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March 27, 2017

The Mindset of an Entrepreneur: Parts One and Two

Christopher Anne Robinson-Easley, Ph.D

Christopher Anne Robinson-Easley, Ph.D
CEO/Enlightening Management Consultants, Inc.

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Part One of this article is an excerpt from Robinson-Easley, C.A, (2013), Preparing for Today’s Global Job Market:  From the Lens of Color, New YorkPalgrave Macmillan, pages 174-178.   Part Two of this article expands upon foundational concepts in Preparing for Today’s Global Job Market: From the Lens of Color, New YorkPalgrave Macmillan

Exploring the Mindset of an Entrepreneur

Part One

The most exciting breakthrough of the 21st century will occur not because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.”

--John Naisbitt[i]

“Setting the Context

The complexities and challenges of today’s environment strongly suggest that systemic and deep change with respect to how we function within organizations will have to occur in order for our global society to effectively grow to its potential. We have to look at life, work, people and their inter-relatedness with new lens.

In many of the international countries I have visited that have prospering economies, employees are respected, loved, and provided with substantive tangible and intangible benefits. In return, workers are very loyal to their employers. Yet, in the United States, we have lost ground with respect to our workplace relationships.

However, not too many years ago, those relationships existed in our organizations…then someone “flipped” the psychological contract to the point that we no longer can count on retiring from the organization to which we may have given years of our lives. If a person now stays on a job five years…eyebrows are raised as to why they stayed so long. This trend is not only toxic to employees; it is destroying our productivity and profitability. We do not develop lasting relationships where people feel committed to the organization and are willing to give it their all. When I juxtapose our current paradigms regarding the work place and our relationships with our employees, one thing is very clear to me. Those relationships have to change and the mind set of an entrepreneur can be the beginning catalyst for a movement that is long overdue.

I spent over twenty years in leadership and management positions in the corporate sector in this country, and have been in higher education for over another twenty years teaching management; tenured and promoted to Full Professor and held the administrative positions of director, dean, assistant provost and vice president of academic and student affairs. And, I have actively consulted in multiple venues for over twenty years. However, I am still perplexed when I see organizations fail for simple reasons. Despite the technological advances we have made in our organizations, they are still manned for the most part by people, and when people feel compromised or disrespected, they no longer are loyal to or caring about their work environment. As an entrepreneur, you cannot afford to have that problem in your organization. There are only so many hours in a day, and you will need others to help you maximize your efforts. It’s just that simple…you need the people who will work for you to care about you and the organization.

It Pays to Love!!!

In one country I visited a few years ago where the task was to study the country’s corporations, I kept asking the leaders with whom we were meeting what, in their opinions, were the most important characteristics of leadership. Their answers kept coming back to the concept of others…the employees, the customers and service to their market/country.

You see, the concept of love is not only relative to personal relationships, but is critical to the success of our business initiatives; particularly if we are going to be successful in regaining position in our global market place. Our global competitors understand the necessity to have strong relationships between the organization and the work force. Love must be a critical component of an entrepreneur’s mind set.

Years ago, I consulted to a client who had a very successful business, for a very short time period of time. While he was very competent in his trade, I saw his business fail for one major reason…he dismally treated his employees and they retaliated in ways that caused the business to fail. I kept telling him that he did not require sophisticated management systems, he simply had to change his mind set regarding the people that worked for him, but his mind set and attitude towards people did not change. Unfortunately, this dismal attitude was also extended into his relationships with his customers. As his business failed, he continued to blame everyone else but himself.

Over the years, I have found that smart business leaders know that the concept of love extends beyond family and friends. Herb Kelleher, who is the epitome of a successful leader and is discussed in management books across the world, built one of the most successful businesses of our time...Southwest Airlines…primarily on the concept of love. While people thought his strategy was what enabled the airlines to succeed, it was the simplicity of his philosophy towards people that enabled the airlines to be profitable when most airlines were struggling. I had students study how other airlines attempted to imitate Southwest Airlines' operational strategies; yet never could come close to Southwest Airlines' success, even when they mastered the operational strategies. What they could not master was Kelleher’s philosophy because they did not see it.

Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.

--John Gardner[ii]

Herb Kelleher believed that if you treated people with dignity and respect, paid them well, let them know they were valued, you would outpace the competition every time…and they did. Interestingly, when Kelleher retired, Southwest Airlines began to have problems. He eventually had to come back. It appears that the other leaders did not understand how to enact and translate his philosophy into their leadership competencies.

I purposely would listen to Southwest employees when I flew on their airlines. And, I had students in all my business classes, undergraduate, graduated and doctoral, study the airlines. I wanted to see if others saw the consistency of this simple philosophy. Every employee I heard talk about Southwest Airlines during my travels had nothing but positive feedback with respect to the organization. They did not know I was listening to their conversations. Usually, when employees are talking amongst themselves you can “hear” the real deal. But their conversations conveyed their high regard for the organization, and the highest respect for Herb Kelleher. My students found the same consistent attitudes in their research.

Another organization that similarly grew in leaps and bounds because of the attitude of love and respect for the work force is Starbucks. In interviews, Howard Schultz often talked how he saw his father treated in his workplace and vowed that his organization would never extend that same or similar treatment. Consequently, despite economic challenges, we have continued to see Starbucks bounce back and excel. I have yet to walk into a Starbucks and observe a disgruntled workforce, and in my business you can easily spot them.

So, what am I saying to you as you work your businesses? First, choose the people who will work with you carefully. They must embody the same values, mores, and attitudes you believe are going to be germane to making your business initiatives a success. Even family members must share the same values because the valuing of people is critical to entrepreneurial growth and development.

Equally important, you as the business owner must value your employees. If you do not treat them with dignity and respect, honor their hard work, empower them to really be a part of the business and make suggestions, pay them appropriately and give them the appropriate benefits that they need for themselves and their families, you will not see the success you desire. They are your front line. There has to be mutual trust and respect, and there has to be mutuality in vision and goals. Employees have to believe that there are going to be positive outcomes for them in the long run if sacrifice is a part of the process of working through challenging times.  I worked with a small educational enterprise, which did not have money to give in raises in that particular time period.  I asked the employees to brainstorm as to what would be critical intrinsic benefits for them.  You would be surprised at their lists, which did not focus on dollars.

Many entrepreneurs forget about their relationships with their employees when the business starts to make money. They forget their promises that their employees would share in the returns. The breaking of a psychological contract will break a business.

Making commitments generates hope.

Keeping commitments generates trust

--Blaine Lee[iii]

Love the people you work with and those you will be servicing (e.g. your forth coming customers)…remember the example of Herb Kelleher. Equally important, understand that…

When you learn to live for others, they will learn to live for you.

--Paramahansa Yogananda[iv]

(Robinson-Easley, C.A, (2013), Preparing for Today’s Global Job Market: From the Lens of Color, New YorkPalgrave Macmillan, pages 174-178)

Exploring the Mindset of an Entrepreneur

Part Two

"Concentration is the secret of strength." Ralph Waldo Emerson. [v] 

I had an experience with a small business owner that I thought might be worth sharing.  While talking to the owner, he mentioned how business was very slow and all the things that the customer was not doing. 

I had to stop him and ask, "What are you doing to expand your customer base and effectively address what the present customer base may be experiencing from a financial perspective?" 

This business owner continued to talk about what the customer was not doing and how it was impacting him, until I had to simply say stop, and understand that you are in a very unique position.  You see, his business does not have any competition in a significant radius.  Yet, his focus was not on what he needed to do from a business development perspective. 

He could not stop long talking long enough about what the customer was not doing to understand that if he puts into place simple, yet much needed marketing strategies to both expand his customer reach and concomitantly meet the current situations of his existing customer base, he could improve his financial and business position, with very positive results, in a short time period.

Far too often, small business owners get so caught up in the day to day management (and in some cases, mismanagement) of their business that they do not stop to understand the opportunities they have to dramatically grow, even in challenging economies. These opportunities require your developing a strategy that includes routine marketing. Focused and successful businesses also utilize intentional management processes (organization development and project management strategies just to name a couple) that are designed to help them concentrate on their vision, mission, core values, strategy and methodologies for successfully implementing the strategy, while at the same time identifying areas of strength, opportunity and market penetration.

And, in the midst of both financial challenges in concert with increasing competition, you must routinely convey to your customers what you can do to enhance their needs and why they should choose you to be a preferred vendor.

Moving to this level really requires the small business owner to develop the mind set of an entrepreneur.  It also means you must have operational tactics incorporated into your overarching strategy that sets you above the "crowd" of competition.

You see—in today's competitive environment, to move beyond survival requires a holistic understanding of entrepreneurship and business strategy in concert with effective human resource management.

Christopher Anne Robinson-Easley, Ph.D.


Enlightening Management Consultants, Inc.


[ii] Gardner, J. (1965). Self Renewal. New York: Harper.





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