Monday, December 24, 2012

The path you choose

The word entrepreneur is not of modern vintage.  It is about about three centuries or so old, and not of English origin.  According to Wikipedia:
"Entrepreneur is a loanword from French and was first defined by the Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon as the person who pays a certain price for a product to resell it at an uncertain price, thereby making decisions about obtaining and using the resources while consequently admitting the risk of enterprise. The term first appeared in the French Dictionary "Dictionnaire Universel de Commerce" of Jacques des Bruslons published in 1723."
In the original definition -- a reseller or middleman -- the word entrepreneur hardly conjures up the glamor and symbolism that are associated with it today: a world of Valleys, Alleys, start-ups, venture capital, IPOs and potential riches.

Despite the pop culture mythology attached to modern entrepreneurs, life for most business owners is more mundane than commonly portrayed. They are a practical lot, more concerned with making payroll than the size of their bankroll.

And even though Americans like to think we are the masters of commercial risk-taking, we aren't even the most entrepreneurial society.  Be that as it may, both the uncertainly and the "risk of the enterprise" surely remain the same as it ever was.

For many, the difference between success and failure comes down to how well they "make decisions about obtaining and using resources." In other words, the path they choose to get what's in their head (vision) into operation (execution) in their business in a way that allows them sufficient sustained profitability to endure.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An enemy of one?

About two thousand years ago, a Chinese general named Sun-Tzu wrote a 13-chapter tract about the martial arts and warfare, entitled "The Art of War."

While I am sure that he was, as many leaders tend to be, very self confident and at least a touch self-centered, I am equally sure he didn't envision his treatise becoming a best-seller for business leaders a couple of millennia hence.

The Art of War is widely quoted and cited on a range of business topics, from general management to sales to human resources, and has become synonymous with the melding of strategic and tactical thinking.  One of the most famous lines speaks directly to that: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

But Sun-Tzu also believed that engaging in war was a fool's choice, "Anyone who excels in defeating his enemies triumphs before his enemy's threat become real."   He also said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but know not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.  If you know not the enemy or yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

In other words, get to know yourself and the battle is won.

Last week I listed five steps to achieve greater focus for yourself and your organization which I have learned from working with successful business owners and CEOs.   In more depth, they are:

Monday, December 10, 2012


In last week's post, I wrote:  "In the weeks ahead, I'll outline ...  an "Owner's Manual" for 21st century small business leaders."

That wasn't entirely accurate.  What's follows over the next few weeks is not a manual, in the truest sense of the word:

Manual [ˈmænjʊəl] adj 
[via Old French from Latin manuālis, from manus hand]
1. of or relating to a hand or hands
2. operated or done by hand manual controls
3. physical, as opposed to mental or mechanical manual labour
4. by human labor rather than automatic or computer-aided means
5. of, relating to, or resembling a manual
1. a book, esp of instructions or information a car manual
2. (Music, other) Music one of the keyboards played by hand on an organ
3. (Military) Military the prescribed drill with small arms

The problem with manuals is that they are so, well, hands-on, in a more or less literal sense, AND they are very basic (find key, put it in ignition, turn on car...) Manuals tell, rather than teach.

What I have found from working with business owners, CEOs and organizational leaders for over 30 years is that the best seek not a how-to, but a map, a compass, a guide to help them navigate.  They are constantly trolling for new experience and expertise and they want guidance on better managing themselves and their businesses.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Born to run?

One of the high points of my former life was making a presentation to the Board of Directors of an iconic US company (a revered household name that will remain nameless until you buy me a drink.)  The company and its CEO had gotten into hot water with investors, and we were briefing the Board on recommended strategies and a series of specific actions to rebuild trust.

The Board consisted of a proverbial pantheon of international business leaders.  Following our presentation, we had a lively discussion of our recommended strategies, as you would expect of this group, one of whom was the CEO of a giant global engineering company.  He lasered in on the tactics, specifically how my CEO client would oversee implementation.

During the back-and-forth on that topic -- my client stated that he would approve the final plan and leave implementation to his staff --  it became clear that the engineer operated his company differently,  through tight, personal command-and-control, down to such minutia as final approval of all press releases.  He confessed as much.

Astonished, a fellow Board member asked, "G----, how do you find the time to lead your company if you're doing all of this work?"  It was a extraordinary moment.  (This chief executive was later dismissed by his Board.)