Why being selfish is a good thing

Mike Malatesta

Mike MalatestaContributed by Mike Malatesta, an entrepreneur, author, investor and podcast host who was a recent guest on the EO 360 podcast with host Dave Will.

Self is a misunderstood word. Not because it’s particularly challenging to define. It’s not. It’s just a way to designate one person as an individual, apart from anyone else. It’s what goes along with self that can get tricky. The hyphenated attachments and second syllables. Along with the feelings that accompany them.

Good self’s and bad self’s

We react positively to some self’s while we vilify others. For example, self-motivated, self-assured and, of course, selfless are attributes we universally admire. These are self-attracting self-words. We love introductions, performance reviews and eulogies that recognize selflessness. How we always put others first. Selfless people care what others think about them. We want to follow and be around these people. 

And then there’s the bad self’s―the ones we don’t admire. The self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-centered and selfish self’s. These are the people we follow or keep around because we feel obligated, right? The boss or family member we can’t avoid. The people that don’t care what you think about them. Who wants to be one of those? No thanks.

My preference is always to be liked. I want to be on the good side of the “self” ledger. Sure, I’ve towed the “I don’t care if you like me as long as you respect me” line once or twice (or maybe dozens of times) in my career. Saying what I thought I should, rather than what I believed. When I don’t get along with someone, I always want the reason to be about them and not me. Take that!

An energy-draining leadership flaw

It turns out, though, that being a safe and selfless self often drained my energy, creativity and productivity. It also got in the way of me doing my job.

When I was modeling my “want-to-be-liked” self-behaviors, everyone else’s needs were more important than mine. Attending to those needs was the most important thing I should be doing. If I took care of them, they’d take care of me. That was my mindset. What I told myself worked. And it was mostly wrong. 

Here’s why. Putting everyone else’s needs before mine turned out to be an easily executed but less-than-clever leadership flaw. It made me feel busy and useful. Like I was this great big help! The hero in my own mind. Being selfless was a mask I wore to keep from being found out. A waste of time. A goal I could never explain and always hit.

It kept me and the business stuck. It gave me something to do and something to avoid. An excuse to stop trying.

How I got unstuck

But when I looked in the mirror, I knew something wasn’t right. The truth has a way of being seen, even when you’re trying to hide from it. My job was to lead my team into the future, and I wasn’t doing it. That was the “selfless” truth staring back at me, penetrating its way through the mask. 

When I could no longer avoid the truth, I decided to get selfish. I know, it sounds horrible, but there was no other option. Selfish was the path I had to take. With my ideas, my time, my focus and my attention. I needed space. To get clear about what I wanted. If I wasn’t clear about that, how could I lead the team to where we needed to go?

Benefits of being devoutly selfish

I needed to get selfish to optimize me. To be at the top of my game. With my thoughts, habits, health, influences and relationships. I needed to be as fine-tuned as I could be. If I wasn’t selfishly working on that, I knew I’d be doomed to sub-excellence. That wasn’t who I wanted to be. 

Being selfish didn’t change who I was. It only changed the way I operated. Not overnight. It took time. The way all things habituated by inertia do.  

I had my “I need to be selfish” epiphany years ago, and I’ve stayed devoutly selfish since. I know it sounds weird, but I’m proud of my selfishness. It made me better. I wouldn’t be where I am without it. I’d still be doing – and hoping for the best. Leading a team with skillsets just like mine. Not adding complementary and creative skills. Feeling good about my selflessness.

I wouldn’t have allowed mistakes to happen or failures to occur. I would have spent all my time trying to prevent those. Being too close. Making prevention the lesson instead of failure the education. I would have missed the teaching moments. The progress and the reward. 

Try it. Take a chance on selfish … I won’t tell.  

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog

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From ideation to accolades in 10 months: An EO Accelerator’s successful pivot

Annie Cheng is active in the Seattle chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)‘s Accelerator programme, which empowers entrepreneurs with the tools, community and accountability necessary to aggressively grow their businesses.

We asked Cheng, founder of The Table Less Traveled, which organizes boutique, small-group international culinary tours, how she made a significant pivot to save her business. Her pivot was recently listed in New York Magazine among industry favorites including Gordon Ramsay and Sur La Table. Here’s what she shared.

What made you start your company? 

It was an evolution of experiences. Many of my relatives were small business owners. From a young age, I was exposed to the value of creating something, and the hard work and challenges it took to succeed. After multiple career changes, I came to a point where I felt that others could derive value from what had shaped my life: meaningful interactions and building relationships while traveling. I wanted to share those relationships and experiences with others. 

Why did you join EO Accelerator?

I had experienced through others, and then for myself, how lonely entrepreneurship can be. Not only did I want resources that mimic a “real-life business school” to help me learn where and how I could improve as a leader and business owner, but also I wanted a peer group who could empathize with my struggles and challenge me to grow daily.

How did the pandemic disrupt your company, and what pivot did you make in response?

The Table Less Traveled operated international, boutique tours emphasizing building local relationships through food experiences. We dined in local homes, visited family-owned farms, and learned how various artisan and organic products are produced in Italy, Peru, Malaysia and Japan.

The pandemic completely halted our industry. We were in a growth year in 2020, with the most trips we had ever sold, excited about the new travelers we would meet. Our revenue stopped. Requests for refunds came pouring in. And, as many other companies experienced, overhead expenses did not magically disappear.

Because of the early impact on the travel industry, I was eager to find a way to continue providing some service that would align with our mission. Now, more than a year into the pandemic, virtual experiences have exploded. But in early March 2020, they were not yet common.

When I thought about what clients said was most valuable about our trips, it centered around relationships. I wanted to recreate our in-depth, interactive, immersive experiences in a virtual capacity, with food as the string that ties those connections together. 

On March 18, 2020 we launched our first virtual, interactive cooking class with my friend, Alain, who lives in Pistoia, Italy. We normally walk around the Sant’Ambrogio market with him, picking up tomatoes and onions for his delicious sauce. But on that day, we came together on Zoom and taught four friendly faces how to roll their own fresh pasta in the safety of their home kitchens.

Our classes gained quick popularity as peoples’ lives were disrupted and routines turned upside down. Learn to make pizza at noon on a Wednesday? Sure! Grab the kids (who aren’t in school anyway)! But as families returned to a “new normal” and summer breaks kicked in, our public classes saw a downturn in participation.

Simultaneously, we received more and more requests streaming in from folks who had taken our public classes, saying they’d love to take a class with their team from work. We set up private classes and have since found much joy in bringing together remote teams to try something new and fun, all while getting an hour-and-a-half opportunity to “travel” somewhere around the world and escape their home mentally for just a bit.

What challenges did you overcome in making that pivot?

So many! Where to begin? For me personally, it took a lot of mindset shifts. First, the popularity of our classes grew rapidly enough that our small team couldn’t handle it all. We hired contractors to host classes, support administration, and create an e-commerce website. I had to learn to let go of a lot of control. I wanted every experience to be seamless and perfect. But reinventing your entire business in a month–with no certainty of demand from a new audience–requires a tolerance for learning as you go. We adopted an iterative process, trying ideas with small investments to learn what worked and what didn’t. We grew and evolved.  

What business Accelerator Learning Days of value in this process?

Right before this transition I attended Accelerator’s “People Day.” The company’s first core value has always been “We are people people”. It’s the center of our company. We are human, our business is built around human connection, building relationships, sharing experiences, stories, moments of celebration, and supporting each other in moments of tragedy.

People were always the core of the business but I hadn’t always known how to articulate it and thread it through our culture. Accelerator taught me the importance of building that core value into a part of who we are from the inside out. It starts with me, our team, our partners, our participants and travelers.

Accelerator gave me the tools to make hard decisions based upon that core value of people. Our job interviews are centered around whether a candidate aligns with our culture, and our team evaluates potential new partners around whether they are people-focused first. In times of hardship, our financial decisions are not prioritized by profit.

What’s next for your company?

We’re expanding our services for end-to-end experiences with recipe kits for private events, partnerships with small businesses in the wine and spirits industries, and iterating on ideas for safe, engaging, travel which we hope to launch by the summer–both for small groups and independent travelers.

We are eager to return to travel, see our friends in person again, and introduce new travelers to the unique experiences we’ve created with individuals around the world!

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog

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4 Action steps to teach kids financial literacy

Contributed By Susan Michel, EO New Jersey member and founder and CEO of Glen Eagle Advisors, which provides investment management and financial planning advice.

Raising kids in an entrepreneurial family comes with challenges. You want to be a responsible parent and raise financially literate children, but where do you start?

April is National Financial Literacy Month, the perfect time to focus on the importance of teaching children about money. Whether intentionally or not, each of our unique relationships with money shapes our children’s relationship with money. How we acquire, use and manage our money are largely influenced by the information we received from our parents during childhood.

With the current pandemic, many of us are dealing with having our children at home and the continued challenges that go along with virtual learning. There are many creative and engaging ways to teach life lessons outside of the classroom―even if you’re not a certified teacher!

While many parents understand the value in teaching their kids about money, they’re often unsure where or how to start. Here are four action steps you can take now to teach your children about money:

  1. Demonstrate and demystify the relationship between work and money: You can do this by including kids in family budget discussions. Meal times are a great time to talk to kids about money. If you are planning a family vacation, for example, have them research how much items cost. They can look up airline flights, car rental rates, hotel options and local activities that fit within your vacation budget.
  2. Open a savings account with your child: A perfect opportunity to teach children about budgeting and saving is when they receive money from special events or birthdays. Consider taking your child with you to the bank to open the account or having them help make online deposits. You can have them split the received money into thirds: a third can be used on themselves, a third given to a charity, and a third put into a bank account.
  3. Consider letting your child invest their money in the stock market: You can let them pick the stock the money is invested in. Then, each quarter, review the account statement with your child and see how the value goes up and down. Both a savings account and the stock market are powerful, hands-on ways to show children the power of compounding as well as build their confidence in saving for the future.
  4. Play games involving money: Money-themed board games including Monopoly or Life are engaging, memorable introductions into understanding how money works. Play “store” or “restaurant” to further engage kids and deepen their understanding of monetary transactions. Include your children when you make trips to the bank or ATM machine.

Unfortunately, most children grow up without any financial education whatsoever, whether at home or at school. Since 2016, not one US state has added personal finance to its K-12 standards. This lack of financial basics is creating long-term negative effects. For example, nearly 25 percent of Millennials are spending more money than they earn, and 67 percent of Gen Y have less than three months’ worth of savings in their emergency fund.

Studies show that children benefit from learning how money works, beginning at a very young age. These are just a few of the benefits that come from financial literacy:

Teaching financial literacy to our own families, especially to our daughters, is very important. Studies consistently find that women have lower financial literacy levels than men, even after accounting for marital status, education and income. This gender gap in financial literacy is observed throughout women’s lives. We, as parents, can stop this trend and pass down good financial habits to our kids.

Parents who discuss financial topics with their kids at least once a week are significantly more likely to have kids who say they are smart about money (64 percent vs. 41 percent). The small steps we take today can have a major, measurable impact on our children and on their future success.

Susan Michel is founder and CEO of Glen Eagle, an award-winning financial services firm offering retirement planning to business owners and wealth management. Glen Eagle takes an educational, holistic approach to meeting its clients’ long-term goals. Glen Eagle is a WBENC-Certified Women’s Business Enterprise. Susan is a board member of EO’s New Jersey chapter.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog

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How to leverage organizational storytelling in shaping culture

EO Charleston members

EO Charleston membersSharing your company’s story can have a powerful and long-lasting impact on company culture—especially during times of change. But to maximize your storytelling outcome, it must be done in a way that engages employees and embeds your core values. So, what are some best practices to follow?

We found a great example in Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company by Kevin Oakes. Oakes is the CEO and co-founder of i4cp, the leading HR research firm, and has been a pioneer in the human capital field for the last 25 years.

The following excerpt is printed with permission:

It’s hard to beat a great story! Stories are a common component of any healthy company culture, especially when renovating. In fact, 73 percent of successful culture change efforts relied on stories.

Great leaders usually tell great stories and, in high-performing organizations, employees can usually recite stories about the company that embody its spirit and soul. Stories about the past can help set the tone for the culture you want in the future.

One of my favorite uses of storytelling to shape culture comes from Qualcomm, the leader in wireless chip design for mobile phones and other devices, and one of the largest employers in San Diego.

Qualcomm was founded in 1985 and led by Irwin Jacobs who, based on Qualcomm’s success, would later become a billionaire and one of San Diego’s most prominent philanthropists.

At the height of its growth in 2005, the company underwent some changes. After a nearly 8,000 percent appreciation in stock price since the IPO, Irwin, 71, decided to step down as CEO and hand the reigns to his son, Paul, who had worked at the company for 15 years. Paul set out to make his mark as CEO, recognizing that continued innovation and execution were critical to future success.

The company’s chip design business was exploding. On the verge of Apple’s introduction of the iPhone, the company was hiring like mad. While revamping the onboarding process of new employees to the culture of Qualcomm, the HR department recognized how important it was to get new employees aligned with the values of innovation and execution. They also recognized the criticality of retaining those first-year employees, who are often considered some of the most expensive to lose given the cost of recruiting and training them.

They asked themselves a simple question:

How can we indoctrinate new hires to the innovative culture of the company quickly, and get them immersed in the Qualcomm culture?

What they came up with is so beautifully effective and ridiculously cheap, I’m shocked more companies don’t do the same thing.

The team built a program titled 52 Weeks, which consists of one story emailed each week to new employees, that captures momentous points in time in the company’s history. Told from the employee perspective, the stories provided insights about the company: good (and some bad) business decisions made along the way, technology milestones, background on certain leaders, and the genesis of key products. The stories were visually represented with pictures from the past. The stories also had emotion to them, documenting both humorous episodes as well as tougher times (like divesting a business and layoffs) that the company went through.

In creating the stories, the team chose what to share based on a few criteria:

  • Does the story fit into one of the company’s values, such as execution or innovation?
  • Does it share an organizational strategy or information about the culture that would be of interest to employees?
  • Is it a teachable moment with a lesson learned?
  • Is it memorable?

Mostly, the team looked for stories that would reinforce the future which management envisioned. From day one all new hires at Qualcomm were signed up for 52 Weeks and, for the next year, received a new story each week. This consistent drip of organizational history immersed new employees into the culture, and cemented the cultural tenets that Paul Jacobs wanted his CEO reign to be about.

An interesting thing happened: HR started getting requests from existing employees to receive the stories. Eventually, thousands of Qualcomm employees were receiving the same weekly e-mails as the new hires—providing them stories that reinforced the best aspects of the culture they experienced every day.

This simple and inexpensive practice showcases the power of organizational storytelling in shaping culture, a practice that frankly too few companies really take advantage of. Research has proven what we instinctively know: storytelling can have an amazing and long-lasting impact.

Studies have shown that:

  • Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts and figures alone
  • Our neural activity increases 5 times when listening to a story
  • Storytelling lights up the sensory cortex in the brain, allowing the listener to feel, hear, taste, and even smell the story

The corporate world is filled with famous stories. From companies that began in a garage like Hewlett-Packard, Apple, or Google, or originated in a college dorm room like Dell, Facebook, or even Microsoft, most iconic companies have a story about when they were founded that they strategically leverage with the workforce and their customer base.

Whether it’s your external or internal brand, it’s hard to think of any successful company that doesn’t have an interesting foundational story. Employees love unique stories about their employer—they want to be part of something bigger and to be inspired—and smart companies shape those stories to create the company they want to be long term.

When telling a company story, boil it down to three simple concepts:

  1. The Origin: What was the source of the original passion and/or what events prompted the company to get started?
  2. The Customer: What problem was solved by a new or unique solution?
  3. The Future: What is the purpose and how will the company change the world?

The last step is an important one when trying to renovate your company’s culture. While not every company will change the world, companies which successfully changed their culture focused the message on the future, not the past. Our research showed interesting negative correlations to culture renovation success for any company who said they were changing their culture because of:

  • Poor business performance
  • Pressure from the board and/or investors
  • Low employee engagement

Companies who were successful at changing culture were almost four times more likely to reference, “A desire to continually reinvent ourselves” as a primary catalyst for change, along with, “To prepare or anticipate customer or market shifts.” Proactive versus reactive reasoning is a hallmark of high-performance organizations. When trying to affect change, language and positioning matter quite a bit. Never waste a good story by choosing the wrong words.

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Four reasons why entrepreneurs need a strong personal brand


Contributed by Marina Byezhanova, an EO Montreal member and the founder of personal branding agency, Brand of a Leader.

Personal branding is a hot topic among entrepreneurs these days. A Google search of “personal branding” and “entrepreneurs” returns nearly 2 million results. Rooms about personal branding on Clubhouse run at all hours of the day. Even the former chief of staff to Princess Diana and the former director of global engagement to former US President Obama are now giving talks on personal branding.

We know that people are increasingly more interested in the person behind the company than the corporate brand:

  • Elon Musk’s Twitter following is double that of SpaceX and Tesla combined.
  • Richard Branson’s Twitter following is 10X that of his Virgin brands.
  • Sara Blakely has 20X the following on LinkedIn compared to her SPANX brand.

People are becoming less trusting of corporate brand messaging; interest in the stories and lives of the entrepreneurs behind the corporate brand is on the rise. 

But what does a following actually do? Do all entrepreneurs need a personal brand? What good is having a personal brand beyond vanity metrics?

Here are four main reasons you may benefit from having a personal brand.

1. Sales and marketing

Strategically expanding your network translates to an expanded pool of prospective clients. As the saying goes, “People do business with people they know, like and trust.” Being the “public face” of your business allows you to build trust with potential and existing customers―even if you’re not speaking to them directly.

As Sejal Lakhani-Bhatt, CEO of TechWerxe and EO New Jersey member said:

“I do podcasts; I do interviews; I do webinars; I do seminars; I speak at larger conferences; I speak at smaller conferences; I speak on panels; I’m part of different organizations. People get to know me, and if they trust me, they’ll trust the company.”

2. Position yourself for a pivot

As entrepreneurs, our businesses are often closely tied to our identity: they are us, and we are them. After an exit, many entrepreneurs find themselves faced with an identity crisis. Having a personal brand―separate and distinct from a corporate brand―allows you to pivot faster and more effortlessly.

Michele Hecken, owner of Alpha Global Experts and EO Edmonton member, is now heavily focused on building her personal brand. Her only wish? That she would have begun clarifying and building it years ago―prior to the sale of her business.

Erez Zevulunov, owner MIT Consulting and EO Toronto member, concurs. He is building a personal brand and sees it as a safety net of sorts: “I come from a background of M&A. Every time there is an acquisition, the founder walks away half the time not knowing what they want to do with their life. My brand will either give me the credibility to land a position within a larger organization, or it’ll give me a transition to another career where I am the product. And so it gives me portability, whereas right now, if I were to sell the business, I’d have to build something from scratch, from zero, with nothing to go on, and it would take time.”

3. To be recognized as a thought leader

Entrepreneurs are intrinsically motivated―but also want to be recognized. Research shows that people prefer validation over singular achievements. It comes back to basic human psychology: We want to be recognized as experts. Professional validation, in a way that is authentic to us, matters.

Personal branding helps achieve recognition in two ways: By having your accomplishments recognized and by building your reputation as experts in our domains.

Fran Biderman-Gross, Founder of Advantages and EO Toronto (former EO New York member), says it is one of the key reasons she has put time and attention to intentionally build her personal brand: “This is the right time for me to focus on myself as an author and thought-leader, to find my voice and my place in the world with my life’s work.”

4. Inspire others and make an impact at scale

The biggest need we have as human beings is a desire to become all that we are capable of becoming.

Take a second to think back to your earliest thoughts about becoming an entrepreneur: You likely wanted to change the world in some way, make an impact and leave a mark on the people around you.

Portfolio entrepreneur Kate Holden, owner of De Luca Fine Wines and Flaunt, and member of EO Winnipeg, began building her personal brand for that very reason. “I want to inspire people to do better and be better. I want to inspire other women to define themselves instead of being defined by others. And I want to show others that we can all dream bigger.”

Whether it’s to drive sales, position yourself for a pivot or be recognized as an expert, one thing is clear: A well-defined, compelling personal brand allows us to connect with others like us. That makes it easier to achieve big goals as entrepreneurs, mentors and contributing citizens of the world.

And if your goal is to inspire people at scale and make a significant impact on the world, the only questions you should be asking yourself are “What am I waiting for?” or “What’s holding me back?”

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Fusing hearts and minds: A new leadership model

john saneiContributed by John Sanei, a futures strategist who conveys smart, effective strategies to business owners and entrepreneurs to help build the courage and clarity they need to forge the future they want. Sanei is Africa’s first Singularity University faculty member who served as a panelist during EO’s future of leadership event with moderator Winnie Hart.

In the past 12 months, salary cuts, crashing economies and general crisis paralysis have left many leaders wandering aimlessly through the smoking debris of their businesses.

So, has leadership as we know it had a breakdown? No.

In fact, I think it’s a breakthrough.

Tragic, yes, but it’s also given leaders across the world an opportunity to rebuild.

The ways of yesteryear won’t hack it, though. Because this unknown future still has to unfold. The future, like architectural plans for a house, will still evolve, adapt and expand.

A 17th-century Japanese poet and samurai (how can we not relate to a samurai at a time like this!) said, “My barn has burned down, now I see the moon.” Over the past 80 to 100 years, we as human beings have been experiencing a saeculum―an evolvement of structures from growth to maturity, entropy and now to destruction.

This bleak loss has altered the work-balance perspective, added responsibilities and also posed a big question: How to drive teams, reinvent business models and create content and safe workplaces and spaces while still responding to the digital wave the virus has thrust upon us.

Understanding this seasonal context means there’s an onus on leaders to become aware of endings. Transitioning through this, we enter the phase of “the strange”. Without a sense of duration, path or outcome, this is either a dark void or a blank canvas. It’s time to redefine goals, but with a more humane and conscious approach.

Today, obscure challenges that pose significant economic and health risks highlight that leaders must respond immediately to unforeseen dangers. This requires a new type of leader, defenseless yet brave, atypical yet pragmatic, driven by market forces yet conscious of its footprint.

Vulnerability is the new superpower. Instead of blame, defensiveness and shock, brave new leaders choose to share their concerns and openly seek help by asking themselves these questions:

  • Do I have a support system of people who can keep me grounded?
  • Do I have an executive coach, mentor or confidant?
  • What feedback have I received about not walking the talk?
  • Do I demand privileges?
  • Do I invite others into the spotlight?
  • Do I isolate myself in the decision-making process, and do my decisions reflect what I truly value?
  • Do I admit to making mistakes?
  • Do I tell myself there are different rules for “people like me”?

These self-reflections forge genuine bonds. There’s an acceptance that we don’t have all the solutions, cementing trust and transparency. And that inspires loyalty. So, my suggestion is that you consider doing the following:

  • Embrace change with enthusiasm and excitement. This is a state-of-mind change. There will not be clear answers to things anymore. Leaders will have to evaluate risks on the go and juggle between different decisions.
  • Create. Tap into unique talents, functions and contributions.
  • Overcommunicate. Our virtual world may be tech-driven, but the art of impactful and straightforward communication still counts. It’s critical to drive teams and goals, but reaching the heart and remembering to listen is the most powerful communication ever invented.
  • Be there for your team. Empathy and emotional intelligence are the new game-changers for the workplace: Every voice and opinion matters in our new reality.

These are big discussions, and I don’t think anybody has all the answers. I suggest trying to divide yourself up into “today” and “tomorrow” teams. Make sure you have people focused on putting the fire out today while others are drawing up the future house plans.

If you’re in a position of leadership, or you own a business, or you’re in a management role: Realize that if you’re asking your people (or even yourself) to douse the flames while simultaneously doing the rebuilding―you’re not doing anyone any favours.

This new reality leadership is about adding and acknowledging value to every role―big or small. It maximizes the human spirit’s creativity, talent and positivity that can outplay digital creation in the workplace and beyond.

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One Year Later: 10 Steps to Effective Coronavirus Crisis Leadership

Contributed by Winnie Hart, an EO Houston member who serves on EO’s Board of Directors. Hart is an author, brand strategist and the CEO of TwinEngine and Brand in the Box. In March 2020 as the global pandemic began—long before work-from-home and Zoom fatigue were issues—we asked Hart about her experience leading her business through crisis. The article, which originally appeared on EO’s Inc.com channel in March 2020, has garnered nearly 38,000 page views and is posted here in its entirety:

We are experiencing a global crisis that needs leaders like you to lead. A crisis is defined as a time when difficult or important decisions must be made. We often don’t see a crisis coming and aren’t prepared. The coronavirus crisis is happening now, but it will certainly not be the last challenge we face. We must be ready. We must be prepared. We must lead.

When faced with a crisis, will you rise to the challenge, or will you fall?

At 6:10 a.m. on Monday, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. The levees broke, flooding more than 80 percent of the city with 224 billion gallons of water. In a weekend, I lost 75 percent of my business. Before that day, I thought failure was the worst possible outcome.

Though it sounds cliché, I learned what would become my mantra: From crisis comes opportunity. Through failure, I gained resilience and learned that a strong vision sees no barriers.

When my business collapsed, it forced me to align my ambitions with my purpose. By aligning your purpose with what you stand for, you connect to who you’re meant to be. It shapes your impact on the world and empowers you to build a company that is extraordinary rather than ordinary. Should disaster strike again, I know that I have the power to evolve into a stronger, transformational leader.

During a crisis, leaders lead. In every crisis, there is opportunity for leaders to make something good when it seems impossible. Like firefighters rushing into a burning building, we have to make quick decisions because livesand businessesdepend on it.

10 Ways leaders can rise to the challenge:

1. Align expectations

In a crisis, you will not have all the answers but will need to address the unknown and speak confidently. People will expect actions from you. Aligning expectations and realities takes skill, insight and patience, as well as the ability to admit you don’t have all the answers. Leaders conquer communications barriers and communicate early and often.

2. All eyes are on you

Leaders often forget that all eyes are on them. This is especially true as the intensity of a situation grows. In such moments, people look to leaders, searching their words, actions and body language for guidance. It’s like when you experience turbulence on a flightyou look to the flight crew and their non-verbal cues.

Leaders know themselves. You need to be more of what makes you who you are: Those values, qualities, talents and experiences that people already appreciate about you. Your challenge is to see yourself outside of yourself to gain an understanding of how others see and perceive you as a leader. Self-awareness is a critical capability that leaders must develop.

3. Stay positive

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” John Maxwell

Remain as optimistic as possible. How you show up in a crisis has a significant impact. Positive thoughts and actions focus on strengths, successes, opportunities and collaboration. Leaders radiate trust, hope and optimism that leads to positive energy, confidence and purpose.

4. Tell the truth

Communication is your kryptonite. Crisis often includes misinformation that leads to confusion. Explain the problem honestly in a straightforward way, focusing on positive steps to overcome it. Choose words wisely, be consistent and clear. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. If you are confusing, you are losing.

5. Know what you stand for

When someone asks what you as a leader stand forwhat do you say? What is your purpose, mission and values? Every action should reflect this. It’s not just about standing for something; it’s about the difference you make in the world and stepping up to share what you stand for to encourage others to do the same. Leaders work from a place of purpose. A higher mission that motivates and inspires teams for action. You, as a leader, are a brand. Don’t miss an opportunity to lead and build your brand equity in a crisis.

6. Demonstrate empathy

Listen to understand. Show people that you genuinely care by relating to their perspective. Recognize behaviors and respond to emotions. Remember: Empathy isn’t about what you wantit’s about what the other person needs. Your actions should benefit them.

7. See the big picture

Leaders can see the big picture and visualize the potential impact long before others do. It’s crucial to step back, observe and make sense of the situation. My dad always said, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Leaders must be comfortable with what they can’t see. One of the hardest things to do in a crisis is to step back from managing the urgent problems while maintaining focus on the bigger picture.

8. Slow down and stay calm

Keep calm and carry on! People need to feel safe and secure. The composure of leaders must embody agility and patience to minimize the impact of uncertainty. Take care of yourself, mentally and physically, so that you can be fully present. People feed off of emotions and erratic behaviors. Crisis is fueled when composure is missing.

9. Have a plan

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Theodore M. Hesburgh

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. Focus and discipline are essential. Envision success and build a plan that is easy to understand and flexible in responding to the unknown.

10. Simply lead

Leaders simply lead. They work from within themselves, with the courage, emotional intelligence and integrity to navigate the crisis around them. They are prepared; they don’t panic. They care and communicate in service of others. Leaders are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They see the opportunity in a crisis to transform themselves and the world around them.

Don’t miss an opportunity to lead–to rise above the chaos and crisis when everything seems impossible. The world needs you.

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How entrepreneurs benefit from ‘Alien Thinking’

business model

Entrepreneurial success hinges on generating breakthrough ideas. But we have cognitive biases that keep us stuck in well-worn patterns of thinking. In the book Alien Thinking, three innovation professors at IMD Business School argue that people who generate truly breakthrough ideas look at their world like aliens–outsiders unburdened by the assumptions, biases and conventional thinking that constrain imagination.

We asked authors Cyril Bouquet, Michael Wade and Jean-Louis Barsoux how entrepreneurs can benefit from Alien Thinking:

What does it mean to think like an “alien”? 

Thinking like an alien is a metaphor for approaching innovation challenges with an open mind.

When an alien lands on Earth, it sees our world with fresh eyes–not constrained by the same assumptions and biases as we are. It can adapt existing ideas from a different world. But as an outsider, it must learn how to navigate a new and potentially hostile environment. That’s the mindset we encourage people to adopt.

Of course, we could also have talked about adopting the perspective of a child, a beginner or an outsider. But the alien metaphor serves as a neat acronym for the five dimensions of our ALIEN thinking framework:

A for Attention
L for Levitation (meaning reflection)
I for Imagination
E for Experimentation
N for Navigation

We realize that levitation is an unexpected term, but it fits well with the alien metaphor.

We’re constantly hearing about ways to fight off procrastination, but you argue that it’s key to generating breakthrough ideas. How?

Current innovation frameworks–think lean startup or design sprint–emphasize speed and action over reflection and strategic breaks. But for breakthrough innovation, you need time to consolidate learning, assess options and consider the smartest move, not just the obvious move.

When we study real accounts of innovation, we find that critical moves are often preceded by long spells of reflection or incubation–which are absent from innovation models. An extreme example is Malcom McLean, who first noticed the inefficient loading process from trucks to ships as a frustrated truck driver in the early 1940s. But 15 years elapsed before he developed the system knowledge, as the owner of a successful trucking company, and the insight to transfer entire containers instead of individual crates and barrels.

What might look to outsiders like procrastination is often the time needed to process a mass of confusing information.

Levitation is about tapping into the unconscious capabilities of the “mind at rest”, which is free to roam and make sense of experiences. Paradoxically, your mind is more active when you’re unoccupied than when you’re performing a task.

Two types of breaks can foster innovation. First, take a time-out, like in sports. Pause to make sense of what you’ve done, see what it’s adding up to and what needs to change. It doesn’t even have to be deliberate. Sometimes our finest moments of lucidity come while we’re performing other tasks on autopilot–like commuting or taking a shower.

The second type of break is the occasional time-off, a complete change of activity, more like a sabbatical. Obviously, that helps you to re-energize. But it also feeds your mind with new thoughts and new ways of looking at things. It prepares your mind to make unexpected connections.

In a fast-paced world, your willingness to step back and pause, to rethink and synthesize new inputs, becomes increasingly valuable.

You illustrate the pitfalls of experimentation through the examples of Segway and renowned architect Frank Gehry. Can you share those stories and the lessons for entrepreneurs?

Experimentation enables you to transform a promising idea into a workable solution that addresses a real need. The big risk, once you start testing your cherished idea, is setting up experiments to ratify your assumptions rather than refute them.

Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway, was so concerned about protecting his intellectual property that his team conducted multiple cycles of experimentation based exclusively on internal feedback, not user feedback. In the process, they missed many data points likely to reveal the actual requirements of the market. By the time Kamen called on Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos for their opinions on the finished product, there was no more appetite for corrective feedback—so, the team only heard the positive comments. Production of the mobility device stopped last year after less than two decades on the market.

By contrast, pioneering architect Frank Gehry goes out of his way to remain open to learning as he experiments. To avoid becoming too attached to any one idea, he proposes multiple concepts to clients–not just unusual designs but also provocative ones, what he calls Shrek models. The role of these divergent proposals is to get a reaction and learn from the client’s discomfort as well as delight. Gehry gets as much from negative feedback as from positive. But of course, this exercise only makes sense because of his willingness to heed the feedback and integrate it into his thinking.

Tell us about the importance of navigation. What must entrepreneurs keep in mind as they take this critical step?

Most innovation models refer to the final stage of the process as “execution” or “implementation”–making it sound very straightforward. More grind than spark.

We prefer the term “navigation” because it underlines the need for flexibility and ingenuity to steer between forces that can make or break your solution. We maintain that there is every bit as much scope for originality at this stage as there is in trying to find a breakthrough idea in the first place.

A fantastic example is Demis Hassabis, co-founder of the machine learning AI lab DeepMind. In 2009 he went to Silicon Valley to find seed investors.

In preparation, he spent months researching who might be amenable to his pitch. He discovered that self-made tech billionaire Peter Thiel had played competitive chess as a junior–like Hassabis, who reached world No. 2 for his age group at 12.

In August 2010, after Thiel’s annual Singularity Summit event, Hassabis lined up along with scores of other hopefuls given literally one minute to pitch their ideas to Thiel. But instead of pitching his business idea, Hassabis engaged Thiel on the subject of chess, asking him why he thought it was such an amazing game. As a former computer game designer, Hassabis had given it a lot of thought and had an intriguing technical answer.

It was enough to secure a formal meeting with Thiel, who went on to invest US$1.85 million in DeepMind, and recouped over 80 times that amount when Google bought the company in 2014.

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7 Hints for Entrepreneurial Success from Hint Water Founder Kara Goldin

kara goldin

Kalika Yap, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Los Angeles, California, is founder and CEO of both Citrus Studios, a branding and design agency, and Orange & Bergamot, a creative agency for female founders.

As the host of EO’s Wonder podcast, Kalika interviewed Kara Goldin, author of Undaunted and founder and CEO of Hint, which creates nutritious products that help people live healthier lives. Kalika shared highlights of their conversation.

As we finish the week of International Women’s Day, what better story to share than one of a woman who created a whole new beverage category while pregnant with her fourth child, with three kids under the age of 6 and a US$50,000 budget!?

kara goldinWho is this “Wonder Woman”? Kara Goldin is a force of nature: Authentic, unafraid of failure, and creative in pushing boundaries and disrupting the status quo. She’s inspiring entrepreneurs with her new book, Undaunted.

Kara shared seven lessons she’s learned in her 15 years as a startup founder of one of the most successful beverage companies in the US.

1. Identify the problem

After having three kids, Goldin was struggling with a few health issues, including adult acne, low energy and extra body weight. She was addicted to diet soda—drinking eight to 10 cans per day.

“I started reading labels, hoping a lightbulb might go off. As I was drinking my diet soda, I turned the can around. I saw a lot of ingredients that I didn’t understand,” she recalled. “Rather than trying to understand them, I decided to replace diet soda with water.”

She pushed through the caffeine withdrawal headaches and stayed true to her intention of drinking only water. Two and half weeks later, she was a different person: “My acne cleared up, I had lost 24 pounds and my energy levels were back. I realized that water was better for me.”

Though she aspired to be a water-drinker, she wasn’t enthusiastic about the taste. Searching for a flavor enhancement, she added sliced fruit to her water. “That’s when the lightbulb went off in my head.” And her product was born!

2. Just do it

A scan of the Whole Foods beverage aisle helped her realize that though there were multiple so-called “healthy” water and juice drinks, most had more sugar per serving than a can of soda.

Goldin asked an associate if there were any water-based beverages without sugary additives or preservatives. There weren’t.

“I thought, ‘Somebody should really launch this product, make this drink. Why shouldn’t I try to launch it myself?’ she said. “It became almost a game for me—in my spare time, with three kids at home, I developed Hint water in my kitchen.”

When she realized she was pregnant, she shared two things with her husband: Not only were they having another child, but also she was launching a company.

“I call myself an accidental entrepreneur. I was living my life, and there were issues around my health that I wanted to change,” Goldin recalled. “I thought, if I don’t get people to enjoy water by flavoring it with real fruit, nobody else is going to do it. I need to do this.”

3. Overcome fear

Building the company had its ups and downs. Still, Goldin never thought, “I can’t do this because I don’t have enough money, or because I have no experience, or because I’m pregnant and raising three kids.” Instead, she did her best to bring the product to market.

“People have called me fearless. That’s not accurate; I definitely had fears. It’s what you do with those fears that matters,” she said. “Can you come face to face with them, and ultimately do something as crazy as starting a beverage company?”

Goldin has learned the value of imagining the worst-case scenario and how she might face it. It may never come to pass, but it helps you troubleshoot potential problems in advance.

4. Ask questions

Goldin leveraged her lack of beverage industry experience in her favor. Being from the tech sector—she was formerly vice president of e-commerce at AOL—her curiosity and love of learning kicked into gear, and she started asking questions. She was excited to be a student of this different industry.

But the people in the beverage industry weren’t as excited to teach what they knew. She learned that her best source of actionable information came from people in other, related industries. For example, when researching how to give Hint a shelf life without preservatives, people in the food category were more willing to share.

When she finally did speak with a large soda company, it left a bad taste in her mouth. After being called “Sweetie” on the phone, she was told her idea would never go anywhere because “Americans love sweet drinks.”

It made her doubt herself, but instead of quitting, she doubled down. Fifteen years later, Hint is the largest flavored water company in the US without a relationship to Coke, Pepsi or Snapple. For Goldin, it was a good reminder that experience doesn’t equal excellence.

5. Do things differently

When you’re trying to disrupt an established category: Go outside of your business to search for inspiration and ideas. Don’t look at what everyone else is doing, Goldin says—you won’t find the answers there.

Hint pursues many direct-to-consumer opportunities, which is rare in the beverage industry. More than 50 percent of the company’s business is direct-to-consumer sales.

“I encourage our team to go out and look at who’s doing it right—whether that’s a company selling eyeglasses, mattresses or food,” said Goldin. “Figure out what people are doing. And then apply those lessons to your company.”

Goldin never wanted to start a beverage company. “That was never the goal. The goal was to help people get what they wanted out of their health just by changing a simple thing in their diet,” she said.

“I had been drinking diet soda for years, thinking that I was doing everything right. Everyone was drinking it!” Goldin said. Then she had an epiphany, realizing that “diet” drinks weren’t doing her health any good.
“I wanted to reset, disrupt, create something that helped people.”

She used the same approach when developing two new products in the Hint line—safe, affordable and high-quality sunscreen and deodorant.

6. When you lose, gain a lesson

In the category of “things she didn’t see coming,” Goldin recounts her experience with Starbucks. Hint water was in all 11,000 locations with sales higher than expected.

Then, without warning, Starbucks eliminated Hint products to feature more food items instead of (competing) beverages.

“It was a business decision for Starbucks. It wasn’t personal. It was understandable.”

Failure provides entrepreneurs with the opportunity to figure out what they could do differently. Goldin had placed a great deal of importance on the Starbucks relationship.

“I made a major mistake not diversifying much sooner,” she recalled. “I learned that lesson so intently that I will never do that again.”

Suddenly, she had six months of inventory that she needed to sell. So it felt like divine intervention when Amazon called to say they were starting to sell grocery items online. Even better? The buyer had been enjoying Hint at Starbucks.

“I told him I had plenty of inventory. He was excited that there was no lead time, and we made it happen!”

Hint became one of the earliest No.1 products in Amazon Grocery. Goldin often wonders whether the Amazon relationship would have happened if Hint wasn’t in Starbucks? Was the Starbucks chapter a failure? No. It was a stop along the way to success.

“There are lots of things you can call failure, but it’s something you need to go through to grow, and do what you are ultimately meant to do. Hopefully, those words will ring true for people in both their personal lives and their business.”

7. Inspire the next generation

Goldin has two sons and two daughters. She believes strongly that there is value in them seeing her as the founder and CEO of a company who is not afraid to get out there and be both curious and relentless in her journey.

“If we can be role models as mothers and teach our kids some of our challenges along the way, not just complain about them, but actually talk with them about what’s going on, I think that the future will be much brighter,” Goldin stated.

“If there’s something you want to do, go try it! Overcome your doubts and all the doubters. Just go out and do it!”

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog

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4 Things Every Entrepreneur Should Avoid

An excerpt from the book Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur, by Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD. Charlene is an entrepreneurship coach, branding mentor and speaker. 

Becoming a successful entrepreneur is all about working on and developing an entrepreneurial attitude by making certain shifts in the way that you think. A mindset shift related to taking action will be central to your success in terms of not only having the confidence to get your business off the ground, but also in regard to what you’ll need to do every single day to keep moving your business forward.

Taking action is a key component of an entrepreneurial mindset. Thriving business owners are doers, not merely dreamers (although I do encourage you to aim high).

Being an effective founder, however, is not just about the things that you must do but also about the things you should avoid, and understanding this distinction is another vital aspect of your entrepreneurial mindset shift.

For starters, productive entrepreneurs avoid overscheduling.

Although they make the most of their time by being focused and productive, they refrain from overcommitting to the point where they’re not able to get anything done. One simple rule of thumb I use to decide whether or not I will participate in additional tasks or obligations is to analyze whether my participation does anything to further my end goals (like those related to my business or brand) or means something to me personally. If not, I decline politely; you should, too. Entrepreneurs are smart with their daily routine and focus on accomplishments vs. hours.

Thriving startup leaders also avoid mediocrity.

They go big or go home, looking at life as a challenge and giving their all to those things they commit to. High-achieving moguls treat each new project and opportunity as if they are auditioning for their next big gig. So many times, people have said to me, “You are so lucky. You get to do such cool things for work.” I simply reply that these experiences weren’t part of my day-to-day but merely opportunities that I created for myself or my business. You, too, must find your own chances to shine. No one is going to hand them to you on a silver platter. Then, once you get them, execute upon them by going into full glow mode. The most effective business owners strive for quality and excellence in everything they do—and you are no exception.

Successful founders also avoid beating themselves up.

You can’t win ’em all. You have to embrace failure and learn from your mistakes, be open to feedback, and use each opportunity as a chance to improve. Masterful moguls understand that the more they fail, the more they’ll ultimately prevail—it’s part of the game. I’ve had plenty of setbacks, rejections, and points where I wondered if I was going in the right direction, but I didn’t set up camp in them. I packed up my tent and found a new spot. You must too. Grab your gear and move on.

Last, prosperous entrepreneurs avoid avoidance.

Execution is their sport, and they tackle things head-on, including tough conversations and challenges. They don’t leave anything to chance. Thriving business owners are master communicators and are much more proactive than their less profitable peers. Although it can be uncomfortable at times, being direct is the only way to obtain the information needed to get what they want. Their ability to anticipate and see opportunities and threats makes them action oriented and highly valued leaders, and you are one of them.

The path of an entrepreneur is not an easy one; however, if you are committed to making the necessary mindset shifts, both you and your business will thrive. You’ve got this! Go make it happen.

Excerpt from Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur: 10 Mindset Shifts for Women to Take Action, Unleash Creativity, and Achieve Financial Success by Charlene Walters (McGraw Hill, February 2021).

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