How Can You Use Emotional Intelligence To Build The Best Team You Can?

A while back I spoke with a friend of mine. He uses a lot of great quotes and one that really sticks with me is, “Teachability is man’s capacity for growth.” It’s about always being open to learning something new. As true as this is, at times it can be difficult to do. Even avid learners can get stuck sometimes. Even if you are committed to constant improvement, by constantly reading and trying to stay ahead, you can still get stuck. Everything cannot be learned from a book. Some things you have to experience. As consultants, one of the biggest challenges we see is leaders getting stuck when it comes to people skills and communication. 

Even best-selling authors will tell you that the bottom line for leaders is getting the message out and communicating it effectively. It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Your audience needs to hear it, understand it and act upon it. A leader’s job is to create the: vision, alignment, and execution. The way you align people to get things done is by communicating your vision. Let everyone clearly know what has to happen to make it happen.

This is one of the biggest issues for new supervisors who are in a management role for the first time. The reality is most people get to a supervisory or management position based on their technical skills. The best welder becomes the welding manager, the top finance guy becomes the finance manager, or your best salesperson becomes the sales manager. They are promoted because of their skills and knowledge base; not for their leadership and communication skills. Often times, these highly skilled technical people may “lack the people skills.” It’s not that they can’t develop these skills, but up to this point they haven’t had to develop these skills.

The reality of leadership is that technical skills are the price of admission. Having the skills to go from A to B gets you in the door. What sets you apart as a great leader is developing your people skills. Learning to take a vision and communicate it effectively, so that people understand it and will act upon it. I’m always fascinated when I talk to business owners, business leaders, and new supervisors. They will suggest that hard skills are the technical knowledge of getting it done and soft skills are just the other stuff. The reality is that soft skills are very hard to implement. They are not soft skills at all! People need to understand that communication skills, people skills and understanding how to get your message across is the hard side of business. They are very difficult to do and lacking those skills will derail great companies, individuals and entrepreneurs. It’s just one of those issues that can take everything you are trying to accomplish and knock it off the tracks.

Leaders need to take a good look at their communication skills, as well as their manager’s communication skills and find ways to help develop them. They probably didn’t get to that position because they lacked a technical skill, but they need the communication ability to sell the vision. It is important for leaders to take their knowledge and communicate it in a way that can be heard and understood by their followers. The bottom line is that it is completely irrelevant what leaders say. What is absolutely crucial is what is heard and understood.

Of Solopreneurs and Supertemps

These days you have probably heard the term “micro trend.” Basically, a micro trend is when up to 1% of the population moves in a certain direction, by purchasing a certain product, using certain tool, etc. Once a micro trend is underway and 1% of the population begins to move towards that trend, there is a momentous shift. The power and influence of that micro trend can actually change culture. 

There is a micro trend going on right now. The trend today is how small and medium-sized businesses are acquiring the talent they need to get things done. I would like business owners and decision makers to really pay attention to this. Those of us who adopt this quickly will have a strategic advantage over our competition. Being innovative is not being the first to have an idea. It’s being the first to have an idea that gets completely implemented. So how are businesses bringing people on board? Business owners should ask themselves a few questions:

  • What could my business accomplish if I had the best talent?
  • How could I outpace my competition? 
  • What could I accomplish if I could afford the best talent available?

Think about how you could get “ahead of the game” and how you could outpace your competition if you had the best talent available. Once you’ve answered that, the only thing left is to find the talent to implement your objective. The good news is that the talent is out there and you may find it to be a bargain! 

I’ve been talking a great deal lately about solopreneurship. A solopreneur is someone who takes their years of experience and knowledge capital and finds ways to leverage it into several businesses, rather than just one. The May issue of the Harvard Business Review called this micro trend “the next big idea.” What HBR is calling the “supertemp” is synonymous with the term solopreneur. HBR explain that businesses are becoming extraordinarily comfortable with just-in-time talent. The old model was to hire people permanently to drive initiatives, however, the new model is to define the initiatives, create a project and bring in a supertemp (or solopreneur) to get it done. 

The challenge for business owners is this. First, you need to shift your thinking on your talent acquisition strategy. We run so many decisions through an old filter of the way things used to be, but things just aren’t that way anymore. Next, understand that consultants who drive these strategic initiatives are no longer exclusively a domain of the Fortune 500. This type of brainpower is available for small to medium sized businesses. No longer do you need to hire some big consulting firm to tackle these huge projects. What was probably true 15 years ago is no longer the case anymore. Another important thing business owners and decision makers need to understand is that they can bring in talent to attack their initiatives and outpace their competition. There is no doubt about that. 

There was a time when you needed to be in a company, major consulting firm or in a corporate situation. But somewhere along the way, many talented people began to realize they were spending too much time in useless meetings and political infighting. This atmosphere didn’t allow them to do what they were passionate about doing, so they stepped out on their own. 

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about outsourcing talent from an IT standpoint. We all know that trend has been going on for a long time. I’m talking about professional management, executive leadership, outsourcing CPAs, and supervisory skills. As a business owner, you don’t need to look to major consulting firms to get this kind of extraordinary talent. This talent is available and even the Harvard Business Review is talking about it. It is no longer just available for the Fortune 500s. Today, hiring solopreneurs is the best strategy for business owners that have specific projects in need of just-in-time knowledge and experience. The businesses that adopt this talent acquisition strategy are going to outpace their competitors significantly! 

Taking the Leap Into Solopreneurship

Let’s look at the word solopreneur. We all know what it means to be an entrepreneur. The word solopreneur has a little different take on this meaning. A solopreneur is someone who takes their years of valuable experience (I like to think of it as years in R&D) and stops searching for traditional employment. They take those years of R&D, step out and make something happen. Let’s add this new word to our vocabulary. I think that from a business perspective, related to solopreneurship or entrepreneurship, it’s also time to think of what new meanings there are to words like “safe”, “secure”, and “risky.” What is a safe job? What is a secure job? What is risky? Is corporate America really safe? Is it really that secure? Is making a minimal investment in your future that risky?

Five, ten or fifteen years ago, an investment in an entrepreneurial or solopreneurialstart-up meant tens of thousands of dollars. Now the investment is really very minimal, if anything, at this point in time. To answer this question about solopreneurship, here are five trends that we see for folks that may be considering this as a business strategy:

  1. Expense dollars vs. fixed costs: Business leaders and business decision-makers are becoming very open to using expense dollars to get things done vs. fixed costs. Meaning, there is a huge trend of bringing in “just-in-time” talent to get a project done vs. leveraging payroll expenses or adding to payroll.
  2. Leverage talent for big projects: Businesses are willing to bring in just-in-time talent for significant projects and not just the little throw-away projects. During the recession, people needed to do more with less so many very important projects were put on the back burner. Business owners are now starting to say, “Hey, it’s time to pull these out and get them done.” If they bring in someone with 30-years of experience to get the project done, the ramp-up time is less. There may be little to no training costs and no residual expense because once the project is complete that talent goes away. There is a side benefit to businesses, as well. While they bring in a 30-year experienced person to handle a project, they are also getting knowledge capital to help train their new workforce.
  3. Start-up investment is minimal to none: The barrier to entry for becoming this kind of solopreneur is nearly zero. Solutions 21 has been in business for nearly 20 years. In the beginning, we needed an office, computers, a fax machine, software support, etc. It was literally thousands of dollars just to get started. That simply isn’t the case anymore. The investment is minimal if not non-existent and you may already have it in your pocket. These days a smartphone, getting cloud applications or bringing on virtual support may be all you need to get you there.
  4. The virtual workforce is now a reality: What I want to drive home is that 10 or 15 years ago “working virtually” or “working out of your home office” really meant that you were unemployed, and not a consultant on your own. However, that’s just not the case anymore.
  5. Develop a network: For entrepreneurs or solopreneurs that are thinking about doing this, it used to be there was nowhere for you to connect with others. In this world of social media, you have the ability to reach out to like-minded individuals and now you can develop a network. Join networks that allow you to talk and chat and bounce ideas off of other like-minded people.

I think it’s time for us to look at words, the meaning of those words, and the emotion those words bring out. Think about becoming an entrepreneur or a solopreneur. Is it really as risky as you might think? And on the other hand, is corporate America really as safe and secure as it once was?

The Definition of a “Solopreneur”

Lately, we have spent a lot of time discussing the concept of “solopreneurship,” which originated from the term “solopreneur.” This subject has stimulated a tremendous amount of interesting conversations! The idea of solopreneurship has taken hold and created a lot of motivational interest for some and others are a little hesitant to take that leap.

One of the concepts I have challenged, based on the idea of entrepreneur or solopreneur, is that “preneur” could be considered a kind of phraseology that equates to risk-taker. Going back to the turn of the century, entrepreneurs have been people with big bold ideas.  These were the huge risk-takers willing to work 24 hours a day to get things done.  When you talk about entrepreneur or solopreneur I think there is an assumption that they are risk-takers putting everything they have on the line. This may be true in some instances, but it’s certainly not true in all cases in today’s modern world.  

The solopreneurs we are talking about are people who are their own businesses. In the past, running your own business required an awful lot of support. It required a tremendous amount of investment just to get that started and that’s no longer true today.  You can get virtual help, virtual bookkeeping, and virtual administrative support just about anywhere. Just having a smartphone can be enough of an investment in many cases to get your business up and running.

Another point I would like to make is that there is a huge trend of vanishing knowledge capital in today’s market place.  The first baby boomer officially turned sixty-five on January 1, 2011. For the next 18 years, they will be marching toward retirement and taking this tremendous amount of knowledge capital along with them.

The Importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence

Entrepreneurs get something started, they keep trying to move it forward, they realize that it’s not working so they retrench and start again.  However, it’s that feedback mechanism of continually building on that, and as a leader you know it’s really important to get your mind around those three key areas of vision, alignment, and execution. There hasn’t really been any leader that I’ve worked with, from fortune 500 to start-up, which has not worked very, very hard on their EQ.  Frankly, there aren’t many really great leaders out there, in my humble opinion, that haven’t developed really great EQ or at least the understanding that they need to be working on that.

Most leaders have some kind of technical skill in a certain area but they really work hard on that emotional intelligence side of life.  Here are 6 key points I think leaders should consider:

  1. Get input on how you can be better.  You know as a leader the bottom line is that it all starts with you. Go to your board, go to your peers, and talk to your managers and get assessed. It is important to understand where you can improve.
  2. Look at your managers and how you can get some help. How can you coach them? How can you make them better? How can your managers get better? Frankly, how can you get better? If you don’t think it’s broke how can you fix it?  Find out some different areas that you can work at. Get a set of outside eyes.
  3. Look at leadership as a continuous improvement program. You never arrive.  I constantly quote John Wooden saying, “It’s what you learn after you know everything that counts.” You never arrive.
  4. Realize that no one can be great at everything.  Naturally, you may be a little better at the vision side of it, or maybe you are better at creating that alignment or that execution. You may be better at one, but realize that you have to improve in other areas and develop your team to help fill in those gaps.  One of the keys is to be open about your weaknesses and developmental needs.  Admitting it is not a weakness, admitting it is a strength, because everybody knows that you have those weaknesses anyway. Admit them upfront and get your team to fill in those gaps.
  5. Communicate, communicate, and communicate your message again and again.
  6. Traditional performance management is dead. If you are looking at vision, creating alignment and execution, then how are you constantly communicating with folks and creating this alignment and execution? Get rid of those annual reviews, which really aren’t every twelve months, they are every fifteen to twenty months, so get rid of them. In your organization, create a mechanism that provides what folks want and that is real-time feedback. It creates alignment, it inspires your team and allows you to give and get feedback so that you can drive your vision home, it provides the structure that you need.

The Beginning of Web Strategy

If you’ve been in business for twenty years, this is going to sound very familiar. If you’re a new entrepreneur, look this up historically and it will make great sense. Think back to the early 1990s. What was your company’s web strategy? You might chuckle now and say that back then you would have asked, “What web strategy?  What is the Internet?” That is if you even had a website back then. My guess is that if you did have a website, it was static, more or less an electronic brochure.

Here’s a really interesting thought. In 1994 there were 10,000 websites.  Think about that, 10,000 websites. What happened in 1994 when a leader assembled his team and started to try and look around that corner and attack this thing called the Internet?  He brings his team together and everyone on his team has about the same amount of experience as he does. In other words, no one had any experience at that point in time with the Internet! Now this “brain trust” is together and they are asking each other,  “How do we look around the corner? How do we pro-act to what’s about to happen?”  You can imagine what was talked about, “This thing (the Internet) will never last. This is a waste of time. This is a waste of money…” Then finally someone has the courage to put his or her hand up and say, “Oh hey, by the way, Boss, what is the Internet?”

If you go back less than 20 years ago, this major sea of change happened and we really looked at it as a replacement for what we already knew.  It was an electronic brochure. How about those folks that refused to look at it that way? What about the ones who saw something completely different and really did look around the corner?  (I am not talking about the dot-com bubble folks that weren’t following business fundamentals. You know no business is worth a billion dollars that doesn’t have any revenue.)  I’m talking about those folks that built a business on fundamentals. Those who took and applied foundational business practices to look around the corner. How did they do?

Is Leadership Just About Leading People?

Recently, I got into a discussion on this subject with a leader and his team from one of the organizations we work with. They were talking about leadership, what does it mean and what does it particularly mean to their organization. Then the conversation eventually evolved into, “Is leadership just about leading people?”

Leadership is more than just about leading people.  Not to downplay the importance of leading people because it is hard work, whether you’re leading 2 or 2,000 or 20,000 folks, to get them all on the same page. What I mean is, it is a leader’s job to also lead markets, to create a culture that leads innovation and to be the leader of trends. You can research this all you want, but what leadership really comes down to is three key areas:

  • Vision
  • Alignment
  • Execution

It’s really a leader’s job to deeply understand what is about to happen. Reading the tea leaves and then aligning the organization to attack that market.  The reality is that a leader should have their team overcoming what is happening now and proactively addressing what is going to happen. When it comes to looking around the corner, a key fundamental for leaders to focus on is acquiring strong talent for their organizations. 

The Power of Positive Thinking

When it comes to running a business, entrepreneurs are often caught up in just making it happen. Making sure payroll is met, customers are content, employees are engaged and things are being done correctly.  Rarely do they sit back and say, “Wow, we’re getting some cool things accomplished here!” At Leahey Media, working with leaders we realize that oftentimes the failure to take the time to recognize the good things really can have a negative effect. It doesn’t necessarily project the positive excitement and enthusiasm that most leaders want to display. 

Let’s be honest, sometimes we are all just too busy to stop and reflect. We think it’s important for leaders to focus on these three Rs:

  • Retreat. If you look up the word “retreat” in the dictionary it says: to make your plans, not in the heat of battle but to pull back or withdraw. Realistically, it’s very difficult to think strategically when you are in the midst of a battle. Leaders need to take themselves, their teams, and retreat. Don’t stay in the heat of battle all the time, but pull back and think about what your next moves should be. It is important to be sure you are making decisions without the constant pressure of the day-to-day struggle.
  • Recharge. This is very difficult for a lot of businesspeople and especially entrepreneurs. Frankly, this is one of my biggest developmental areas. Retreat, pull back, make your plan away from the heat of battle, and then recharge. Did you know that this “R” is Biblical?  Take a day of rest, without putting a whole lot on your plate. You only have so much energy and there is only so much that you can get done. As leaders, allowing yourself to run out of gas is not fair to those whose respect you command and who follow you.
  • Reflect. Take a moment and give yourself a little bit of credit. Ask yourself, “What are we doing really well?” and think about this from a positive standpoint.  At Case Western Reserve University they focus on what is called appreciative inquiry. This involves taking what you want to get done and focusing on the positive aspects. It is incredible how much more innovative groups become by using this approach. 

When you’re an entrepreneur, you are the wheel that drives the machine. You need to get things done! If the CEO of a 200,000-employee firm gets the flu and doesn’t show up for a week, you know that 199,999 other folks will get things done. If an entrepreneur has the flu and doesn’t show up for a week, things could get worse. This is why we try to get the leaders we work with to remember those three Rs. It is important to take the time to retreat, recharge, reflect and get your mind around what’s good and positive. As a leader, that will carry over as you are interfacing with your team.

Here is a little homework. This weekend, pour yourself a hot cup of coffee. By the time you have finished that cup, I want you to have reflected on what you’ve accomplished in the past twelve months. Think about it very positively and stop pushing yourself on what is yet to do.  That will take care of itself and you will get those things done. Take some time to retreat, reflect, and recharge. As a result, I guarantee the people who follow you into battle will feel a renewed energy and be motivated to tackle the next obstacle moving forward.

Is Becoming an Entrepreneur Really That Risky?

When talking about leadership, one point I try to stress is that it is a leader’s job not only to lead people and projects but also to look around corners and spot trends. Leaders need to tackle what’s happening now, anticipate what will happen in the future and make sure those resources are aligned. As a result of this discussion, I have received tremendous feedback, including several questions about leadership, entrepreneurship, trend spotting, and how to look around corners. 

One interesting question was about trend spotting, as it relates to someone thinking about becoming an entrepreneur for the first time

“After a thirty-year career in business, I’m thinking about taking the entrepreneurial leap. I’m very concerned about the risk at this stage in my career and the uncertainty. Are there any economic trends I should be aware of before I take the leap?”

For the record, I don’t know this individual, their background or what business they want to take the leap to, so I can’t get very specific on an answer.  However, that question got me thinking about the uncertainty and risks involved in becoming an entrepreneur and what are some of the trends one should consider before taking the leap.

I want to challenge this thought right out of the gate. In this economy, is becoming an entrepreneur really that risky?  Think about it.  One of the things that prompted me to respond to this individual’s question is that English is a living language and words tend to take on different meanings.  Words that meant one thing 10, 20 or 100 years ago can mean something completely different today.  New words have emerged like “blog”, “tweet” and “app.” There was a time when “tweet” to me was Tweety Bird!  Ten years ago those words didn’t even exist.

The words and communications of the living English language are meant to paint a picture and derive an emotion for certain things.  What I want you to grasp is that 10 years ago entrepreneurship may have meant “risk-taker” or “someone willing to take the leap.”  However, I would challenge that the word had a meaning then that may no longer be true. Is being an entrepreneur today really that risky? I might argue otherwise.  In some cases, leveraging your thirty years of experience as an entrepreneur could be the least risky thing you can do!

According to an interview in USA Today, 23 out of 27 prominent economists believe the unemployment rate will return to 5% by the end of 2015.  However, most of them think it will be at 6% at least until the year 2020.  That is a long time if you are searching for a new position or are currently unemployed and looking for a job. Pick an age, whether you are 50, 52, or 55. Eight years from now is a long time to be sitting on the sidelines. So, is being an entrepreneur really that risky?

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