(Non)Sense of Entitlement – Entrepreneurs Need The Whole Package To Succeed: Talent, Temperament and Tenacity

The Whole PackageTalent alone is usually not adequate for your adVenture to succeed.

A tragic number of young athletes, musicians and scholars who master their sport, instrument or area of study are unable to translate their natural gifts into a level of success commensurate with their abilities. In some cases, the relative ease with which they achieve their accomplishments is a handicap that precludes other aspects of their character and personality from developing in an appropriate and healthy manner.

Sometimes, when winning comes relatively easy to such prodigies, they develop a poor work ethic, an inability to constructively deal with adversity and a glaring sense of entitlement. An entitlement mentality can lead to a feeling of irreplaceability. However, successful entrepreneurs realize that some people are indispensable but no one is irreplaceable.

Talent alone is not sufficient to consistently win in most endeavors, including business. Even so, some entrepreneurs believe that their talent entitles them to treat others poorly and allows them to avoid playing by the rules of social propriety. Fortunately, perseverance, doggedness and tenacity often win the day over those with raw, innate talent. Entrepreneurs who posses the Whole Package combine their talents with a healthy dose of self-awareness, desire and tenacity, which enables them to effectively lead their team, irrespective of each individual’s position within the organization.

Entrepreneurial Hustle

Entrepreneurial achievement comprises desire combined with a bit of luck, timing and talent. You can have the world’s best timing, immense talent and excessive luck and you will achieve little or nothing if you have no desire. Conversely, even if you experience bad timing, are talent-challenged and the victim of bad luck, you still have a decent chance of success if your desire to succeed never wanes.

Breaking the Barrier

Satchel Paige was one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time, dominating the racially segregated Negro Leagues for over a decade. He was also renowned for quitting his team de jour without notice and accepting an offer to play elsewhere, even when such acceptance was in violation of his current contract. He was a temperamental prima donna who was considered uncoachable.

RobisonBy the mid-1940s, it was inevitable that the racial barrier in the Major Leagues would finally be broken. However, despite his prognostications to the contrary, Satchel Paige was not selected as the first African American player to play Major League baseball. Historians generally agree that one of the primary reasons he was not picked to break the color barrier was that he lacked the temperament required to deal with the bigotry and hostility that such a momentous change would ignite. Instead, Jackie Robinson, a quiet man with Humble Pride, was selected to represent his African American brethren.

Bambino Coach

When Babe Ruth’s playing career ended, he was confident the coaching offers would come flooding in. They didn’t. In fact, the only coaching offer he received was from a minor league team in Palatka, Florida, which he rebuffed with no reply. He was Babe Ruth, dammit!

BambinoMajor League managers, irrespective of the level of their success as players, generally came up from the Minor Leagues, honing and improving their abilities in an environment that was less consequential and thus less risky for the club owners. As author Leigh Montville, points out in his book The Big Bam, “The aspiring manager had to hustle, call, charm. That was not his (Ruth’s) style. He waited. The call never came.” Ruth later said, once all his hopes of a manager position were behind him, “I wanted to stay in baseball more than I ever wanted anything in my life. But in 1935 there was no job for me and that embittered me.” The closest Babe ever got to a management position was short-lived and somewhat humiliating first base coaching job for the second-to-last-place Dodgers in 1938.

Successful entrepreneurs understand what is involved in achieving a desired goal and they do not simply rely on past accomplishments or their native talents. Babe neither took the time to understand what was involved in becoming a manager nor was he willing to prove himself in this new role. It is not true that there was “no job” for him after his playing days were over; there were plenty of managerial positions. However, he was not willing to earn one of them. Despite his immense talent, his sense of entitlement blinded his self-awareness.

BDC Employees

Pesky employees at BDCs come around every two weeks with their hands out, expecting a paycheck. Some of them even believe they are entitled to it. These employees confuse activities with results. Your startup cannot afford to pay for activities; rather, you should only reward results.

Engender a results-oriented culture built upon self-reliance. Your team should realize that there is no money for anyone if the team does not perform. As Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric once said, “The only thing that can create job security is satisfied customers.” The ultimate job security is to define your ideal job within your startup, rather than rely on someone else to give you a job. Startup employees are only entitled to an honest assessment of their adVenture’s future and a healthy environment in which to excel if they work hard. They are entitled to a share of the adVenture’s proceeds if the adVenture succeeds; if it does not, they are entitled to look for another job and the investors are entitled to lose their entire investment.

Entitled To Make More

At various times, some of my startup employees approached me and announced, “I think I should make more money.” If it was not a high-impact employee, my response was generally, “That is great. Unfortunately, we are paying you as much as we can, given our current operating conditions, budget and what we are paying your peers. However, you really should test the market and if you can make more money and have the same potential equity upside at another company, you should take that position.”

If the employee in question is a high performer, my response would be, “We love you and we would hate to see you go. However, we cannot accommodate your request for additional compensation at this time. If you can be patient and wait for the next review cycle, then we might be able to address your concerns to some degree.”

As an entrepreneurial leader, you cannot flinch when an employee, even a great employee, demands more money (or more equity). If you acquiesce, you will send a powerful and detrimental signal to your team that “squeaky wheels” are greased, rather than rewarding the folks who outperform their peers and create value. In addition, employees who attempt to put a gun to your head are likely the sort of people you would rather have on your competitors’ teams.

As noted in Turncoats Are Turncoats, an ad hoc request for more money generally underlies a level of dissatisfaction which goes beyond compensation. Rather than taking a step down the slippery slope of compensation changes made outside of your company’s regular performance review cycle, enforce a disciplined approach that limits compensation changes to promotions and annual reviews.

“Don't go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first.” -- Mark Twain

Part of the Whole Package is an understanding that the only entitlement you have is to prove your worth to whatever team you hope to join. Startups cannot cash in your past accomplishments, just as Major League teams could not put Babe Ruth’s past homeruns on today’s scoreboard.

I find it amusing when people asked me how I dealt with the lack of job security associated with my various startups. I cannot think of a more insecure situation than working for a BDC and never knowing when an empty suit might walk into my office and tell me that I no longer have a job. Although it may seem counter intuitive, you actually have greater job security when you are in charge of your own fate. As Jack Welch once said, “Control your own destiny or someone else will.”

One of the great aspects of being an entrepreneur is that you can literally control your own destiny, as long as you realize that your only entitlement is to succeed or fail, based on how effectively you leverage your talent, temperament and tenacity.

Copyright © 2008 by J. Meredith Publishing. All rights reserved.


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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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