I was talking to a close friend of mine who runs an executive development institute. I was trying to get some perspective on my current situation. Since Aperon I have faced a number of challenges - from starting up a new company that I had to shut down to working with a company where the culture has been a mismatch. After a career of tremendous success, you begin to wonder when things do not go as expected. My friend, Scott, explained that in his discussions with executives, learning is accelerated when a person goes through difficult times. It's when they have to kill a program they advocated or get fired from a position. This is when they take stock in themselves, learn about how they reacted to a difficult situation, make adjustments and move forward. In Giants of Enterprise, Richard Tedlow describes how Henry Ford failed twice before getting it right. Investors in his first 2 companies lost but kept investing at they believed in Ford. Similarly Lee Iaccoca was fired from Ford before regaining his bearings and succeeding at Chrysler. Thomas Watson was fired from NCR in a desk burning incident meant to embarrass, but only inspired. Scott explained that this is the way of Silicon Valley and that resilience and the school of hard knocks are invaluable in moving forward.
This helped me take stock. I have learned about how businesses succeed and fail, up close and personal, in early stage companies as well as much larger ones. I have learned how to motivate when you can pay your employees vs. when the payment is in future dreams. I have seen the difficulties of work/life balance in relationship to the demands of a startup. Also, the need for strict capital controls in a financial company. There are many ways to motivate: one is positive, another is negative and finally there's schizophrenic. Each has differing sets of advantages and disadvantages.
Most importantly, great leaders learn by examining their strengths and weaknesses on a periodic basis. They are constantly measuring and fine tuning. Too many radical moves with jar the employees and create a haze. Yet no change at all breeds complacency and reduces effectiveness.
There is nothing worse than losing an investor's money. Even if the number is small, it affects your being. You want the investor to succeed because they have placed their confidence in you. In many cases they don't really understand what they are investing in. I have made most of my investors a great deal of money. In my recent venture, things did not go so well, but the downside was limited as I will not raise large amounts until I am sure the business will work.
I have learned that I need to be stronger in the way I manage my team, even co-founders that are investing their time and capital. It's much easier when your team reports to you, but the way to get people to move is to set goals and then execute. As you go along you recalibrate, but the important part is to have a set of written plans that are monitored.
The most important advice I received from Scott was to focus on the kind of position and industry that interested you most. If there's a dream job, go get the dream job. Don't make compromises for something that many provide some capital, security or a stepping stone experience. Know what you want and then go for what you want. You can lay out a set of options, but use these to understand what your true priorities are.
Based on this, I'm getting back to making the dream happen. I'm going back to creating and building the next cool company. I know what I need to do - now it's a matter of getting there.