Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Lessons From a Coffee Table

I got a frantic call from a young entrepreneur I know.... he wanted to give up. I offered to meet him for coffee very early the following morning. He looked warn out, confused, and uninspired. For over two years he had been building a company based on his super human product development skill. He built an amazing product, got financing and opened a small operation. Along with his success came one BIG problem.... people.

This guy had a knack for programming with whiplash efficiency for extended periods of time. When he took off the headphones he was (by his own admission) "socially retarded". So, a few years back he came to me to ask for help in engaging humans.

Just when it seemed things were well on their way the ever-dynamic challenges of interacting with his employees had flattened his spirit. People wanted to be recognized for their effort, to know where they stood in the organizational hierarchy, their share of profits and the ability to take on new responsibilities. They did it all with "their hands out". He gave and gave and it never seemed to be enough.

Studies on employee engagement usually involve deep dives into large, complex, Global organizations. Turns out, a company with 5 employees faces similar challenges.... because complexity and human beings are evil running mates!

My advice to my friend with the ever-furrowed brow?

Inspire Trust
Most immature leaders still believe their titles entitle them to dictatorship. I've said it time and time again but employees just don't stand for order taking with an accountability clause any more. Contrary to fear mongering skewed studies, people have far too many options to take shit from someone who is not invested in their future.

People want someone to follow. People want to be lead and to be part of something they believe in. As leaders, we have to ask ourselves:
- What inspired people to join our organization in the first place?
- What unique power do we possess that cannot be found anywhere else?

No one ever motivated an employee by talking down or shouting orders. If you lead by example... they will follow.

Don't pretend to be a motivational speaker or hide your passion in politically correct executive speak. Wear your passion on your sleeve! If you are frustrated, share it and get help figuring it out! If you are inspired, share it and help others understand the way to elevate the cause!      

Find New Gears
The one thing I know is that every day presents frustration. No company is perfect, people will let you down, products will fail and you will feel as though you are helpless. Perseverance is so vitally important.

- If the night finds you tossing and turning, get up and get a head start on the day.
- When you've exhausted your mind and soul, take a break to decompress.
- Always look for people with new ideas to inspire you.

Stay Out of The Black Hole
One need not look far for that person who will validate your complaints. The world is full of people who have tried and failed and they love sharing their sob stories. Fuck em!

The worst thing you can do is give in to negativity. Each day you will have to remind yourself of the perils of success. With every achievement the world gets more complex, not easier, and this is why people give up.

You cannot pretend problems do not exist, you have to fix them. People will not allow interpersonal grievances to sit idle. It feels a lot better when you put your differences to rest.

This  is certain: there will always be discomfort in dealing with people and you cannot succeed without them. So you might as well accept the inevitable pain of human interaction and get good at getting through to people.

Our future Zuckerberg left unsettled in my advice but he had a clearer picture of what had to be done. I could have told him everything was going to be OK and to fire those who disrupted his vision, but that would have dispelled one problem to create another.

Progress cannot be made by ignoring the problems created before us.

Don't Forget to Remember!


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