Indispensible or Dangerous?

iStock_000049939328LargeWho is the most dangerous person in your business? If I suggest you start by looking at your “indispensable” employee as dangerous, would you be shocked? In fact, it’s not unusual to find most career experts include advice to “make yourself indispensable” among their recommendations. So what’s the problem? Let me make a distinction – there’s a difference between what I call the indispensable heroes and the indispensable martyrs. The savvy business owner knows how to encourage heroes, recognize and eliminate martyrs.

How do you distinguish the indispensable martyr? Generally, it starts out innocently enough…she is the go-to gal! She gets things done! She creates the procedures and organizes your systems. And she is rewarded for all the above so she continues to amass more authority and responsibility. You cannot imagine your business without her and there’s not a decision or a project that this person doesn’t have a hand in. Sounds harmless…and it is in the beginning. Imperceptibly, a line is quietly crossed and this person goes from being the hero of your business to a martyr and it’s time to take action.

How do you know the line has been crossed? A martyr is generally defined as someone who suffers or dies for a cause – in this case, the cause is your business. There are a few warning signs. The indispensable martyr has an astounding amount of knowledge but is ungenerous about sharing it. Hoarding knowledge to maintain their power and position is common. She works long hours, rarely takes a vacation and when she does, some projects and responsibilities come to a hold until her return. Or worse, work must be redone when she returns because no one knows how to do it “right.” She’s known for being too busy to train anyone to relieve her workload. Team members simultaneously in awe and intimidated by this her – her authority is unquestioned. Systems and procedures designed to help grow the business may automate the martyr’s authority rather than deliver on strategic efficiency initiatives. Ultimately your business growth will be inhibited because systems and procedures won’t scale under the control of one person.

Fire the martyrs, even if it’s you. OK…firing is a strong action. But your business future depends upon taking swift action to minimize the risk of dependence on any single individual. And the truth is the martyr can be your greatest partner in making the transition if you proceed with care.

It all starts with you! Be the hero of your own business by modelling behaviors based upon your Core Values. If you value “innovation,” encourage a questioning culture unafraid to fail. If you value “empowerment,” model cross-training and reward delegation and resourcefulness. If you value “efficiency,” reward those who recommend and implement streamlined processes and systems. If you value “teamwork,” foster a culture that celebrates team successes. If your goal is growth, involve all employees in designing personal performance goals and rewards tied directly to your mission and strategic initiatives.

If you’ve unintentionally rewarded martyr behavior in the past, these changes may initially be difficult for the indispensable employee. Bring her on board early and encourage her participation in fostering a new culture which rewards heroes. The truth is a martyr simply wants to contribute and feel valued for her contribution. Appeal to her need for validation and she may become your biggest business hero. Recognize this person may not have the organizational credibility and trust necessary to lead the transition– that’s your job – but she can help you champion cultural changes rather than see them as a threat.

Small steps to a Better than Ever Business…
Spend a few minutes imagining the culture you want to create and brainstorm ways you can transform your martyr into an indispensable hero.

Leave a Legacy…Now!

243376_258121450984159_761728046_oDoes the word legacy conjure visions of billionaires with large foundations or bring to mind the eulogies of famous people? Often when we think of legacy, we think of money or property passed down upon someone’s death. Your business may not be large enough to have a formal philanthropy program. Yet, each of us has the capacity to give in small ways which leaves a legacy in the hearts and minds of our communities, our families, and the world at large. Don’t wait until you die to build a legacy. In fact, creating a legacy now is not only beneficial for your community, it benefits your well-being and your business.

For a small business, volunteering in your community is an opportunity to bring your core values to life! Certainly, there is no shortage of local causes which would appreciate your check. Most schools and town halls have a list of ways you can sponsor non-profits. Trade and newspapers often list large events and organizations in need of sponsors.
But, your contribution doesn’t have to be financial. There are many ways to begin legacy that won’t cost you anything but time and effort. Perhaps you’re not ready to adopt a specific cause for your business but you want to help the community. How about allowing your employees to choose their own cause and providing paid volunteer days? Organizations such as and provide online communities, training and resources designed to match individual and business volunteers with the organizations needing help.

It’s good for your heart!
The great social philosopher Bob Hope once said, “If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” Starting a legacy of giving alone may not heal real heart disease but the physical and psychological benefits of giving have been increasingly documented. According to the Cleveland Clinic, studies have documented a link between giving and the following health benefits: lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, longer life, and greater happiness.

Ultimately, building a living legacy is good for business! The benefits are generated both internally and externally. Internally, employees working together on community projects feel an increased sense of loyalty and dedication to their employers. Allowing your staff time for volunteering provides valuable team-building opportunities. Working on volunteer projects gives employees an opportunity to build relationships within and across organizational lines translating to improved teamwork and performance on internal projects.
Connecting with your customers in the community is an opportunity not only for positive public relations but for strengthening brand loyalty among existing customers. Customers increasingly prefer to do business with companies who give back to worthy causes. Connecting to your community via service projects can also generate new prospective customers.
It is worth repeating the fact that giving is good for your personal well-being. A healthy team of people has more positive energy to invest in creative problem-solving and innovation which ultimately translates to the bottom line!

Small Steps to a Better than Ever Business…
Take a look at your core business values. What immediately strikes you when you review your mission as a way to bring your values to life? Or browse one of the volunteer matching websites for ideas. Start a list of ideas and ask your stakeholders to help you generate some ideas. If your heart is already speaking to you, make the contact and begin the process of volunteering.

Do you feel a sense of Achievement?


Do you feel a sense of achievement about your business? Or just busy and overwhelmed? The workday is just as long in either case, but how you feel at the end of the day provides clues to whether your business is on track towards your vision.

Achievement is being built upon a strategic framework when daily work is infused with mission, purpose and a sense of contribution to a vision. Purpose-driven achievement creates a positive daily sense of momentum in a business that leads to a cycle of higher achievement.

Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation. ~ Robert Schuller

If you’re missing the feeling of achievement at the end of the day, ask yourself a few questions to assess if you have the essential elements for an achievement-focused business:

1. Are you mastering the measurable? An achievement oriented business is driven by key performance indicators and critical success factors built upon the mission and goals. Stakeholders know the goals AND know how the business is performing against the indicators. Projects have deadlines and are directly lined up to strategic objectives. Every activity performed during the workday can directly be linked to the strategic mission and objectives of your business.

2. Have you made “systems” your friend (and technology your B***h)? What are the key systems required to deliver on your company mission? If you serve consumers, do you have a customer experience system? Is there an ideal set of processes, procedures, schedules, software applications, and so forth that efficiently move product to the hands of the customer? Technology is critical to automate systems and processes but is ineffective unless you’ve first defined HOW the process should work from the customers’ viewpoint.

3. Is business being hurt by an indispensable employee? Perhaps it’s time to get rid of the martyr mindset, starting with yourself. Busyness does not equal business and often the “indispensable” employee can become a bottleneck. If your business cannot function without the day-to-day work of any single individual, time to re-evaluate what and how that person can contribute to the business in a more innovative fashion. A culture of achievement is fostered in an environment of employee empowerment and one in which everyone feels essential but not critical to the company mission.

4. Are communication and team conflict issues slowing progress? Cultivate a high-achievement culture by establishing team norms. Norms are acceptable standards of behavior in a team – teams who define and operate according to agreed-upon norms generally perform at higher levels than those without norms. When team members understand norms and expectations, they are more empowered to resolve communication, conflict and decision-making issues – rising together to higher levels of achievement.
Keep in mind, all four elements of an achievement oriented organization are built upon the foundation of strategic goals, mission, vision, and core values AND are best continually nurtured, modelled, and communicated by the organization’s leadership team.

Small steps to a Better than Ever Business…
Awareness is the first best step. Take a look at your answers to the above questions. Which area is causing you the greatest pain, preventing achievement of your goals? Now choose one action item you can complete which moves you closer to mastering the habits of achievement. Share your experiences here.

Soul Investment

public-domain-images-archive-high-quality-resolution-free-download-splitshire-0002-1000x666Entrepreneurs make investment decisions almost daily. You decide whether to spend limited money and time for projects, capital equipment, additional staff, inventory, brand marketing, professional services, employee development and training, and computer systems, etc. But the best investment you can make for the health of your business is in your own personal vitality. Long hours and stressful situations are standard fare but that doesn’t mean you can’t be energized and inspired. YOU are the soul of your business and it takes energy to build a strong business. Investing in your self-care pays dividends in greater reserves of energy required to build your business.

Invest in yourself. You are the soul of your business so it’s essential to “pay yourself first.” If you are lacking physical, emotional, or mental well-being, it will reflect on your bottom line. Taking care of yourself by following a wellness program combining eating right and exercise will improve every area of your life and generate energy needed to build a business. Commit to ongoing learning. Online classes and webinars are available on any topic and price point so there’s no excuse for not investing in your professional development.

Invest in relationships. Entrepreneurs profit from developing relationships with other business owners, coaches, and communities. You may be independent by nature but the ability to call on an advisor, coach, and colleague or mastermind team member in the midst of an issue is a priceless investment.

Invest in your legacy now. Don’t just make giving a line item in your will or your balance sheet – get out there and find a way to get active. Volunteer as a mentor or support local community fundraisers – there are countless ways to get involved. Giving is good for the soul and the positive feelings it generates in you reflect back to your employees, your customers, and your community.

Small Steps to Better Than Ever Business…
Investing in your personal well-being, nurturing power partnerships, and creating a legacy now will generate inspiration and vitality that powers your life and business with immediate momentum.

Choose one area you think will give your psyche the biggest lift. Start an exercise program. Sign up for an online class. Call a local college and volunteer to mentor students. Start a mastermind team. Volunteer for your community 5K. Can you find a way to combine all of the above? Repeat tomorrow and everyday thereafter and soon you’ll feel the dividends in your personal life and your bottom line.

It’s Personal, It’s MY business

Two Sales Assistant At Vegetable Counter Of Farm ShopDo you remember the first time you heard someone say “It’s not personal, it’s just business?” Recalling the first time someone said it to me makes me cringe even today. I remember all the wagging heads of agreement as a senior manager made the comment while discussing impending layoffs– just one of the repertoire of mindless catchphrases in corporate America. In fact, the only times I’ve heard the phrase were when someone wanted to justify unpleasant actions that most definitely affected someone else very personally. It’s not like you hear the phrase when someone’s getting a raise or promotion – can you imagine “Don’t thank me and don’t take your promotion seriously – it’s not personal, just business.”

There’s no such thing as “just business” without the “personal” for an entrepreneur. “It’s always personal, it’s my business” is a much more meaningful mantra. In fact, if it’s NOT personal, a small business won’t be successful.

How can a small business be anything but personal?
I guarantee you remember the exact moment when you decided to start your own business. You are not alone – I don’t know many entrepreneurs who can’t recall the exact moment they were struck with a new idea. Perhaps you felt frustration in a job and decided you want to do things your own way, or possibly you felt a strong desire for independence, personal expression and freedom as an entrepreneur. It was deeply personal. Ross Perot, founder of EDS and Perot Systems wrote about the moment he decided to start EDS. He was reading a copy of Reader’s Digest when, after his big idea for selling software services was denied by his IBM bosses, he read a quote by Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and decided at that moment to start his own business doing exactly what IBM declined to do. “Quiet desperation” sounds personal to me.

It turns out the phrase has an interesting genesis – from a movie! As the fictional figurehead of the mob in The Godfather, Michael Corleone offered the infamous phrase “It’s not personal…it’s business” as explanation for ordering a mob hit. As much as I find The Godfather entertaining, Michael Corleone is not exactly the mentor I’d suggest for a successful business.

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For those who drained their home equity or retirement accounts, maxed their credit cards, and asked family for seed money to start a company – it was personal. When the business owner works long hours, miss family events to support a customer, it’s personal. When they struggle in a bad economy and have to choose between taking home a salary and paying their loyal first employee, it’s personal. For those who sit beside their neighbors/customers at the Friday night high school football game, it’s personal. When they provide service to their neighbors or their kid’s teacher, it’s personal.

The most successful small businesses know it’s personal. Their mission and vision are personal and intertwined with their personal mission and vision, they lead their business using the same core values that they run their lives. If their lives are driven by faith-based values, their business generally reflects the same. Their brand promise is fulfilled the same way they fulfill a promise to family and friends. Many businesses are named for their founders – it doesn’t get more personal than that!


If any fictional character embodies the personal spirit of entrepreneurship, my choice would be George Bailey from the holiday classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. George is a young man with huge dreams and a bigger heart. One of my favorite scenes is set in the family run Building and Loan business during the bank panic of 1930. Instead of taking off around the world on a honeymoon with his new bride, George dispenses his life savings to his neighbors/friends/customers to keep them going while the bank is closed, securing their life savings with his own. After successfully making it through the day with $2 left, George and his family celebrate that they are still in business.

This is the personal character I see in small businesses every day reflected in how they operate and in how they treat customers because for them, “It IS personal…it’s MY business!”