Lessons from Entrepreneurs and Executives: Stay Balanced, Stay Disciplined
We’ve spent the last decade working with a diverse group of entrepreneurs and executives who lead startups, growth-stage, and even mature companies. Years ago, I thought I should complement my liberal arts degree with an MBA. While I never saw that through, I’ve realized that these great business leaders have effectively given back to me an MBA-in-a-box, as I’ve had a front row seat to effective leadership and management at a host of organizations spread across many industries.
Today, I’d like to share a couple of key lessons I’ve learned from some great people: staying balanced and staying disciplined.
One of the keys to business-building, as I’ve learned from others, is staying balanced. Many entrepreneurs fall prey to chasing different aspects of their business, whether it’s R&D, sales, marketing, or operations. Usually, but not always, this behavior leads back to whatever they are most interested in doing or are best at themselves.
My friends Ty Hagler and Joe McCutcheon are exemplars of balance. 10 years ago, when I was launching Parklife (without knowing it at the time—see: accidental entrepreneurs), Ty was beginning to build Trig Innovation into the distinct agency is today. I can remember him telling me, sometime in 2009, that he viewed his then small investment in my services as a way of balancing his business. Early on, he was a big subscriber to the theory that you always need to be investing on every front of your business, whether it’s shoring up your operations, expanding your marketing, or making your sales strategies more sophisticated.
During those early days, I saw Ty have some ups and downs, but his commitment to balance enabled him to build his business in the right ways. Since he was attentive to each aspect of the company, he was better able to grow as a leader and attract the right clients for his business (I should probably write another piece about this concept!). Trig has always been the kind of company that looks like it’s operationally sound, because it is.
I asked my friend, Joe McCutcheon of Enovana Green Cleaning, about his attention to balance after we’d worked together for a couple of years. He told me that he’d been informed on the concept very directly by a business owner he’d worked for in the restaurant industry. Joe began his career at the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group, and his tenure there overlapped the Great Recession. Joe told me he’d become religious with how he balanced building Enovana after hearing one of the owners, Pete Dorrance, explain why he was investing in new booths for the restaurant when their customers were staying away in droves. Pete explained to Joe at the time that you needed to always be investing in every aspect of the restaurant, even the appearance, even in down times, because you need to be ready for success.
I’ve also observed Olympic athlete-level discipline from several entrepreneurs and executives I’ve worked with along the way. First to mind is Trip Holmes of Sabre Capital. In business for himself since 1984, Trip practically invented customer relationship management and referral source relationship management. When you have a contact list that’s thousands upon thousands deep, that speaks to his near-constant practice of recording his contacts—on the Rolodex, on Excel spreadsheets, on LinkedIn—and staying in touch. My friend James Forrest is the same: Even while running one of the fastest-growing law firms in North Carolina, James has added everyone he ever meets to his social media channels. He doesn’t just manage his contacts; he constantly engages with them in multiple ways.
Perhaps the most poignant example I can give you is the discipline I’ve seen from Lee Kilpatrick, an executive in the agriculture sector. I don’t remember Lee ever articulating this directly with me, but I observed a special kind of discipline from him, one of gratitude. During our business engagement, I spoke with him weekly for more than five years, and he always showed gratitude to me and my colleagues for the work we did. Never once did he allow himself to leave a call or an email without a heartfelt thank you.
I know that there are many ways to be successful, but I think these folks are setting some great examples of how to achieve sustainable success, whether you’re rightfully tending to every corner of your business or remembering to thank those who make you better along the way. These leaders achieve what they do not because they talk a good game, but because they do the work. We would all do better to do the same.