person actually benefits from what you want to let him/her know. There is no point in telling Tim “You are always late, I think you should do something about this habit of yours.” If I were Tim I wouldn’t be very happy with that sort of feedback. I would much rather like to hear, “I have noticed that you have not been able to make our weekly morning meetings for the last 3 weeks, is there something I could do to assist you in making it to the next one? Is there a particular problem you are facing that is causing you to come late? I know this great book about time management and I think it could be of great help to you, I will give it to you by the end of today.”

Good feedback consists of:

1. Timing: Feedback needs to be provided at the appropriate time and place. There is no point bringing up something which happened 3 weeks ago. Deal with it as soon as you can. If required make sure it is done in private to reduce anxiety or pressure.

2. Specific: Avoid using words like “always” and “never” which do not correctly portray the situation. In order to be constructive, feedback needs to be specific in nature. Avoid being sarcastic, very frank and overly aggressive. The reason we provide and receive feedback is to help others and, ourselves. Always treat the other person how you would want to be treated, because tomorrow, that person could be providing you with feedback.

3. Clarity: Sometimes even if we are being specific the meaning doesn’t actually come across clearly. For example “We have missed you during the last 3 weekly morning meetings, there is a lot of critical information shared during these meetings and the team would like you to be a part of them. Team work is essential for our organization to grow and given that we are struggling with this quarter’s number we really need you to cooperate with us on this matter.” The meaning has been partially lost and now the receiver of the feedback is not sure what to make of it.

4. Action Steps: Whenever feedback is proposed it is essential that it is followed up with some action steps which include targets, timelines and metrics to help the individual. Without these, we more often than not, revert back to our old habits, making the entire feedback loop redundant. Therefore, when giving or asking for feedback, make sure that that goals are set to help monitor progress.

The art of successfully giving feedback comes with experience and time. By providing feedback you add value to the team and all of its members. There will be times when feedback will be uncomfortable and these are situations you need to learn to manage. Suffering in silence is not a smart strategy and one where both the team and individual lose out.

Related Posts:

There is no Failure only Feedback

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Are you action oriented?

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There will always be some people on a team who are constantly coming up with ideas, different scenarios and ways to take the team forward. These are great people to have on a team and are an amazing resource to motivate and inspire other team members.  There is a flip side to this coin as well, if this individual does all the talking, without delivering, it can be a serious issue. When someone is an ideas person, or works on the strategic element of the business, some form of action needs to be taken on it . This can be in the implementation of the concept, in the trial of the business model or even gathering feedback from the rest of the team. Hence, there need to be clearly defined action steps, for practical implementation.

There have been numerous occasions when I have been on teams where you find a particular individual providing the bulk of ideas and suggestions, but, they never put down action steps. If this happens continuously, rather than being a source of motivation, this converts into a source of frustration for the rest of the team. It is true that everyone provides value to the team in different ways. In my experience however, individuals who do not shoulder responsibility and shy away from taking action, isolate themselves. Being action oriented is a critical characteristic in any individual, more so in an entrepreneur. There needs to be a sense of urgency for execution, rather than prolonged deliberation. When assessing yourself, and how you add value to your team, ask yourself whether you consider yourself as action oriented or not?. Next, ask others for feedback to learn which areas you need to improve on for taking action.

Team members, customers, suppliers and investors look for people who can deliver on what they commit to. This trait is common to most successful people who don’t just over think things, but, just do it. The concept of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is a theme I believe in, it has has served me well over the last couple of years. It certainly accelerates the learning process, helps you add more tangible value to your business, and gets you the reputation of being the guy who gets things done. If you are sitting on the sidelines waiting for that perfect opportunity, I strongly suggest you get your feet wet, and take things as they come.

Related Posts:

Lights…Camera…Action!

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Are you playing to your strengths?

“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” Larry Bird

In my first couple of ventures I had little knowledge of my strengths, and most importantly, team dynamics. Team roles were fluid, it seemed everyone was doing each other’s job without getting too much accomplished. This eventually led to team break downs, on account of lack of communication, frustration and most importantly, lack of direction.  I had a couple of expensive real life courses in team dynamics. An important lesson I learnt along the way was, each one of us must find our particular and specific skill set, and hone it into a major strength. The challenging part about this task is, this identification process is not as straightforward as it appears to be.

The following are a couple of things to help make this identification process easier:

1. Ask for advice: This should be one of the first steps to take during this discovery process.To begin with, make a list of people whom you have worked with, been mentored by, been managed by, and close friends and family who know you well. This will help you to pin down recurring themes which crop up during your interaction with different people. To conclude this step, make a list of skill sets which the group thought you excelled at.

2. Ask yourself: Look at the list you have developed and start to make linkages with how you displayed those skill sets in the past. Which ones came to you naturally ?, Which ones gave you the most satisfaction?, Which ones were you most comfortable in. Experience is a great teacher and must be relied upon to help make this process easier.

3. Take a personality test: There are many great tests which you can take to help assess strengths and work place based preferences. Get feedback on your test scores from a certified consultant to help you understand your report with greater insight. This will give you a holistic picture of who you are. When I first took a personality test I was amazed at the report. We have so many subconscious preferences. Personality tests help make you consciously aware of your tendencies.

4. What do you aspire to be?: This is one of those questions you hear so often as a child. However I have noticed that as we grow older no one asks this of us anymore, a lot of the time we don’t ask it of ourselves either. As life becomes more complex and complicated, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and lose ourselves in the detail. Who are your heros?, What or who inspires you? These are the sort of definitive questions you need to ask yourself to get in touch with who you really are.

Finding and then playing to your strengths is a long process and takes time. It is important that we start the process as early as possible, This will place us in a position to reach out as soon as possible. There is  much trial and error involved in the discovery process. Sometimes you realize your choice is not showcasing your true potential. No problem! Use the experience as feedback and move forward. The important thing is to be growing constantly, it is when we stop growing, that we lose out on what we can achieve.

Related Post:

Mentors & Strength Finder

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5 Tests of Commitment Levels

“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or out. There’s no such thing as a life in-between.” Pat Riley

The quote above epitomizes the true essence of commitment . There are no middle roads, if you cannot commit to certain goals or tasks, you are better off saying no. Over the last week we have talked about five levels through which levels of commitment can be tested. The list below summarizes all five levels and can be a quick reference list before making a commitment .

1. Core Values: The first level for any commitment is the need to check it for direct alignment with your core values. These are a set of values inherent and embedded into individual systems. They are the result of life experiences, culture, environment and spiritual belief systems. If we make commitments which deviate  from these core values, it will result in a disconnect, making it difficult to achieve set goals. To read more about core values and commitment please click here.

2. Goals: All of us have certain goals and targets we  want to achieve in life. These goals need to be based on core values. When we commit to a certain SMART goal, it is vital to think it through meticulously. It is only once you go into details that a commitment level is required and you can then gauge if it is something you aspire to. If the commitment is in line with core values and is something you want to work towards, you are ready for the next level. To read more about goals and commitment please click here.

3. Time: Committing to a goal requires an appropriate demarcation of time. Committing to a goal without the necessary allocation of time will result in half hearted attempts which are not productive. This is not recommended and one needs to be careful about being able to take out enough time to achieve particular tasks. Once time is allocated to a particular commitment we are ready for the next level. To read more about time and commitment please click here.

4. Support: Once we have committed to a certain goal, we need to ensure continuous support to it through the good and bad. One will most definitely encounter setbacks, this may lead to doubts about your level of commitment to the goal. Therefore, breaking commitment into manageable components is recommended, this will allow you to focus with greater accuracy as also support critical functions more appropriately. If you are committed to supporting your commitments you are ready for the last level. To read more about supporting your level of commitments please click here.

5. Improving: The last stage involves testing efforts to constantly improve on the level of commitments made. It is essential to continue to develop and enhance the processes we use to reach certain goals. This creates momentum and helps maintain levels of enthusiasm. It also provides motivation to acheive excellence in whatever you commit to doing. To read more about improving levels of commitment please click here.

These five levels provide a framework to test how committed you really are in achieving a set of goals. They force you to look deeper into situations to ensure that you are truly committed. Making a commitment is a serious matter and one which should not be taken lightly, specially in a startup venture where the team needs to pull its weight together to achieve goals. Individuals who do not honor what they commit to, cause hurdles that need to be dealt with immediately, so as to ensure that high levels of enthusiasm and motivation are maintained in the team.

The next time you need to make commitment, remember to test yourself for how committed you really are!

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Improving Commitment Levels

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” Eddie Robinson

Once a stage is reached where we actively support and work towards commitments, the next and final stage is improving the processes. This stage involves the commitment to continuously strive for excellence in all we commit to. We have to continue to find ways through which to improve on the processes currently in place. This will make the journey not only more exciting but also keep it from reaching a mundane and stagnant state .

The danger of a current set of processes stagnating is directly proportional to levels of complacency. This results in dramatic decrease in levels of motivation and drive to push harder. For example, with my current blog I am reaching a stage where I feel the need for change in layout design and functionalities.  I have hence begun working on these aspects to bring in a change. This continuous commitment to improve what we are working on not only makes our work more interesting but keeps the momentum levels high and ensures optimal levels of work.

The same logic applies to working on new startup ventures. There is a need to identify segments which are not working to potential and to ensure that improvements are put into place to rectify trouble spots. Without inculcating a culture which promotes continuous improvements to processes, naturally results in rigid organizational approaches where change becomes a challenge. This ultimately results in organizations being unable to realize their true potential. 

Hence every organization committed to achieving goals and growing its business, needs to inculcate improvement of current processes as a cornerstone of their strategy. This will provide them the ability to not only honor their commitment, but also enhance the capability to reach their true potential and unleash the power of their teams. 

 

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Supporting Commitment

“When you get right down to the root of the meaning of the word succeed, you find that it simply means to follow through.” F W Nichol

It is only once we have our commitments chalked out and demarcated time to ensure they are completed, that the actual process begins. At the beginning it can be intimidating to figure out how to begin this journey. At this point it is essential that you focus on encapsulating the commitment into manageable components and identify which parts are the most critical. This is vitally important if you are part of a team which has joint commitment to reach certain targets or goals. If you are leading this team, you need to identify the important components and then lead by example.

When you start working on these critical components you will gradually begin to see movement towards desired goals. Progress in the correct direction, provides a great boost to overall productivity of a team and motivates moving forward. This level of momentum helps achieve fantastic results. For example, when I started this blog on the 1st of January 08 I made a commitment with myself to write daily for the entire year regarding entrepreneurship and life. At the beginning I was working on getting my footing correct and identifying the direction I wanted this blog to take. I settled into a weekly routine and readership has been increasing. This increase has provided me the encouragement to continue writing and give it my best.

Along the way you will most definitely face a fair share of trouble and doubts. There will be times when you will not get the results you expect and will question yourself on moving forward. At other times you will experience great hardship in the form of losing a big deal, a vital team member or negative feedback. All of these will test your commitment and  the strenght to keep moving forward. If you have made a commitment, it becomes your responsibility to stand up and defend what you are wanting to achieve.

This applies to all kinds of commitments, business, career or relationships. If you are not committed in supporting it through the good and the bad, keeping your level of commitment constant will become an increasingly difficult challenge. When you make a commitment, ensure that you will be there to support and defend it no matter the hurdles on the way.

 You are now ready to move to the last level.

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Time and Commitment

“Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.” Anonymous

After you have identified core values, set goals, made a commitment to them; the next step involves starting the journey to acheive your target. Time and commitment go hand in hand. Commitments made without proper allocation of time, result in half hearted attempts which lead nowhere. When you make a commitment, be it for a business, towards a job or even a relationship, choosing the middle road results in very little progress. I am a firm believer in committing only when I know I will be able to allocate time and give it 100% commitment. 

Being a young entrepreneur this is something I have had hands on experience with. We are in a constant state of flux on this path, bouncing from one direction to the next. Harnessing this raw energy is a difficult process. I am involved in multiple business ventures at the present, however each of them have been allocated time according to my personal commitments to the venture. This has brought about an efficient use of my time and has allowed me to compartmentalize my day, week, month and year. Through this system I am able to give dedicated time to all the ventures I am involved with at the moment.

This is one word of advice I have for anyone thinking about setting off on the entrepreneurial path…discipline. This is not the easiest of paths, there are no clear boundaries and it is not sign posted to help you along the way. At times it seems you can be as free as a bird, at others you fight to catch your breath. Discipline is a vital virtue to move effectively along this path, disciplining time commitments, in my opinion, is of the essence, absolutely critical. If you want to seriously commence this venture make sure you are 100% committed by demarcating the time you allocate to the venture diligently. 

Once you have allocated time to your commitments ,you are ready to move to the next level.

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5 Step Guide about Mentors

“Successful people turn everyone who can help them into sometime mentors!” John Crosby

Mentors are essential building blocks for your business or career. They provide you with insight and advice that can only be gained from experience. The funny thing is that they want to share this insight but do not always get the opportunity to do so primarily because…..no one asks it of them. If you are looking to fast track your business or get meaningful insight into how to further your career , start looking for a mentor today. I have compiled a 5 step guide to get you started:

1. Planning for a mentor: Before asking someone to become a mentor you need to have a plan. Your plan must encompass what you are looking for in a mentor, the level of commitment required of the mentor and lastly how both of you will mutually benefit from this relationship. Remember, you need their time, which is usually their most scarce resource. Make sure that before you ask for it you know ‘why’ you are asking this. To learn more on how to plan this, click here.

2. Finding a mentor:
This is the hardest step in the entire guide. All good things in life require you work diligently towards them. This step will test your perseverance level and how badly you really want to succeed. It will require you to step out of your comfort zone, call and email individuals you never thought you could and ask for favors while not offering much in return. Trust me on this one, the effort is well worth it. To learn more about how to find a mentor click here.

3. Mentors and advice: Once you have got yourself a mentor, he/she will be giving you advice. You need to channel this advice to answer the questions you have. This requires you to be clear on the specific advice you require, to listen carefully, get multiple opinions and finally, to put the advice into action. To learn more about ways to get the most from your mentors advice, click here.

4. Mentors and connections: A key advantage of having mentors is their ability to open doors that are completely out of your reach. Whether it is getting you sales pitches you can never setup, linking you to industry veterans to get sage advice or then setting you up with pitches to angels and venture capitalists. Having a mentor help you with these aspects could end up being the difference between success and failure. To learn more please click here.

5. Mentors and strength-finder: Mentors have the ability to identify your strengths and help you develop them. This provides you with a level of affirmation that pushes you harder to reach your goals and objectives. You have to continue to focus on your strengths rather than on just improving your weaknesses. To learn more please click here.

Mentors provide startup companies with a huge competitive advantage. You need to cultivate them as soon as possible to develop momentum for your enterprise and gain as large as a lead as you can on your competition. It take a lot of effort but is most definitely worth it. So if you haven’t got a mentor yet, now will be a good time to start planning and finding one!

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Mentors and Strength-Finder

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” Anonymous

In my personal experience with mentors the one aspect which I have benefited from most, more than the opening of doors or advice, has been the identification and affirmation of my personal strengths. Through this process I have learned from others to identify what I have the capability to do better than others and how to channel these strengths to a higher level. This process takes a lifetime to master, having a mentor is a good way to fast track it.

When you have someone who believes in your abilities, it is one of the greatest motivating forces you can find. It provided me with extra energy to get out of bed in the morning, to working & closing deals and providing motivational energy to the rest of the team through rough times.With or without a mentor you need to seek your inherent strengths. Everyone seems to be focusing on your weaknesses and how to improve them. Shift the focus on what it is that you do best, and how you can use those qualities to achieve your goals. By finding someone to help you through the identification process is a bonus.

To have such a relationship with your mentor you have to choose them wisely. You have to work at growing the relationship and making sure that both of you are benefiting from the process. The search for such a mentor is not an easy one and it takes a lot of time and effort. My advice is, put in that time and effort and then work towards taking yourself to the next level.

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