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Leading a successful business

Chuck Blakeman is a successful entrepreneur, an internationally acclaimed speaker, weekly Inc. Magazine contributor, best-selling author and world-renowned business advisor who has built 10 businesses in seven industries on four continents. He is the founder and Chief Transformation Officer of Crankset Group. We recently asked him about leadership philosophy and his thoughts on what leaders should do to prepare for the future of business. Here’s what he had to say:

How did you become so passionate about entrepreneurship? Why do you love starting businesses?

A lot of people start one business in their lives, doing the thing they love. Others of us are incurable entrepreneurs who regularly venture into things they have no experience doing. I’m going through life asking a question I learned from another man 30-plus years ago – “Why do what others can and will do, when there is so much to be done that others can’t, or won’t do?” I know, it’s weird – not for everybody. But it gets me out of bed in the morning.

What have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned since starting your career?

I’ve learned the hard way that profound things are always simple. And business owners should always move towards something you want as opposed to away from something you don’t want.

What’s a piece of advice you wished someone would’ve told you early on?

I have two pieces of advice: It’s never how good your plan is that matters, but how committed your are to the bad plan you’ve got. Commitment is everything. The No. 1 Indicator of success is Speed of Execution and No. 2 is Time in Market (be the bulldog). In short, 1. Get moving, 2. Stay moving. (Implement now. Perfect as you go.)

What’s your management philosophy? How can business leaders help their teams do great work?

The art of traditional management involves planning, organizing, staffing, controlling and “manipulating human capital.” In the awful assumption of the traditional management model, people are “capital” to be manipulated and controlled. In contrast, the art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make. Ricardo Semler, the architect behind Semco, an $800 million Brazilian Participation Age company (with 3,000 stakeholders, but no managers), just celebrated his 10th anniversary of not making a decision. That is tremendous leadership, the kind we should all aspire to by training others to “solve and decide” and then, by getting out their way. It works because Semler and other Semco leaders have trained others to solve problems and make decisions. Having gotten out of the way, the leaders are now free to stop solving and deciding, and instead to ask questions and think about the future. If you’re making decisions for others, you’re managing. If you’re just asking questions, you’re leading.

How has starting businesses in different countries and in different industries informed the way you run your businesses?

In working with companies on four continents, we have seen seven common types of company culture. The Inmate Culture, Axle and Spokes Culture, Hired Hand Culture, Family Culture, The Allies Culture, Friends Culture and the Community Culture. This is the Participation Age model and works in companies from two people to 10,000 who are practicing it today. The community culture, in its structure, looks a lot like the workings of a town. Every town has clear hierarchy; it’s not a “Friends/Hippie Culture”. Every town has a mayor (or other top decision-maker or makers), city council (leadership team), functional group leads and many others who all have some kind of accountability relationship, whether with a team or a single individual.

Clear hierarchy does not mean a heavily top-down hierarchy. A satellite dish to demonstrate the Community model that is taking hold in companies of all sizes, all over the world. In this model, leaders are on the bottom as servants, not a privileged class. Hierarchy is de-emphasized by giving most leadership and decision-making to a much broader group of individuals; really to everyone. The satellite dish allows for leadership and decision-making to move from one person to the next as needed to accomplish the objective. Sometimes the head honcho of the company finds themselves way out on the edge of the satellite dish, with someone else dead center in the middle of it, making some decision. Great leaders know when to get out of the way, and do it as often as they can.

What’s the No. 1 bad habit you find in most if not all of the companies you work with?

Most of us started out as employees, who make more money in more time. We then transferred that bad habit to owning our business. Stop it! An employee thinks that way, but a stakeholder won’t (employees are obsolete – this is a bad habit for staff and stakeholders, not just owners). If you as a business owner want to build a successful business, you can’t afford to employ this old Industrial Age habit, either.

So the central game you play to realize your vision and accomplish your mission (and to get a life) is:

  • continually increase the revenue of your company while continually reducing the time you have to spend on bringing in that revenue.
  • Every successful business owner at every size of company, small to large, plays this as their main game.

What do successful businesses no matter what country or what industry they’re in have in common?

All business owners need community … they need outside eyes on their business. I need others to catch the blindspots and bring balance and completeness to my leadership. None of us can figure it all out, and we’re too subjective about and too close to our own businesses to see the potholes. The business owners who are intent on using their businesses to create success and significance all have peer advisors, mentors, advisory groups, or others who can speak to their business.

What business trends or headlines are you following closely today? Why?

Here are four trends that I’m following and can follow up with the Participation Age Implication.

Trend No. 1:

Crowdsourcing and Crowdsource services. People will work everywhere and some will never meet. Just-in-time labor will reduce the number of permanent employees. Productivity will become more important than hanging around the boss. Thirty percent of Japan’s workforce is already crowd-sourced. Participation Age implication: The big elephant in the room is that kissing up to cover up for lousy productivity will be much harder for employees to do remotely. The lazy guy with a great personality might actually have to start working.

Trend No. 2:

Productivity measured in outputs, not hours. This study says the whole world is moving in that direction. Participation Age implication: This a results-based culture, replacing the traditional time-based culture. In our company, we have no office hours, and no vacation or sick time. We expect people to produce, and then go play with their dog (or vice versa). The Industrial Age taught us to trade time for money, but in the post-modern economy, time is the new money. People want freedom from the 9-5 and will produce more if treated like adults who are in charge of their productivity.

Trend No. 3:

Values vs. rules. Values, which guide and encourage personal initiative, will be more prevalent than rules, which box people in, dull their thinking, and keep them from innovating. Participation Age implication: This trend highlights the importance of hiring people who reflect your values and who you can trust (since you’re no longer measuring time, but results). Stephen Covey’s research showed that employer/employee trust is one of the most valuable factors in someone being productive. Going forward, hiring for culture, which cannot be taught, will replace hiring for skills, which can be taught. Skilled employees will have to learn to live in business community, not just produce in a vacuum.

Trend No. 4:

Employee-led innovation. The best innovation will come from the “bottom up,” not from management or R&D departments. Participation Age implication: When we lead with values and not rules, we turn employees (supervised children) into Stakeholders (self-managed adults). Stakeholders take responsibility for their time and produce results without being monitored. More importantly, they will come up with great ideas on how to move the company forward. Management won’t have to tell employees what to do; the Stakeholders will be the innovators that move the company forward.

What resources or tools do you recommend for budding entrepreneurs?

I’ve learned the hard way how to build a successful business. After being in the trenches and starting 10 different companies, I’ve come across quite a few tools, methodologies and processes that work. All will help you get off the treadmill and make more money in less time. That’s why I wrote my two books … to help others starting out not make the same mistakes that I made.

My favorite quote:

“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar

My favorite app /business resource(s):

  • Twitter
  • My Book recommendation: John Mccormack: Self-Made in America: Plain Talk for Plain People about the Meaning of Success

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