Making Dreams Come True

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-by Matt Leedham

A couple of months ago, I attended an intensive entrepreneurial executive education program associated with MIT and the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO). One of the presenters did a quick straw poll of the 60+ successful entrepreneurs in the room and asked them about the #1 issue/challenge/concern they were facing. Their choices were:

  1. Cash Flow
  2. Margin/Profit
  3. People
  4. Strategy

Overwhelmingly, 75% of the group answered “people.” Of all the things that these successful business owners had to think about, they were usually thinking about people.

Which reminds me of something a successful entrepreneur I know out of Phoenix once said to me. “This stuff would be easy if it weren’t for all the people. I mean, just think of it. No vendors, no employees… no customers!”

His dream of eliminating people from the equation does not surprise me. It fact it confirms something many of us already know. Entrepreneurs don’t like people! Let’s face it, entrepreneurs are a rare breed. If you know one (or especially work for one), you know what I’m talking about.

So often, I hear how frustrated entrepreneurs are with their employees, telling me that their employees don’t care about the business as much as they do. I hear that employees are not invested in the success of the business and can’t be trusted. If you’ve been following our writing on core energy, you might recognize this as Level 2 energy.

So, what we do? Successful companies are built on the backs of hardworking, loyal, creative people. Entrepreneurs can’t live in that utopian world of both owning a successful business and eliminating all people from the equation.

The key here is inspiration. Entrepreneurs are good at this, but it often gets lost in the weeds of trying to run the business day-to-day. People need a leader they want to follow, and people follow leaders that inspire them.

But owning a business does not automatically make you a great leader, just like having a child does not automatically make you great parent. You need to work on the skills while pouring your heart and soul into it. You need communicate the emotion behind what you are doing.

This is a bit more complicated than a quick and dirty 5-step process, but let me give you two things you can do right now to have impact immediately with employees. By the way, this is also true for managers, parents, spouses, etc.

Paint the Picture
Create a vision of the future that looks and feels real. Be clear about what you want and where you want to go. In addition to the hard, cold facts of this future, communicate even more clearly, how this future feels. Your vision of the future needs to be visceral. It should be emotionally charged, energizing those that engage with it and are making it a reality.

Be clear on the “who” and “why” of what you want, not just the “how” and “what.” The “who” is the vision/mission/values of both you and your company. Your “who” is not something that is developed over night. It’s been a long time in development. The “why” is tied to your vision and your purpose. Why are you in business? Why should anyone care? Write this down, do it collaboratively if necessary, and review it with anyone new that comes on board.

Invest in their Dreams
As a leader, you are asking others to invest in your dream. You are asking others to commit time, energy, and sometimes money to make your dream a reality. Frankly, a paycheck is not enough in return. Invest in their dreams just like you are asking them to invest in yours. This is inspiring. And it will create loyalty. It also creates a culture of making dreams come true. And who wouldn’t want to work at place like that?

Think about it. Every business offers compensation in the form of salaries, health benefits, retirement accounts, bonuses, etc. These are the table stakes…the bare minimum, in many cases, to even play the game. What will set you apart and create a fierce culture of awesomeness, is to invest in the intangible benefit of helping someone do something they’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time, money, resources, or connections to make happen. Now this is bouncing around Energy Levels 4 and 5. That’s where you want to be.

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