Looking out the window of my personal office, I was watching the sun come up. I had come to the office extremely early because I couldn’t sleep and I needed some answers. Our business was officially bigger than me and it was scaring the crud out of me. I was going to have to add more layers of leadership, which meant I was going to have to relinquish control or not grow. Sounds simple, but I am a control freak extraordinaire, so turning loose tasks and responsibilities is not easy.
Those of us who are small-business people have stacked our own boxes, answered our own phones, and served our own customers. So making sure business is done the way we would do it matters a lot to guys like me. No corporate training program that creates plastic scripts that mannequins spit out, where the customer leaves feeling like something fake just happened. Oh no, guys like me want everyone we come in contact with to feel our dream. We want and demand that customers have an experience. And many of us have had our corporate experience, and we didn’t like it. We want something that is real for us, our team, and our customers. So turning loose is a really emotional thing… ’cause the person you task with that area really has to breathe air the way you do.
After having mentored and grown my first three key leaders over several years with one-on-one instruction, I was seeing the benefit of growing fellow believers in the cause. But this hand-to-hand method of growing leaders was way too slow and was holding back our business. I needed new leaders and I needed them faster than three years. In order to raise new leaders, my core team and I set out to teach a class that is our playbook on how to do business our way. We mentor, cuss, and discuss with our leaders daily—and in a very intentional way. But the EntreLeadership class is the foundation.
Tons of books have been written on growing leaders. There are famous leaders in all walks of life whose leadership principles I have learned from. As I sat that first morning trying to find a way to communicate to our next new leaders what we wanted them to do, I thought it might be as simple as teaching leadership.
What Is a Leader?
When I teach this course live, I ask the audience to picture the face of a wonderful leader. Then I ask them to write down the best one-word character qualities these great leaders have. What one word best describes the character of a great leader? When we do this we always get character qualities like:
Taken together, this is a good definition of leadership. It’s interesting to me that most of us can list what we want our leader to look like, but we don’t apply it to ourselves. Have you ever asked yourself what kind of leader your team members want? If you want to lead, or you want to grow or hire leaders, they and you must have the above listed character qualities. We all have some of these qualities and we all have some we can work on. The big deal here is to remember that the very things you want from a leader are the very things the people you are leading expect from you. You must intentionally become more of each of these every day to grow yourself and your business. And to the extent you’re not doing that, you’re failing as a leader.
What Is in a Name?
As I sat in my office with the sun coming up writing the first lesson and thinking what to name our little leadership course, I hit a snag. I know that the title is supposed to give an indication of what is in the material (duh). When I thought about calling this material “leadership,” I knew that wasn’t right. Because there is so much more to business than simply leadership and leadership theory. I have sat in “management classes” and “leadership seminars,” and for a practitioner, a doer, like me, they weren’t enough. I learned something, I always do, but those classes were too much about concept for a guy who has stacked his own boxes and answered his own phone. I concluded that I didn’t want to grow my business simply with leaders—that was a little too dry, a little too theoretical for an entrepreneur like me.
Maybe I was trying to grow entrepreneurs. Maybe I wanted a company full of little mini-mes. After all, when you think of an entrepreneur, what words come to mind to describe that animal?
• Risk taker
• Work ethic
• Out of the box
As I thought about what a pure entrepreneur is, I decided in three seconds I didn’t want to grow a company full of us. Leading that group would be like herding cats or trying to nail Jell-O to a tree. I do want the spirit of the entrepreneur woven into our cultural DNA, but a whole building full of us would be a really bad plan.
So growing leaders was too refined and calm for me, but growing entrepreneurs was too wild and chaotic for me. So I decided we needed to grow a combination of the two… and thus the EntreLeader was born. I want EntreLeaders who can be
• Passionately serving
• Mavericks who have integrity
• Disciplined risk takers
• Courageous while humble
• Motivated visionaries
• Driven while loyal
• Influential learners
Are you getting the idea? We wanted the personal power of the entrepreneur polished and grown by a desire to be a quality leader. We wanted big leaders who have the passion and push of the entrepreneur. These character qualities are what we look for in potential leaders and what we intentionally build into our team every day to cause us to win.
Words matter. So when we call someone a “team member” at our place, that means something; it isn’t some corporate HR program that tries to make slaves to jerks feel better by changing the words. It means you will be treated like and expected to act like you are on a team. When we call someone an EntreLeader it means something. It means you are more than a renegade lone ranger and it means you are more than a corporate bureaucrat who treats his people like units of production.
A leader, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “someone who rules, guides, and inspires others.” The dictionary says an entrepreneur is “someone who organizes, operates, and assumes risk for a venture.” The root of the word “entrepreneur” is a French word, “entreprendre,” meaning “one who takes a risk.”
So for our purposes EntreLeadership is defined as “the process of leading to cause a venture to grow and prosper.”
Once we had our title and definition, we had to determine the components of our playbook. We began to list what is essential for other new and growing EntreLeaders to know about starting, operating, and leading a business the way we do it. Because we are practitioners we ended up addressing mechanical things like accounting and contracts. Because we are very concerned about our culture as well, we needed to explain how a team is grown, motivated, compensated, and unified. Because we are also marketers we knew we needed to sell some stuff in order for all of us to eat. So our playbook has truly become “everything you want to know about building and running a business but didn’t know who to ask.”
Let’s start at the beginning: your mirror. John Maxwell has written a wonderful leadership book entitled The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. In this book John discusses one of his laws, the Law of the Lid. Basically he says that there is a lid on my organization and on my future, and that lid is me. I am the problem with my company and you are the problem with your company. Your education, character, capacity, ability, and vision are limiting your company. You want to know what is holding back your dreams from becoming a reality? Go look in your mirror.
When I first started leading in my early thirties, I was a horrible leader. My ambition and drive caused me to accomplish the task and pick up the pieces later. One cold winter morning when we had about fourteen people on our team, I became angry over people coming to work late. I don’t get it—come to work early like I do. Don’t come dragging your tail in twenty minutes late and mumble something about traffic. I have noticed there is less traffic before the sun comes up. Get to work on time. I am paying you, and when you don’t come to work on time you are a thief.
We were at the beginning stages, and every sale meant our survival. Every customer was a big deal, and every person on the team had three jobs. I couldn’t grasp how these people I hired didn’t understand that if they slacked off, they would lose their jobs because we would go broke. Get with it. So I got angry. Sometimes it is good to be angry, but what you do with it can have lasting consequences. I am not proud of this, but on that Mon...
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If you’re at all responsible for your company’s success, you can’t just be a hard-charging entrepreneur or a motivating, encouraging leader. You have to be both!
Dave Ramsey, America’s trusted voice on money and business, reveals the keys that grew his company from a one-man show to a multimillion-dollar business—with no debt, low turnover, and a company culture that earns it the “Best Place to Work” award year after year.
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