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Archive for February, 2010

Here’s a headline from the New York Post last year. MOST WORKERS WOULD FIRE THEIR BOSS! According to a survey conducted by the website, almost 50% of workers would fire their boss. The poll is based on the responses of 1,118 employees who elected to fill out a questionnaire on the site.

While this might not be the most compelling scientific study ever conducted, it is buttressed by other more authoritative studies. For example, a recent Gallup Poll of more than one million employees found the biggest single reason cited for why people leave a company is a bad boss.

Bad bossism is one of the things I try to avoid by fostering a sense of community and equality within my firm. There are several ways I do this. One, I genuinely try to never hire anyone who isn’t better than me. Two, I hire people who are self-starters and who think like a boss; that is, who think in terms of the whole company and not just their part of it. Three, I practice an open door policy and actively encourage advice and creativity from everyone in the company, including secretaries and  interns. And, whenever possible, I try out these suggestions, giving full credit. Four, I avoid hiring yes men and timid souls who are not comfortable with autonomy and responsibility within the boundaries of ethics and appropriate business process. I sometimes tell clients of my firm Corporate Rain International that we are as close to a communist company as you can get and still be a functioning capitalist entity.

One night several years ago I was watching The Sopranos. In this particular episode Tony Soprano was worried he was being yessed to death by his subordinates. He asks his wife about it. She replies:

“They go around complementing you on your new shoes, tell you you’re not going bald, not getting fat. Do you think they really care? You’re the boss! They’re scared of you. They have to kiss your ass and laugh at your stupid jokes.”

I recently read an interview (January 31, 2010–New York Times) with Mark Pincus, a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Zynga, who speaks of turning each of his employees into mini-CEOs. He recounts, “One thing I did at my second company was to put white sticky sheets on the wall, and I put everyone’s name on one of the sheets, and I said, ‘By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you’re CEO of.” That’s how it should be.

One of the ways I judge a company when I first walk into a new office is what the receptionist says when I ask him or her about the company. If they can tell you with clarity and verve what the company’s about, it is almost invariably a well-managed, integrated firm. In a sense every employee should ideally be a salesman and PR representative for the corporation by securely embodying and articulating the corporate trope.

We entrepreneurs are passionate, driven, intense people, often with big egos, so it’s not easy. But I feel it’s worth a patient effort to bring a tonality of genuine openness, collegiality, and dialogic creativity to business. Surely, this form of corporate communism is not antithetical even to the ubercapitalist spirit of Ayn Rand’s John Galt.

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I’m a member of the International Wizard of Oz Club. (That’s only one of my eccentric personal hobbies.) I’ve been a huge fan of the Oz books since my mother read many of them to me when I was a boy. (Most people know only L. Frank Baum’s first book, “The Wizard of Oz“, but there are actually 40 marvelous, magical, beautiful books in this series.)

I love the Cowardly Lion. He reminds me so much of me. In the movie version of “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy confronts the Cowardly Lion and tells him he is nothing but a great big coward. The Lion’s reply is:

“You’re right, I am a coward! I haven’t any courage at all! I even scare myself.  Look at the circles under my eyes! I haven’t slept in weeks!”

Me too. For me to be an effective executive salesman for my company Corporate Rain International I need to slay this “fear” dragon each day. One of the things I do to cope with this fear I learned many years ago from a wonderful acting teacher I had in New York named Michael Howard.

Michael Howard spoke to my acting class one day about how to begin rehearsing a new scene. What he told us was to go immediately to the most risky, scary, personal place in the scene: that place that made us feel most fearful and exposed. This might be a spot that involved physical intimacy, like kissing, violence, or nudity. Or jealousy, rage, or cowardice. By facing the most dangerous part of the scene immediately the rest of the scene became more accessible, less fraught.

How do I apply this lesson in selling to my company’s potential clients at the c-suite level? By each day immediately doing that thing I most want not to do–by immediately making that call where I have the greatest fear of rejection, where my own feelings of cosmic inadequacy might be most called out and exposed–and taking this sweaty-palmed action the first thing in the day. I act as if I had courage and confidence and thereby have it in reality. I guess it’s kind of a business version of your inner mother telling you to eat your vegetables first. For me, it works to go daily and immediately toward my most fearful task.

So go to the danger. As the Cowardly Lion so insightfully sings: “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage!” Thank you L. Frank Baum.

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Good Business: Leadership. Flow, and the Making of MeaningHere’s a name for you: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Try pronouncing that one! (It’s a Hungarian moniker. Sounds like cheek-sent-me-high-ee.) Dr. Csikzentmihalyi is professor of Psychology at one of my alma maters, Claremont Graduate University in California, where he is professor of Psychology and Management and heads the Quality of Life Research Center. He doesn’t write directly about sales, per se. But he does speak to the issue of meaning in business eloquently and scientifically. And there are certainly corollary implications for sales in his work.

His work centers around the study of happiness, personal efficaciousness, and creativity. To wildly oversimplify Dr. Csikzentmihalyi’s work, he writes about what makes for value and meaning and happiness in business and work. Among other things, he tackles the question of what makes a business life worth living and what makes life worth living.

I have just begun to scratch the surface of his work and I won’t insult Dr. Csikzentmihalyi with further shallow oversimplification from my limited understanding and exposure, but he writes well, accessibly, and with the humility and humor of a true seeker. For example, to give just a hint of his tonality and concerns, in his book “Good Business“, he quotes Norman Augustino, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin:

“I’ve always wanted to be successful. My definition of being successful is contributing something to the world…and being happy while doing it….You have to enjoy what you’re doing. You won’t be very good if you don’t. And secondly, you have to feel you are contributing something worthwhile…If either of these ingredients are absent, there’s probably some lack of meaning in your work.”

I‘m not an intellectual or an academic, like Dr. Csikszentmihalyi. This blog is meant to be practical, intuitive, annectdotal, and non-whitepaperish. It’s not the Harvard Business Review. But one of my recurring themes and passionate beliefs is that there is a great underestimation of the importance of meaning in the salesman’s life. Good salesmen and women are not testosterone driven, Darwinian manipulators, as they so often are portrayed. I believe deeply that lucre and achievement of material well-being are over emphasized in discussions of incentivizing sales folk.

My niche outsourced sales company, Corporate Rain, has mostly succeeded for sixteen years by projecting an institutional concern for ethics and meaning equally with profit. Maybe it’s a lucky accident, but it surely has made for a trope of centered happiness in myself and, I believe, in my sales associates and employees.

If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, I recommend a new book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink.

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One of the joys of fatherhood is discovering the insights and blunt wisdom of children’s books. My eight year old daughter, Truitte Rose, had a favorite book last year titled “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. I couldn’t read it to her enough. It chronicles a day in a boy’s life where nothing goes right.

I too had a bad day last week at my company, Corporate Rain. I hit my chair dealing with client crises, fighting a cold, losing a valued associate, dealing with a minor credit card fraud, and reading a dense legal contract. On the side of my desk there was a Mt. Everest of overdue sales calls I needed to get to. And this was before 12:00. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

As an entrepreneur I’ve learned that a day like this can be dangerous—not because of the circumstantially difficult day, but because of my internal reaction to it.

On such a day I invariably feel I have to push hard—to move, move, move—to rush, rush, rush—to compensate. And when I give in to this feeling, I make poor judgments. I make mistakes. I insult people and lose my temper. My whole mien becomes frenetic, forced, faked and joyless.

The ScreamAs an owner, it’s hard to slow down while Rome is burning around you. You’re responsible. (Only you can prevent this forest fire!) I’ve had to learn the efficiency of hitting the pause button, of not trying to be more than I am, and, especially, not making crucial decisions on such days. For me, when I have a very bad day, everything sort of emanates from a dark, bleak, shrunken part where I exist only as a miasma of cosmic insufficiency; that essential place where dwells the cowed and frightened child, as well as the cornered beast. So my “professional” response is to assume the trappings of a sanguine and competent businessman and push through. But, in fact, the real good me is not present. The fact is that on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day I am in reality one dark, primordial, primal scream inside: a rootless Edvard Munch template, an enraged troll.

Over the years I’ve lost money, sales, friends, and reputation on days like this. While grinding my teeth and determinedly…getting…it …all…done, I have frequently caused myself harm under the guise of mechanically doing my duty to God, country and the capitalist way. Only slowly have I learned to overcome this hubristic folly.

Many years ago, when I was a callow, arrogant, idealistic, difficult young actor (often the bane of my fellow thespians and directors), one of my first professional roles was in a play in Los Angeles called “Darkness At Noon“, based on a novel by Arthur Koestler. I played a tortured political prisoner. It was an especially intense role and my rehearsal process was unhealthily over committed to the point of almost masochism. There was an old Portuguese actor in the company named Lorenzo. He’d had a long and picaresque life and he was kind, wise and a generous acting colleague. One day in rehearsal he took me aside, sat me down, put his hands on my very tense shoulders and said simply, “You can’t push the river, Timothy. Flow with it.” That’s all he said.

I think it’s hard for any entrepreneur to follow that advice. We live to push the river. But the fact is, you can’t.

So what’s the answer to the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?  Well, I guess my answer is just to stop on those days. Go to the movies. Or, as Scarlett O’Hara says at the end of a very bad day in Gone With The Wind, “Home. I’ll go home…After all, tomorrow is another day.

My special thanks to this week’s blog muse, my sweet daughter Truitte Rose.  Thanks, Truitte.

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