In business, as in life, there is a tremendous amount of pressure and fear. We all know that some of those greatest fears are fear of failure, fear of public speaking, fear of…. Obviously, that list can go on and on. Interestingly enough, one of the greatest fears that people possess is the fear of success.
Abraham Maslow, a renowned psychologist, once wrote, “So often we run away from the responsibilities dictated (or rather suggested) by nature, by fate, even sometimes by accident, just as Jonah tried—in vain—to run away from his fate.”
In the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale, Jonah tries to evade his destiny, is swallowed by a whale and successfully lives after spending three days and nights in its belly. Jonah eventually fulfills his destiny. With the story in mind, the Jonah Complex was created. Although the complex has been attributed to Dr. Maslow, the Jonah Complex was originally suggested by his friend, Professor Frank Manuel. The complex is defined by Maslow as “the fear of success which prevents self-actualization or the realization of one’s potential. It is the fear of one’s own greatness, the evasion of one’s destiny, or the avoidance of exercising one’s talents.”
Being fearful of success can seem counter-intuitive, it does explain how even the most apparently confident person can sabotage their success. So, what are five of the signs that demonstrate that we might be experiencing the Jonah Complex?
1. Procrastination – We keep putting off the “must dos” on our list and focus on the “comfortable-to-dos.” For example, investors request a business plan and we can’t seem to get it done. We need to make cold calls and we send emails or call after business hours only to reach voice mail. A procrastination technique that hits close to home is to “rescue’ someone else because their business or problem is more important than mine.
2. Not fully aware of capabilities – All too often, as leaders, we don’t know our individual or our company’s collective capabilities. We fail to succeed because we fail to evaluate our own skills, gifts and talents. All too often, we can easily identify our weaknesses. As a result, we spend our time trying to “fix” those attributes or issues that can and won’t lead us to success anyway.
3. Not emotionalizing our vision – There is no hope for success without passion. We fail to generate enough energy and emotion to propel us forward. We would rather sleep, eat, party or any other of those “feel good” actions that give us short term happiness, not long term satisfaction.
4. Letting others talk us out of the idea –We will talk about the dream, the idea or objective, rather than planning the approach. When we share our aspirations with others, we receive “advice.” Yes, the advice may be well meaning and have some merit for caution and consideration. But nothing, and I mean nothing, should cause us to cloister our dream on a shelf, gathering dust.
5. Negative Self-talk – This last sign may actually occur because we have experienced the previous four. Even though leaders and entrepreneurs know that we are capable of being successful, we don’t believe in it or more importantly in ourselves. Subsequently, our failure to believe in ourselves causes us to “talk” ourselves out of the idea even before it can get off the ground. The record that runs in our head can go like this: “Some else has done this already.” “I don’t have the right connections.” “We don’t have enough money.”
Now our dream is stalled and stymied. Is that what we really want to have happen?
So, what can we do? And, more importantly, what will we do?
In summary, if we take the premise of the Jonah Complex, that we are destined for success and we must overcome all the obstacles that prevent us from being fully actualized, then we will not ever need to fear success again.
Recently, I heard this comment on a talk show – “One does NOT wash a car rental.” The discussion went on to explain that a person doesn’t wash a rental because they don’t OWN the car. Pretty simple concept and oh so true.
With a car rental, we obey the rules, return the car without scratches and dents, fill the gas tank or pay for it, but we don’t wash the car or clean the interior, that’s the “real” owner’s job – the rental company.
Employees often take the same approach. The partially interested, partially engaged employee will be sure to follow the rules, work within the parameters of the job, stay within the confines of the budget, keep their nose clean and generally return the job at the end of the day to the owner without “washing.” Sure, they met requirements of the job, but did they take the time to examine, review, evaluate results and readjust plans for improvement the next time?
As much as leaders, executives and entrepreneurs want a team that takes pride and owns their responsibility, the reality is all too many leaders actually allow their employees to be renters, to just be mediocre. What if the leader found ways to build ownership?
First, let’s review some leadership behaviors that support “renting.”
· Fixing. A wise man once wrote – “People’s destiny is not really in your hands. In the final analysis, every man’s destiny is in his own hands.” Norman Vincent Peale. Leaders all too often what to “fix” people. The mistake in this approach is that people don’t need fixing. They need to be inspired. When, we try to help others overcome their flaws, their shortcomings, their inadequacies they often wait for us to give them the solution. This only enables them not to learn, to not grow, and to contribute only marginally. You tell us what company can afford to invest time in repairing others’ work.
· Let it slide. Richard Yates, author of Revolutionary Road, wrote, “It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.” Being easy going, giving and nurturing is NOT the role of the leader. Being a leader is tough. We have to step up to the plate and OWN our responsibilities. People may want to sit and be comfortable, but what they need is to have some adversity and challenges to overcome. Quality products and services don’t get made or delivered by average workers. When leaders overlook behaviors that support passing the buck, blaming , hiding under the radar, or just plain – not doing their job - they sabotage any hope for success.
· Seeking consensus. I love this quote by Margaret Thatcher – “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and no one objects.” There are many problems with always trying to build consensus. Problems such as wasting time, losing focus, or trying to be popular, not productive.If leaders want to build strong teams, they have to be willing to set the target and allow people to step up, act as team and get results. The more we attempt to coddle and cajole employees, partners and other stakeholders, the further we get from achieving truly extraordinary results.
· Telling People YOUR Vision. “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking” George Patton The average, mediocre team can spout off the “canned” vision statement. Leaders often mistake people’s ability to state the company’s vision statement for understanding, buy in and appreciation of the big picture. This generally is furthest from the truth. When people don’t have to think, they generally have not made an emotional connection to the lofty idea and ideals of the company. They do what they are told and nothing more.
Rather than fixing, letting it slide, seeking consensus and telling your vision, leaders can build ownership in many ways. For 720thinkers one of the outstanding actions to promotes ownership is to inspire people. Again, I would like to share another quote by Dr. Peale – “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”
The strongest leaders engage their employees by helping them to discover their motivations and belief in their own capabilities. As a results, individual motivators will help align goals and actions with a vision that is so compelling, so addictive that they wouldn’t think of returning their job at the end of the day with a thorough cleaning because they own their job.
Promoting ownership is one of the leader’s primary roles. Are you the leader that promotes employees “renting” and not owning their jobs? If so, now is the time to consider the ways that you can lead people to own not just rent their job.
To paraphrase the great quote, “It takes a Village to Raise a Child” – It takes a team to raise a leader.
With 720thinking’s multidimensional approach, we are finding that leaders are shaped and molded in all different ways and by many different means. One of the greatest influences on the leader’s success is the team.
Here are seven actions that effective teams can take to help raise a leader:
Align with the organization’s vision and mission. Yes, it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that there is a clear vision and mission. It is just as important for every member of the team to fully understand and align their roles and responsibilities to the purpose of the organization.. When the leader’s focus wavers or becomes unclear, it takes assertiveness and collaboration from all the team members to help the leader stay connected to their WHY.
2. Understand the business strategy and objectives. Even if the vision and mission are clear, it then becomes imperative for the team to have a high level of understanding of WHAT is expected. Each teammate now is accountable to the leader to establish their goals to support the business’s growth and success. Self-directed, autonomous teams don’t wit for the leader to give them their goals.
3. Hold to a moral code. Every business has values or guiding principles for HOW to provide quality and service. If those values are clearly communicated, it’s the team’s responsibility to behave in a manner that upholds those guiding principles. If the values are not clearly articulated or conveyed, or there are no clearly defined behaviors to support those values, it becomes the responsibility of every member of the team to create and support a code of conduct and/or define those behaviors that support moral and ethical standards.
4. Know their roles. Every employee should have a clear understanding of his or her role in the organization. Even if the employee is new and not fully indoctrinated, it is important that they have clarity so they are able to optimize their talents and identify early areas for growth. If the employee has been in his or her role for a period of time, it is important to review and offer revise their job description to ensure that they are maximizing their talents and opportunities for growth. With clearly defined, job-related goals, individuals can establish professional development plans for continued growth and development.
5. Provide feedback. Communication is a continuous loop, with the sender later becoming the receiver as feedback comes back around. When teams passively accept directives from the leader, they are abdicating their responsibilities. While leadership is not a democracy, it also is not a dictatorship. The leader, as the decision maker, has ultimate responsibility for the decision. The team has an obligation to share information, data and complaints in a timely and solution oriented manner so that the leader can make the most informed decision.
6. Be innovative and creative. Some phrases that lead to the death of an organization are
· “We have always done it that way.”
· “We don’t need to fix what’s not broken.”
· “We are comfortable doing things the same way.”
· “No one is complaining.
Unfortunately for leaders, if they have to spend an exorbitant amount of time bringing employees along or trying to gain buy-in to change, they are losing margin and market. The team needs to continually seek new and improved ways of offering their products or services – that’s not just the responsibility of the leader. R&D is everyone’s job in today’s environment.
7. Inspire the leader to be their best. Teams need to challenge the status quo. If the leader is being a jerk, then it is the responsibility of the team to call him/her on the values and behaviors. Teams would not be in place without some sort of leadership. If the team allows the leader to be mediocre, then the team is most likely going to produce mediocre results. Mediocre leaders and teams chase away strong players, who are frustrated by the mediocrity. Good teams raise the level of their leaders. Every leader needs to be confronted with feedback that holds a mirror up to behaviors that violate the vision, mission and values to which the company has subscribed.
When leaders are supported by these seven team actions, the likelihood for success is exponential. After all, it takes a team to raise a leader.
There have been many books and articles on the traits evidenced by those who are entrepreneurial, and this is not going to be another one. Instead, we recognize that there are degrees of entrepreneurialism, as there are degrees of creativity and levels of excellence in sports. Just like each individual has unique DNA, every entrepreneur has a unique recipe of traits.
If we were to “create” the ideal professional basketball player, we would want him or her to have size, speed, quickness, toughness, jumping ability, court vision, the desire and ability to make teammates better, coolness under pressure, passing ability and a great shot. Yet there are few that actually possess all of those traits. Many succeed with their own unique combination of them.
It is the same with entrepreneurs. Typically, we would love to see the whole package- great passion, a high degree of innovation, openness to new experiences, optimism, action orientation, focus, pro-activity, risk taking, flexibility, perseverance, market awareness, strategic thinking, goal orientation, leadership, strong communication and “influencing” skills. But it is rare that an entrepreneur has a high level of all.
Each trait exists on a continuum. Let’s take risk taking. On a scale of one to ten, one would represent risk aversion and ten would represent willingness to “bet the ranch.” Everyone falls somewhere on the scale. There are some very successful entrepreneurs that are very careful in managing risk, so a high tolerance or addiction to risk is not required.
It is the same with all of the traits. There could be a successful entrepreneur with a “score” of 10-10-10-10-10-10-10-10; or 5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5; or 1-10-5-5-5-1-2-10. There is no ideal mix. Many work. We should spend less time focusing on one or two traits and more on whether the mix of traits is producing results. If the results aren’t the ones needed to build and sustain an enterprise, then nothing else really matters.
One can be creative and entrepreneurial but not be an entrepreneur. An idea person that only thinks the thoughts and takes no actions is no entrepreneur. One can be a great entrepreneurial leader in an early stage company but be unable to take the company to the next level. Yet some can move from stage to stage. As they do, their scores change. They figure out what they need to learn or how they have to develop strength in certain competencies in order be the leader the organization needs. Natural ability only takes you so far. Leaders have to work on themselves as they work on their business.
Self-awareness is important for leaders. For instance, knowing that his tolerance for risk may be too low, a leader may want to surround himself with advisors that view risk differently and can provide a balanced perspective. If an entrepreneur tends to shoot from the hip too much and thus make some costly mistakes, she should have a team that helps her slow things down, examine data, figure out key performance indicators, etc. Early on in an entrepreneurial arc, this self-awareness is often lacking. Many entrepreneurs are sure of everything and are secure in their knowledge. They may not know what they don’t know. Over time, wisdom should grow, and part of that is self-awareness.
At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is like Baskin Robbins. It comes in many flavors. We should be open to understanding how blending the different competencies can provide different successful entrepreneurial models. At 720thinking, we use our multi-dimensional process to look at and work with entrepreneurs and their companies and to help them take advantage of their strengths and develop those areas that my need some work. Our entrepreneurial cookbook has many recipes and utilizes many ingredients.
Before jumping on board with an entrepreneur, every co-founder, investor or potential employee needs to understand what ingredients they need to see in the mix. Can you follow someone who does not exhibit much passion or is not particularly action-oriented? Can you work with someone who is over the top enthusiastic to the point she is blind to any viewpoints but her own? It may take time to figure out what formulas fit within your comfort zone, which ones offer the highest chance of success. Then strap in and get ready for a great ride.
Running a successful business takes a great deal of talent, time and tenacity. As 720thinkers, we continually research and explore what makes individuals and organizations rise to the top. Today, we would like to discuss three extraordinary leaders and hone in on those traits that help them to stand out.
Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon and one of the leading pioneers in e-commerce, possesses two standout traits:
The first is his belief in and his focus on following his passion, not trends and the dreams of others.
In 2004, he shared the following in an interview with Inc. Magazine, “One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. If you’re really interested in software and computer science, you should focus on that. But if you’re really interested in medicine, and you decide you’re going to become an Internet entrepreneur because it looks like everybody else is doing well, then that’s probably not going to work. You don’t choose your passions, your passions choose you.”
A technical wizard, Bezos, as a toddler, used a screwdriver to take apart his crib. In his teens, he was conducting his experiments in his garage. Today, he continues to follow his passion to create and innovate.
The second trait is his urgency in testing his products and getting them to market.
Despite the pressure of competition from major competitors such as Barnes and Noble and Borders in the online book business, Bezos asked 300 friends and acquaintances to test his product. In one month, he went live and Amazon had sold books in all 50 states and in 45 countries. Within two months, sales topped $20,000 a week. He didn’t sit back and wait, he sized the moment and has come out on top.
Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox was named CEO of the year in 2008 by Chief Executive Magazine, and U.S. News & World Report named her one of America’s Best Leaders in 2005 and 2009. Her top traits are:
Admit that you need help.
Mulcahy, shortly after assuming the role of CEO, found that she was ill equipped to handle the massive job required to turn around a struggling company. With a 25 year tenure, Anne was intimately familiar with Xerox, but not prepared to handle the extensive financial challenges. Appreciating the company was in the midst of a major crisis, Ms. Mulcahy sought the advice of the treasurer’s office to tutor her in the fine points of finance before meetings with the company’s bankers. She also solicited input from the one hundred senior executives to support her when and if she had to make difficult business decisions – 98 complied and most are still with Xerox today. She didn’t try to go it alone.
Show character and courage
Faced with impending doom and disaster, Mulcahy was advised on many fronts to declare bankruptcy. Mulcahy resisted, telling them, “Bankruptcy is never a win.” She stood her ground and refused to cut back on research and development. Instead she focused on the bloated infrastructure, sold off Xerox Fuji and outsourced manufacturing. All tough business decisions – bankruptcy was avoided and a stronger company emerged.
Brad Smith is President and CEO of Intuit, one of the leading companies in financial software. Serving at the helm since 2008, Brad Smith displays:
Focus on culture
With a workforce of more than 8000 strong, Mr. Smith allows workers to take risks and encourages growth from both success and failure. He ensures alignment by continually emphasizing and communicating Intuit’s mission – “To be a premier innovative growth company that improves its customers’ financial lives so profoundly that they can’t imagine going back to the old way.”
Have a strategy
For the first five years of his tenure with Intuit, Smith was responsible for significant business changes and starting several major business ventures. He ascribes to the following strategies:
Smith keeps Intuit in a focused and strategic mode that is continually generating dynamic results
Three successful leaders in business, Jeff Bezos, Anne Mulcahy and Brad Smith have traits we as 720thinkers think are worth evaluating and emulating. Would love to hear from you to add to our ever growing list of top traits of successful leaders.