Why Entrepreneurs Succeed Better with an Outward Mindset
By the Arbinger Institute | October 17, 2017
A highly successful CEO and entrepreneur shares lessons from decades of building businesses. His biggest piece of advice? Adopt an outward mindset, even if it seems counterintuitive. Even if it seems impossible.
Outward Mindset: The Key for Entrepreneurs
SWIIM, short for Sustainable Water & Innovative Irrigation Management, is an agricultural technology company recently celebrated in Forbes Magazine as one of the top 25 most innovative ag-tech companies globally for 2017.
SWIIM CEO Kevin France has been an entrepreneur for decades. In addition to helming SWIIM, he also shares his experience and expertise by mentoring up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
His biggest advice to them?
Adopt an outward mindset, even if it seems counterintuitive. Even if it seems impossible.
This message is particularly important because entrepreneurs often have so much riding on their own shoulders. The pressures of simply keeping the business running can make it feel like any reasonable means will justify the end. That dragging, pulling, and pushing people toward your vision can feel like the only way to get things done. That there’s no time to see employees, cofounders, even funders, as people. It’s easy to think, “I’m trying to keep the lights on, put food on the table, and you’re talking to me about mindset?!”
It’s understandable that entrepreneurs might feel this way. After all, they love their company. They’ve lived, breathed, and eaten it for years. This “lone wolf” mentality, if it does work, can only work for so long – as the organization begins to grow the entrepreneur must rely on others to help support the vision. Organizations can fall apart at this stage if the entrepreneur doesn’t reset their priorities – and their mindset.
An outward mindset allows entrepreneurs to get more solid buy-in from funders and employees alike. It enables organizations to more successfully operate in start-up conditions of high uncertainty and survival-focus. Kevin reflected, “If you’re outward earlier, people will be more likely to support you because they’ll see and believe in your vision. If I’d handled my own start-ups in the past more openly, I probably would have found others embracing the business model more openly and sooner than they ultimately did.”
Even better, seeing employees as people—rather than cogs meant to execute your vision—allows them to contribute in valuable and sometimes unexpected ways. Kevin said, “If you’re looking at them as objects and needing them to overachieve, they simply won’t. When you encounter roadblocks, they look to you to help problem-solve with them – rather than dictate direction to them. You get so much more innovation and execution when you see people as people and enlist them for help!”
How can entrepreneurs build an outward mindset into their new company?
1) Make mindset part of the start-up checklist.
Kevin said, “Entrepreneurs know they have to pull together funding, a strategic board, an operations strategy, business plan, and so on. The people stuff needs to be part of their checklist, just like financing.” When building a team, similar guidelines apply: include people-focused competencies in addition to technical ones. “Entrepreneurs will sometimes think, ‘I need a finance person, a sales person, an operations person, and so on.’ But they’re not really thinking about people. They’re checking boxes and thinking of those employees as objects who will fill a particular function. That’s not helpful.” Look at the whole person being considered. Do they have communication skills? Do they demonstrate curiosity about others? Would they adopt an others-focused outward mindset?
2) Start now.
View mindset as an investment in operations, Kevin said. “I used to think, ‘We’re in survival mode. We need to develop a bit more as an organization before we worry about the people stuff. But I was lying to myself—deceiving myself—about how important this was and whether we were ready to implement it.” Investing early in mindset will pay dividends. “It’s worth pulling your staff out of the field for two days [for a mindset workshop]. It’s a huge commitment, because it’s really four days or more, including travel. But it was the best thing we could have done.” Longer-term, implement an outward mindset way of working by applying outward mindset frameworks and principles to whatever business challenges happen to arise.
3) Lead by example.
It’s incumbent on the leader to set an example of the way things should be, even when nobody else is doing it. Kevin recalled, “I had team members I knew would roll their eyes and say, ‘Kevin, I’ve been working with you for seven years. You’re not going to change. You’re going to stick with the top-down, push down management style.’” It’s not possible to force mindset change on others. “You just have to gradually introduce the principles and when you receive pushback, just continue to live the material and correct when you make mistakes. When I changed my way of thinking and doing, it very quickly shifted how folks interacted with me and others. When they saw it wasn’t another initiative that was going to die on the vine, they bought into it.”
Kevin’s final piece of advice? Stick with it. “Our team earned the honor of being recognized by Forbes as a top innovator in our space through hard work and by leaning on the principles of outward thinking. I’m convinced Forbes would not have recognized SWIIM System without the mindset and culture changes we’ve made. Now we have a strong foundation of mutual respect. It’s not roses and chocolate and kumbaya, but the mindset work is something to fall back on when we encounter roadblocks. Leaders at all levels of an organization must find innovative ways to introduce these principles to suit their organization’s stage of development and culture. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution – but once the proper method for implementation of these principles is found, those willing to commit will find dividends paid in spades.”
As published by the Arbinger Institute on 10/17/17 – original URL: http://arbingerinstitute.com/BlogDetail?id=60