How I Learned to Lean Forward, Every Day
This week marks the one year anniversary of my column on Inc.com. I have enjoyed sharing my experiences and connecting with many of you via Twitter, LinkedIn and via the comments section. I thought I would take this opportunity to explain the title of my column: Lean Forward.
I chose this title for two reasons:
1) I have spent my career looking at emerging trends and their impact on business, and;
2) It's my personal mantra.
Today I'm focusing on No. 2. A secret to my business success is that I approach every day and every situation with one singular focus: What can I do to lean forward--to move my business forward every single day? I follow four steps:
Step 1: I Look Forward
I refuse to be mired in what has happened or to dwell on what can't be undone. While I use the past to help avoid similar situations in the future, there is a specific time and place for that type of retrospection. It's not when there is an immediate issue to deal with.
Step 2: I Surround Myself with Other Solution Seekers
Everyone who works for me is expected to come up with solutions. I am not saying that I don't help with that process, but the reality is when someone identifies a problem, they already have some idea as to what might not be working. They already have more knowledge than anyone else about why there is a "problem" in the first place, and they are further down the path to determining potential solutions. I want to hear their perspective on what we should do before I start making assumptions.
Step 3: I Get An Outside Perspective
When dealing with a tough problem, if I consider my different options and am still unsure, I use someone from the outside to help.
I have a network of mentors: fellow business owners and confidants whom I can call for advice or to evaluate an approach. I use these individuals as a sounding board for the solutions I am considering. More often than not, one of these colleagues has been through a similar situation and can provide sage advice or even an alternative solution. These individuals are not as heavily invested as I am, so they can see solutions that I may have overlooked or not even considered.
I encourage business owners to investigate organizations like Vistage or Entrepreneurs Organization that can provide consistent and confidential accountability. My Vistage group helped me completely re-think and re-define my personal goals which have led to my latest ventures.
Step 4: I Establish a Time for Retrospection
Just because I'm "leaning forward" doesn't mean I don't think the past is important. I just believe that past events have to be evaluated in a concerted way, with a focus on future improvement. Much to my nurse practitioner sister's chagrin, I call this process a "post mortem." The purpose of a post mortem is evaluate a project or initiative and understand what worked well, what could be improved and how we can be better the next time. I keep the conversation forward thinking and solution-oriented.
The great thing about an entrepreneurial venture is that you are truly in charge of your own destiny. Your solution may be to never sell a product or service again--or never sell the product or service to a specific customer again. Either way, when you know there will be retrospection at a certain time, it keeps you and your company focused on doing what's right by the customer today.
Life's too short, your business is too important, lift your head up to the horizon and figure out what you can do to lean forward.
ERIC V. HOLTZCLAW is a serial entrepreneur who has founded multiple startup companies, including one of the first profitable Internet enterprises. His last company appeared on the Inc. 5000 three years in a row. Holtzclaw advises clients on the whys of business--why customers buy, why teams work, and the all-important "entrepreneurial" why. He is the author of Laddering, and his weekly radio show, The "Better You" Project, shines a spotlight on entrepreneurs' individual business journeys and successes. To learn more about Holtzclaw, visit ladderingworks.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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