The image of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick leaving the field after his last game in January 2017 still haunts ESPN broadcaster Kirk Morrison.
“I was kind of overwhelmed with emotion because I saw him walking off the field, and I knew it would be for the last time,” said Morrison, a former linebacker for the Oakland Raiders. “What he started back then is acceptable now. It was not acceptable back in 2016 because of where our country was at.”
A lot has changed since Kaepernick was pushed out of the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Now, instead of being silenced or shunned for being too controversial, more public figures are being asked to share their personal experiences with bigotry, discrimination and structural racism. Even the league has rebranded itself, apologizing for not listening to Black players, embracing messages of equality and pledging millions to social causes.
The cultural shift is also evident in Hollywood. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign that began five years ago has been putting steady pressure on an industry legendary for its lack of diversity in front of and behind the cameras.
“Anytime there’s a spotlight on just how non-inclusive any industry is, companies tend to react,” said Phillip Sun, president/managing partner and co-founder of M88, a talent management firm focused on writers, actors, directors and producers of color.
Sun and Morrison joined Wharton Dean Erika James for a panel discussion about how diversity is reshaping businesses and brands. The December 1 discussion, titled “Race & The Selling of America,” was the final segment of the Beyond Business series, which tackles the complex and pressing issues affecting individuals and organizations across the world. Part of the School’s Tarnopol Dean’s Lecture Series, Beyond Business is streamed live on Wharton’s LinkedIn page and hosted by James. Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed served as moderator for the December 1 event. (Watch a video of the session above.)
KNOWLEDGE@WHARTON HIGH SCHOOL
The Legacy of George Floyd
When George Floyd was killed by police in Minnesota in May, his death brought America’s simmering racial tensions to full boil. The coronavirus pandemic has kept those conversations on the front-burner.
“The awakening of what happened with George Floyd came at the perfect time,” Morrison said. “It was the perfect time because we all had nowhere to go. We all were on lockdown, and we couldn’t turn the channel.”
Sun agreed, saying the pandemic prevented any distractions from the truth about just how unfair the playing field is for people of color. Floyd’s death was the accelerant on a slow-burning fire that’s grown too big to ignore, even in Hollywood, he said.
These changes, along with the birth of his son, inspired Sun to leave his position as one of the first Asian-American partners in the powerhouse talent firm William Morris Endeavor and start his own agency with Charles D. King. Sun’s client roster includes Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, Naomi Scott, Rihanna and other entertainers of color. He sees his new firm – Black-owned and minority led – as a way to keep Hollywood accountable on inclusion.
“It just got a little bit tiresome feeling like diversity and inclusion was a policy or a program or an afterthought or a reaction,” Sun said. “We really wanted to build a firm that had those principles at the core, so you don’t have to push for them. They’re just there.”
Sun dismissed the idea that minority-owned and focused businesses are niche, pointing out that the majority of the world’s population is not white. Business is all about the bottom line, and in Hollywood that means content that sells. The newer generation is creating content around their own stories, and the public is clamoring for it. The paying audience is no longer just older white males, he said.
“At least in my generation for the first time, we’re using that superpower,” Sun said. “We know that we’re here. We have voices amplifying us.”
Paying Attention to Politics
The ongoing dialogue on race is empowering athletes as well, Morrison said. Football players who previously may have been scared to speak their truth because of what happened to Kaepernick are no longer censoring themselves on political or social issues. Morrison said politics belongs in football because fame doesn’t insulate Black players from discrimination.
“It’s hard to ignore the fear that I still feel at times when [driving] home and… a cop pulls me over … and decides, ‘You fit the description.’” Morrison said. “That’s politics, and I can’t ignore what’s going on with that.”
That’s why Morrison launched a new radio program on SiriusXm called “Forward Progress,” which focuses on race, society and sports. He and Sun are using their platforms to educate others on the issues faced by disadvantaged groups, and they encouraged others to do the same. Mentorship, allyship and open conversations are key to gaining even more ground in the fight for fairness and inclusion, they said.
Morrison said he’s having more conversations than ever with executives who want to hear his perspective, and he exhorted others to ask questions, seek feedback, do their own research and keep talking.
Sun advised minorities to seek out white allies, particularly those in executive positions who can help bring about change.
“Ask your white counterparts who are in the smallest rooms to put somebody like us — who is ready for it and experienced enough and deserving to be there — in those smallest rooms.” he said. “When women and people of color and allies are in the smallest rooms, then the change happens.”
Few things make an entrepreneur feel happier than accomplishing a significant goal. Many business owners approach their companies with concrete goals in mind for where they want to be in a few years. However, when you’re a new entrepreneur, it can be a challenge to plot your own course.
Having an example of what others who have come before you have achieved as entrepreneurs can help you decide what you should be doing next. For guidance, seven entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council discuss the most significant decisions they’ve made for their businesses and the positive effect those decisions have had.
1. Continuing My Education
I’m a huge proponent of investing in continuing education—in lots of forms—because I believe an investment in yourself is the best one you can ever make. I can trace so much of my success to the time and money I’ve spent pursuing things like my master’s degree, expensive performance coaches and training around all kinds of technology. Don’t be afraid to bet on yourself. – Brittany Hodak, Keynote Speaker
Investing in sales training was one of the most valuable things that I did for my business. I intuitively understood marketing and how to deliver value to clients. However, formal sales training paid off in increasing my confidence in selling and increasing my closing rate. – Elizabeth Grace Saunders, Real Life E®
The best thing I do is take time to step away. Twice a year, I spend three weeks focusing on strategic planning and a big-picture vision—staying out of day-to-day operations entirely. This allows me to analyze the things we are doing right and the systems that need improvement, and create a vision and action plan for the future. It also lets others step up to lead so they learn how capable they are. – Katie Wagner, KWSM: a digital marketing agency
5. Learning How And When To Delegate
The single best thing I ever did for my business was learn to delegate. In the beginning, I tried to do everything myself, and I was spread way too thin and started to burn out. Learning to delegate appropriately and ask for help as needed truly allowed my company to grow and scale. It was the difference between being a business owner and an operator. – Rachel Beider, PRESS Modern Massage
6. Systematizing The Business
Systematizing the business has allowed me to free up a lot of time and energy that would have been put into micromanaging tasks. Instead, I built a scalable system to get the work done more effectively, and I have consistent playbooks, even for simple tasks. It helps to then outsource those things and make the business more effective. – Nicole Munoz, Nicole Munoz Consulting, Inc.
7. Hiring A Capable, Smart Assistant
Hiring a capable, smart and motivated assistant has been the best thing I’ve done for my business in recent years. She manages the overflow of my work and ensures all team members meet project deadlines. She ultimately saves me dozens of hours a month of work and is worth her weight in gold. – Kristin Kimberly Marquet, Marquet Media, LLC
The renewed attention on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has been enough to fill any manager’s agenda this year.
But this is 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has heaped even more pressure on leaders tasked with keeping their employees healthy and safe, while also trying to keep DEI at the top of a growing list of priorities.
“Both of them are exhausting, and we only have so much in our reserves to be able to continue down this path,” Wharton Dean Erika James said.
The collective energy around racial and social justice that was sparked earlier this year by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two Black citizens killed by police, has slowed in the last few months amid competing worries and fatigue. But James hopes it will return stronger once the virus is under control.
“Right now, I think it’s really hard to conjure up the fortitude that’s required around something as hard as race and racial justice while [we are] also dealing with all of the impacts associated with the pandemic,” she said.
James spoke during a livestream of Leading Diversity@Wharton, an ongoing speaker series hosted by Wharton management professor Stephanie Creary, who is a diversity and identity scholar. Corey Anthony, senior vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer at AT&T, also joined the conversation, titled “Inclusive Leadership in a Time of Crisis.” (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page, or watch a video of the discussion below.)
Anthony called out the difference between a moment and a movement. The killings and worldwide protests that followed were incredibly emotional, but emotions subside, he said. Real change comes when organizations commit to building the structures and processes that “operationalize” all those good intentions.
“What’s your sacrifice? That’s the difference between something being a moment versus a movement,” Anthony said. “If you cannot identify as an organization — if you cannot identify as an individual — the sacrifices you have made, then you’re likely to be in a moment, and it’s probably not going to be a movement.”
A Matter of Trust
James, who previously served as dean of Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, arrived at Wharton in July, after the campus had gone virtual. She was two months into the job before she could tour the campus, and she’s still only met a handful of colleagues in person.
Inclusive leaders must build trust in an organization and value those who have shown trustworthy behavior, James pointed out. But how do you establish those personal relationships when the COVID-19 crisis has moved everything online?
She relied on “swift trust,” which she defines as suspending doubt about the dependability or capability of people you do not know.
Asking a lot of questions and giving feedback can help guide people, but trust is still required. James laid out three components of trust:
Competence — Can you be trusted to do the job you were hired to do?
Communication — Can you be trusted to be candid, transparent and discreet?
Contractual — Can you be trusted to follow through so that people can rely on you?
Anthony agreed that trust in others is part of inclusive leadership, but so is trust in oneself. “Because when you don’t have that, your team will see it,” he said.
Calling himself a Socratic learner, Anthony also noted that inclusive leaders should ask a lot of questions. “It’s a good way for you to get to a place where you are using your personal power, as opposed to your positional power,” he said. “When you ask those questions, it’s a way of pulling the team in, a way of engaging the team.”
The pandemic accelerated the innovation that was already underway at AT&T, Anthony said, and Floyd’s death accelerated the company’s approach to diversity. For the first time in its history, the company made transparent its demographic makeup, from the C-suite to front-line employees. Executives went on a listening tour and also shared their action plan for addressing DEI.
“What’s your sacrifice? That’s the difference between something being a moment versus a movement.”–Corey Anthony
“We want to help everyone understand in this company that we cannot be successful as a business without having a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment. It has to be a business imperative,” he said.
Creary asked the leaders whether they used a carrot or stick approach to keep others accountable on DEI. Anthony pushed back on the idea, saying he tries to avoid binary thinking. His company has made DEI a part of performance evaluations, so employees are both incentivized to do better and penalized if they don’t. Expectations around DEI are “non-negotiable,” especially for leaders.
“I don’t think of it as a carrot or a stick. I think of it as a carrot I sometimes use as a stick,” he said.
James said she arrived at Wharton to find many professors were already taking the initiative by creating or modifying classes to talk about race. She thinks carrots work best by providing a safe space for the efforts to continue and flourish. “There are ways that we can reward and incentivize our faculty to do more of the work that I am seeing,” she said.
Creary said she’s inspired by her students because they want to talk about the hard topics of diversity, equity and inclusion. They want to help dismantle structural racism and create a more equitable world.
“They are very, very, very eager to be change agents in their internships and their future work roles,” Creary said.
She asked James and Anthony to offer advice to the next generation of business leaders. James encouraged students to choose employers wisely.
“It will be a much easier road if, in fact, you choose companies that are already aligned with the values that you have,” she said. “Choosing where you provide your professional gifts is as important as anything.”
A rookie employee won’t have the power to move mountains alone and will quickly become frustrated. But joining an organization with a demonstrated commitment to diversity allows that rookie to become part of the “critical mass” toward DEI, she said.
“You fill the reserve and you start over. While we have the world’s attention, it’s incumbent upon us.”–Erika James
Anthony cautioned students to avoid becoming the very thing they are fighting against, which is intolerance. It’s a paradox that happens when people insulate themselves and block out others whose beliefs are radically different from their own.
“Step outside of your echo chamber,” he warned students. “Quit consuming information and perspectives from sources that already think, feel and believe how you think, feel and believe. That is toxic.”
Anthony said leaders must have empathy for everyone, even people they disagree with, if they want to be truly inclusive. “You cannot lead effectively in any organization or capacity if you don’t have empathy,” he said. “And you cannot develop the right empathy if you are in an echo chamber.”
He had to follow his own advice in dealing with the aftermath of Floyd’s death. He was initially frustrated by the reactions of people who genuinely didn’t understand the burdens carried by Black Americans. Then he realized that everyone is not in the same place along the learning curve about racial justice. He decided: “We’re going to embrace the fact that everybody is paying attention, and we’re going to use this opportunity to learn from it.”
Anthony leveraged his position as CDO, engaging hundreds of employees in video conversation at once, instead of individually. He also urged people to educate themselves on the issues first, before asking him for the shorthand.
James recalled feeling a similar frustration. But the lifelong educator realized Floyd’s death created a unique, teachable moment to crack open uncomfortable conversations with as many people as possible.
“You fill the reserve and you start over,” James said. “While we have the world’s attention, it’s incumbent upon us.”
Leadership is a journey that requires the right people on your side to help you reach the summit of your ultimate business milestone. No executive can reach the summit without a good team, whether climbing one of the world’s tallest mountains or striving toward the zenith of their career.
This was true for business leader Jim Whittaker. In 1963, he was the general manager of Recreational Equipment Inc. and became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He did it with help from others.
Whittaker and a team of 19 people started their ascent up Everest in February. Along the way, some members chose to stay back due to sickness, injury, or fear of bad weather. Whittaker continued upward alongside guide Nawang Gombu.
By May, the two men were near the summit, but Whittaker and Gombu ran out of oxygen. They were now in serious danger, but they pushed upward and reached the top of Everest. They looked out over the world for 20 minutes, Whittaker planted an American flag, and then they began their dodgy descent.
Would Whittaker ever have made it to the summit without the help of the team or Gombu? Definitely not. The whole team challenged one another — Whittaker met the challenge. Soon, he became the CEO of REI, which saw huge sales growth in the coming years.
Here are just a few of the people you’ll need on your own leadership climb.
1. An objective executive coach
When you’re the leader, who else knows your struggle? It can feel as though you’re climbing alone.
This is why executive coaches are invaluable for executives. Like Gombu, who ensured Whittaker reached the top through his climbing experience, executive coaches will help you reach the top of your career through their career experience.
It’s an advantage to choose an executive coach who’s been in similar situations as a CEO. They’ve faced challenges and solved problems. Now, they coach and mentor CEOs, passing on what they’ve learned and challenging CEOs to exceed their own expectations.
Coaches can ask you unique questions that will help you reframe your challenges. Perhaps best of all, they can give you honest feedback, pointing out blind spots and potentially perilous traps along your journey.
2. Executive peers
Closer to earth, executives face little danger of running out of oxygen. But they face losing something almost as valuable: honest, objective feedback.
No matter how hard a CEO tries to build a culture of transparency, finding colleagues or subordinates who will give objective feedback is difficult. Most will be too close to the situation, trust your decision making, or won’t want to push back against your ideas. By having a trusted group of executive peers you’ll have a wealth of access to genuine insight.
Other executives will ask you questions you hadn’t considered. They’ll tell you whether your idea is good or bad, where it can be improved, and if they’ve seen anything similar themselves.
CEOs who participate in confidential peer groups have the advantage of getting feedback from executive peers leading in other industries — this provides them with diverse perspectives that aren’t constrained by institutional knowledge. Most importantly, your executive peers will create a safe environment, allowing you to talk about your true struggles and goals, then hold you accountable to make the changes needed.
For CEOs who feel that their climb to the top is lonely, finding a team of executive peers can feel akin to stumbling across a new world filled with vast resources. A team of executive peers can help you create an entirely new reality by building your confidence in your decision-making.
3. Trusted colleagues
Within the business, the executive team must be a CEO’s climbing team. The executive team is there with you, working to meet high-level goals and ensuring that the business is moving in the best strategic direction.
CEOs who take the responsibility to build an executive team of high performers are able to place their confidence and trust in that team. Think about it like this: If Whittaker didn’t select the right team to climb Mount Everest, would he have been able to trust that his team could help him succeed in his mission? At the most dire moment, when they were pushing to the top with no oxygen, all that was left for the climbing partners was the trust they had built, and that was what helped them prevail.
A great executive team is trustworthy and driven for success. They’ll be there to climb alongside you, especially when you’re facing the most arduous stretch of your leadership journey.
4. Talented employees
You need talented employees who will help you meet your company’s goals and make your vision come true. Executives who want to reach the top — both in their career and business — must hire and retain the best and brightest employees. As CEO, you want to be sure you have built a culture that values continual development of your employees so that they have the ability and skills to support the objectives you set forth.
Reaching the top
The journey to the top won’t be easy for CEOs, but the climb is possible with help and great resources.
This guide breaks down the seven laws of leadership, including rejecting shortcuts, creating space to work on the business, and challenging thinking with fresh perspectives. Mastering each of these seven laws will help get you to your next peak.
It’s the not millions of dollars that Fortune 500 companies are funneling into new diversity and inclusion efforts that excite Carla Harris, vice chairman and managing director at Morgan Stanley. Nor is it the endless conversations about racial equity and social injustice, which she’s heard for more than 30 years in corporate America.
No, this moment feels different. It feels more powerful.
“Back in the early ‘90s for corporate America and for Wall Street, people thought about diversity as the right thing to do or the moral thing to do,” Harris said. “Fast forward 30-plus years, people are starting to really think that it is a part of the strategy, it is a part of being able to innovate, it is a part of any organization’s future.”
This moment in the perpetual fight for fairness also feels different to Wes Moore, a former investment banker and entrepreneur who is now CEO of the anti-poverty nonprofit Robin Hood.
There is a greater sense of “shared complicity” in the creation of systemic racism, he said, and a deeper understanding that it will take everyone working together to dismantle it.
“There’s a hopefulness that I know I have now that, truthfully, I didn’t always have,” Moore said. “So, this moment is leaving me tentatively inspired.”
Wharton invited Moore and Harris to participate in a panel discussion about the role of companies and philanthropic organizations in addressing racial and social justice in the workplace. They were joined by panelist Dalila Wilson-Scott, who is executive vice president and chief diversity officer at Comcast Corp. and president of the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation.
“The millennials and the [Generation] Zers are one of the primary reasons that this moment is different, because they have said no más.”–Carla Harris
Wilson-Scott, who previously worked at J.P. Morgan, said strong leadership is critical to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), especially for Fortune 50 companies that have vast resources and access to global talent. Collaboration is also key; companies need to build private-public partnerships and even invite industry competitors to sit down at the table and talk though what’s working and what should be done differently.
“When we think about our employee channel, our supply chain, our investments in businesses, there are so many ways that Fortune 50 companies can stand up in this moment,” she said. “That’s important to note, but we can never forget that it takes a true partnership across sectors to move forward.”
Money, Social Media and Generation Z
Many large firms, including Morgan Stanley and Comcast, have launched or expanded multimillion-dollar DEI initiatives in the last six months as worldwide protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by police, drew attention to racial justice issues. James asked the panelists a tough question: Is this moment symbolic for companies to feel better about themselves, or will this become sustained change?
Harris said she believes the changes taking place now will have permanence because of one major reason — young people. They’re fed up with the status quo and committed to rewriting the narrative around DEI.
“The millennials and the [Generation] Zers are one of the primary reasons that this moment is different, because they have said no mas,” Harris said. “They are looking at people in positions of power and saying, ‘Really, you had 50 years to get this right, and we’re still dealing with this? How can that be?’”
Harris also pointed out how technology, especially social media, has empowered consumers to create like-minded communities. Businesses used to have three constituents: shareholders, employees and customers. But she said social media has made “community” a fourth constituent, one that can use sheer numbers to effect change.
“Within seconds, you could have massive brand degradation. In seconds, you could lose billions of dollars of market cap,” she said, noting that companies have to work harder to attract and retain the digitally native and well-informed youth.
James, who is a mother of two teens and has spent her career around students, agreed that young consumers are “changing the conversation,” and sometimes there is a misalignment between what companies do and what young consumers want.
“We didn’t just arrive on this moment. We’re talking about centuries of injustices.”–Dalila Wilson-Scott
“They are walking with their feet and they are saying, ‘This matters to us and we are making choices about the kinds of organizations we want to be affiliated with,’” she said.
Wilson-Scott said she doesn’t want to see the momentum slow down as time marches away from the death of George Floyd. It will take uncomfortable conversations, accountability and a lot of hard work to keep the pressure and focus on DEI efforts.
She said when managers leaned into the conversation this year, they heard some “shocking and surprising things” in listening sessions and safe-space discussions. Co-workers got to know each other in different ways and better understand their different perspectives.
“We didn’t just arrive on this moment. We’re talking about centuries of injustices,” she said. “Many Blacks in corporate America have to live in this duality to be successful.”
Wilson-Scott said those conversations must continue.
“We can’t think of this as a moment that will pass. We have to think of this as a moment and a challenge for us to do things differently. Employees are feeling that,” she said.
Harris agreed and said leaders must be intentional and vocal, no matter how uncomfortable, because their silence will be misconstrued as complicity.
“Now is the time to express your courage,” she said. “The strand that holds all of those pearls of intentional leadership together is courage.”
“If you’re not having a genuine conversation that includes the impacted population, your altruism will be viewed as something else.”–Wes Moore
Three Steps Toward Change
Moore offered three steps that leaders can take in their quest for workplace equity. First, be deliberate about cross-sector partnerships because they are one of the fastest and most effective ways to create change.
Second, make sure that the affected group is part of the conversation, not just the subject of the conversation. “If you’re not having a genuine conversation that includes the impacted population, your altruism will be viewed as something else,” he said, adding that inclusion helps managers guard against their own blind spots.
Third, Moore exhorted firms to scrutinize their internal practices through the lens of DEI — everything from wages to benefits to vendors and suppliers.
“Understand the uniqueness of your voice is going to be much more than just thinking about philanthropy,” he said, noting that actions that move a company toward genuine fairness are more powerful than “any press release” touting progress.
Moore also addressed a common refrain from companies that say they can’t find qualified minorities to hire or that they only hire the best, regardless of race, gender or other diverse factors.
“You find what you’re looking for. There’s a lot of truth to that. We can look at a trading floor, and why is it that 30% of the trading floor played lacrosse,” he said. “It’s not that there is a lack of talent out there. There is no data that supports that statement.”
What if I could show you how to improve the way you give compliments, and create truly memorable moments for the objects of your praise, simply by framing your words a bit differently?
I discovered this technique by accident years ago, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time considering and researching how it works. Its roots are grounded in a simple truth of psychology and emotional intelligence that I think we all understand.
The framing works quickly, and it comes down to preparing your audience to do two things: first, to pay attention to what you’re about to say, and next, to expect that your message will be a true and positive reflection on them.
The easiest way to remember to do this is to learn to give praise by starting with a short, simple, focus-shifting preamble.
For example, you might use a variation of these six words: “You might not know this, but…”
That short phrase is packed with meaning. It starts with “you,” so it impresses that the other person in the conversation is also the subject of the conversation.
It also implies that you’re about to share new knowledge that the other person isn’t aware of yet. And the inclusion of a difference-indicating conjunction (“but”) suggests that the information will contradict a previous assumption.
Overall, it establishes that whatever comes next isn’t just about something you want to share. Instead, it’s about the other person’s perception of reality.
It’s other-centered, rather than self-centered.
Now, we’re talking only about the preamble, so far. And I know we’ve squeezed a lot into it. However, whatever follows is just as crucial. It has to be both positive and truthful.
So consider these sample iterations:
“You might not know this, but people really appreciate how calm you can be in a crisis.”
“I’m not sure if you appreciated your impact, but your comments in the meeting last week reassured the whole team.”
“I hope you didn’t think you were alone; when you asked that question in class, you spoke for everyone.”
“You’re never going to believe this, but I took your advice and it worked out.”
“Would it surprise you to know how much the newer people on the team talk about you as a role model?”
I’m making these examples intentionally broad, and mixing up the preambles, of course.
But, I think you can see how it works — and how phrasing a compliment or positive feedback like this makes it a lot more powerful than simply offering praise as a declarative statement.
It also illustrates that the substantive compliment has to be authentic and truthful for this to work.
For example, if somebody were to say to me: “Bill, you may not know this, but people think you’re a really great dancer,” I would be skeptical.
I mean, I know that I’m simply not a very good dancer. It’s kind of comical, actually.
Now, as I mentioned above, the irony for me is that I stumbled across this technique purely by accident.
Back when I was practicing law, a more experienced attorney taught a class for the newer lawyers. She really knew her stuff, and the advice she gave — including some fairly technical intricacies of tax law and civil procedure — saved my greener colleagues and me a lot of time and frustration.
Afterward, I remember wondering why this gifted speaker hadn’t been promoted into a true leadership role. I also thought: Wait, does she actually know how helpful this was? Does anyone give her feedback?
We had hardly spoken before, but when I bumped into her later, I said something like: “I don’t know if anyone ever tells you this, but your presentation was great. It taught me and the other new lawyers quite a few things that made life a lot easier for us.”
That conversation sparked a bit of a work friendship and mentorship. And maybe a year or two later, I remember she said something reciprocal to me, like:
“You might not have understood the power of your words, but when you complimented my presentation that day, I really needed to hear it.”
Now, I’m certainly not saying that this is the only way to phrase a compliment, or that other ways are wrong, or that it always has the kind of memorable impact that will leave you thinking about it years later.
But I know that the preamble played above its weight in both cases, and I’ve been tuned in ever since to observe it in action again.
It’s a reminder that whether it’s hard-wired or learned insecurity, most of us are predisposed to seek out information about how others perceive us. So, framing compliments like this can increase their effect, while also reminding you to be other-centered in your interactions when that is beneficial.
In other words: You might not have known this, but your opinions are valuable to other people.
And when you phrase them correctly, they can stick with them in a positive way, for a very long time.
Two worlds seem to exist; one where all businessmen are evil and one where all businessmen are geniuses.
Yet entrepreneurs don’t go from an average Joe to a caricature ruthless boss overnight. Many of them start with dreams of changing the world for the better and small decisions move them away from their original principles.
Google famously included “Don’t be evil” in their code of conduct in 2000. Then they removed it in 2017.
Warren Buffett stands out amongst his billionaire peers because he has maintained his grounded image for over half a century. The Financial Times called him “capitalism’s kindly grandpa” and he seems far less ruthless than Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs in their primes.
While he isn’t in the running for the next Nobel Peace Prize, for entrepreneurs there are few better role models than the Sage of Omaha. He highlights integrity as the key to unlocking successful management:
“You look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true.” — Warren Buffett
Yet there isn’t a tape measure on Earth we can pull out to simply measure someone’s integrity. Often it’s hard to even judge our own ethics and whether we are doing the right thing. So how does Warren test people to determine whether they meet his standards? There are two key questions he has shared over the years which provide insight.
1. The Eros question
In 2014, two businessmen paid $650,000 to have lunch with Warren Buffett. It’s ridiculous but it went to the Glide Foundation to help homeless people so the money is in a better place now.
At this lunch, Warren explained his beliefs on integrity in-depth to their eager ears. It’s unsurprising the businessmen needed to learn about it considering they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single meal.
Warren posed this question:
“Would you rather be considered the best lover in the world and know privately that you’re the worst — or would you prefer to know privately that you’re the best lover in the world, but be considered the worst?”
We instinctively know the answer we are supposed to say here. Either way, people are being misled but it feels better to underplay our talents than to have wrongful adoration. If you hesitated before answering, don’t worry it goes against all our survival instincts.
Warren calls this the “inner scorecard”, where what matters most is our opinion of ourselves according to our values. Rather than an “outer scorecard” which measures the points other people give you because you are living up to their values.
While Warren’s question is more memorable, on a more realistic level, are you doing something because you think it is right or because you want others to praise you? I ask myself this regularly and sometimes I don’t like my answer.
Social media has distorted many of our minds into thinking about how to impress people we barely care about. It’s no different when acting as an entrepreneur and wanting to show off about success all the time. For some, it’s a strategy and for others, it’s just ego.
Only you know your true motives so you are the only person who can hold yourself accountable.
2. The newspaper question
Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln didn’t need to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to ask Warren Buffett questions in 2005.
Berkshire Hathaway’s tentacles spread wide across industries and individual managers often run parts of the company larger than what many entrepreneurs ever manage. The students wanted to know how Warren ensures ethical standards across them.
His solution was simple, he would ask them how they “would feel about any given action if they know it was to be written up the next day in their local newspaper”.
If you are ok with your choices being public then it passes and you uphold your principles. Yet there’s a problem when you make a choice which you’d be ashamed to see on the front cover the next day. If you consistently make decisions that make you feel queasy then maybe you’re lying to yourself about what your principles are.
Transparency is proven to improve employee happiness and consumer loyalty. It makes sense logically as if you want to hide details then you can’t be proud of them. Sooner or later people will realize this and your reputation will suffer.
As with the previous question, there are flaws.
“Any publicity is good publicity” is an old cliché but one some businesspeople still believe. The question is completely neutralized when a leader’s narcissism is more important than the success of the company. When you don’t care who you hurt with your decisions then everything passes the test. Donald Trump is a master here, whatever newspapers print about him is good because he can flip it to work in his favor.
Business is not easy despite what you may read online. Sometimes no path is positive and the lesser of two evils must be chosen. The short term nature of Warren’s question can obstruct good decision making. It may be better to announce 20% job losses today and save the company than to go bankrupt in a year out of “integrity”.
A change to the medium of the question could be more illuminating. I have immense respect for Guy Raz’s podcast guests as he asks awkward questions about the less glamourous parts of their lives. He refuses guests who demand censorship of specific events.
If you were scheduled for a probing interview, would you feel the need to block a subject? Unlike the newspaper test, you have a chance to justify a superficially immoral decision. When you can’t then it tells you everything you need to know about your integrity.
The truth is we don’t live in a perfect way and even Warren Buffett has made some questionable decisions. His questions can help to determine your underlying motives for the choices you make. Yet beware of applying them too literally and be mindful that life is usually more nuanced.
I’ve simplified the questions for you to use the next time you find yourself in a moral quandary.
Would you make this decision if someone else got all the credit?
Would you feel comfortable explaining your choice in an interview?
And finally, a reminder to be kind to yourself. We all do things we later regret, we’re human. What’s important is how we handle our next challenge.
Busy entrepreneurs and founders don’t often have a lot of time in their day for objective introspection, where they intentionally try to become more aware of aspects of themselves that either drive or hinder their progress.
However, it is especially important for business owners to reflect on how their behavior is affecting their relationships, the perceptions of those around them and, consequently, the outcomes of their own actions. Without taking the time to do this, you will miss opportunities to grow—not only as a leader, but also as a person.
The members of Forbes Coaches Council understand how important self-reflection is. Many of them encourage their clients to practice it to understand and improve the impact of their behavior and interactions at work and at home. Here are 15 self-reflective exercises that they recommend you try.
1. Regularly Review Your Goals And Health
Carve out time, at least monthly, not just to review goals and outcomes for your business, but also to assess your own mental, emotional and spiritual health. Then, based on your reflection, set personal goals for the next month and assess where you are once more. – Billy Williams, Archegos
Taking a step back to self-reflect on a daily basis is essential to leading and loving. Creating this space daily is key. One proven activity is to spend ten to 30 minutes rehearsing mentally how you will show up personally and professionally in the day ahead. Visualize it, feel it and you will move the needle on your influence, impact and ability to stay connected to your values and vision. – Bree Luther, Inspired Science Coaching
4. Have A Ten-Minute Weekly Meeting With Yourself
Commit to having a ten-minute meeting with yourself every week. Weekly, ask, “What did I learn this week that made me more effective, and how do I know?” Monthly, ask, “What did I do this month to improve my impact, and how do I know?” Quarterly, ask, “What one change can I make that will improve key outcomes, and how will I know it works?” Yearly, ask, “What barrier should I remove this year?” – Sharon Richmond, Richmond Associates Consulting
5. Use This Five-Point Check-Up
I have regular five-point check-ups that I call my “ABCs.” Alignment: Is the company still aligned with who I am and my “why?” Boots on the ground: Remember where I came from, personally and professionally. Communication: Self-awareness and clarity support clear communications. Care: My indispensable triad is self-care, staff development and business development. Creativity: Flexibility and innovation foster growth. – Keda Edwards Pierre, True II Soul
I advocate for journaling. Allow yourself to slow down your mind by writing down whatever thoughts are running through it in a brain dump without filtering or editing. Journaling makes words tangible. Reflecting on your day and noting what you are grateful for allows you to park unproductive thoughts, discover insights and solutions and identify areas of growth. – Debra Kasowski, Debra Kasowski International
8. Work ‘On’ Versus ‘In’ Your Business Once A Quarter
Entrepreneurs need to recognize and accept the importance of introspection by prioritizing it on their calendars. Once every quarter, set aside one day specifically for working “on” the business versus “in” it. Conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis and do an activity that is unique to you. Doing something outside of work may clear your mind, giving you more space in your head to focus on the business. – Anna-Vija McClain, Piccolo Marketing
9. Practice Active Introspection
There are a number of ways to practice introspection that don’t require actual meditation. Activities like sports, hiking or just being in nature are ideal. Absent these opportunities, set aside even ten to 15 minutes before bed or when you first wake up to journal your thoughts and feelings somehow. For those on the go, voice recordings on your phone are a great alternative to an actual journal. – Dhru Beeharilal, Nayan Leadership, LLC
10. Have Fun Writing Down Desires And Outcomes
After getting clear on the impact you want to have, write it down, along with the actions and behaviors you routinely want to exhibit. Then, take 15 to 30 minutes at the end of every week to look back and write down your thoughts. Go-getters can be hard on themselves, so it helps to have a little fun and lightness in reflecting. I use these four areas: “Yay!”, “Oh No!”, “Aha!” and “Next Time.” – Tracey Thorsen, LAITHOS™ — The Leadership Impact Company
11. Consider Doing A Core Values Exercise
I was unfulfilled in my past role until an exercise revealed that I was at odds with my core values. By articulating three core values and acting on them, I’ve launched the business I was made to create. Now, I weigh each personal and professional decision against them, and when I align decisions with my core values, I show up my best in all areas of life. – Lisa Walsh, Beacon Executive Coaching
12. Read More Than Emails
Anytime I get out of my zone, it is often because I stopped or halted my reading. I don’t mean reading emails, but rather intentionally reading business books, key industry literature and optional books, such as biographies. Nothing allows you a quicker release from the world around you than associating with other experiences and stories. The best way, to me, is through reading. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
13. Take Daily Walks
The busier you are, the more important it is to set aside explicit time to be able to quiet the mind and practice meaningful self-reflection. For me, this most often takes the form of daily walks with my dogs around the neighborhood park. The fresh air and the beautiful views are the perfect backdrop for me to let go of the day’s stresses and recenter myself. – Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D, Utah Valley University & Human Capital Innovations, LLC
14. Look At Where You Failed And Where You Prevailed
At the end of the day, I always sum it up by looking at where I failed and where I prevailed. Founders are often guilty of only celebrating the wins, but this gives you a chance to be honest, assess where you made a mistake and still keep moving! – Maresa Friedman, Executive Cat Herder
15. Observe Your Breath
Every mental state has a physical counterpart that’s inseparably connected. When you feel rushed or not able to stop and self-reflect, observe your breath. It is the first and most directly controllable aspect of your performance state. To reach emotional calmness, let your breath work as a guide.
Humans are motivated by four drives: acquire, bond, comprehend, and defend. Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams discuss how managers can use all four to keep employees engaged.
We recently asked 600 CEOs: What is keeping you awake at night during this global pandemic? A major and multifaceted concern that emerged is how to keep employees motivated when their world is crashing around them. The circumstances of work have become more difficult. Their responses included:
“Keeping morale and motivation up amongst employees while they are dealing with the stress of COVID-19 as well as parenting/schooling children while working from home. How can we be supportive while maximizing productivity? How do we help employees with work/life balance?”
“How to keep people engaged and connected and OPTIMISTIC in appropriate measure while so many have so many competing personal and business and health and family issues right now.”
Meanwhile, cost-cutting, uncertainty, and the necessities of social distancing attenuate or alter the traditional organizational levers. Several CEOs observed:
“Keeping spirits high in a sales environment. At the moment our sales force has to work twice as hard for a quarter of the results. We have reduced the expectation of results but they still feel like they are losing every day. I believe this will be a marathon, not a sprint, and I will need help for the next many months to keep theirs and others’ spirits high so we can keep them for when we recover.”
“How to motivate a team that has been furloughed? With our operations totally shut down by the government, we had to furlough 90% of our team. They still receive benefits but no wages. We plan on bringing them all back as soon as we are allowed to reopen, but for now they have no income from the company. Many in our industry laid off their employees, we did not.”
“How to keep executives motivated who were asked to take a 50% salary reduction. Because we are now closed and have no revenue, we asked senior staff to take a 50% pay reduction until we reopen. Our CEO took a 100% pay reduction.”
On the positive side of the spectrum, CEOs report that their teams are eager to be motivated, to find meaning at work during this crisis.
Research by Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria and colleagues suggests that people are guided by four basic emotional needs, or drives, that are the product of our common evolutionary heritage. These four drives—the “ABCD” of human motivation—are:
Acquire. Obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status.
Bond. Form connections with individuals and groups.
Comprehend. Satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us.
Defend. Protect against external threats and promote justice.
The extent to which a job satisfies these four drives accounts for a large portion of how much an individual is motivated in their work. While improving the fulfillment of any one drive enhances employee motivation somewhat, the key to a major employee-motivation advantage relative to other companies comes from improving all four drives in concert.
To some extent this is because of the balance required between two pairs of drives.
The drives to acquire and to bond are in tension with each other because the first is competitive and the second cooperative. A major part of management is to keep these two drives in healthy balance, for example by giving rewards for both individual and team performance. Without direct oversight, “Relationships can all too readily slide into cutthroat competition or totally collusive bonding. Either extreme will harm the firm’s performance.”
Organizations can balance these drives by allocating rewards and resources for both traditional performance and for learning activities.
What has changed and what hasn’t?
The four drives themselves, fundamental to human psychology, have not changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has not altered these dynamics as much as it has intensified or complicated them:
Cost-cutting and remote work mean that both the acquisition and bonding drives are harder to meet via traditional means such as raises and team outings.
Uncertainty around the pandemic itself, and its effect on industries and governments, have increased people’s comprehension and defensive drives.
The implicit, almost unconscious ways we get information and reassure each other are lost when people go remote. Colleagues are not going to overhear useful conversations while getting coffee. Because of this, functions of leadership that may have been automatic must now be done explicitly and with intent. The implication for leaders: overcommunicate, and over-reinforce boundaries and expectations.
While organizational policies are the infrastructure of meeting employees’ four drives, managers implement those policies and can do so in ways that increase or decrease engagement. Subcultures within organizations can differ as much as organizational cultures themselves. Most people have encountered a team that performs well above—or below—the organizational norm. While this has always been the case, widespread moves to remote work mean that individual managers are now, for many employees, the only face of the company that they interact with. This greatly increases the importance of managers.
A big question remains. What can organizations and team leaders do to increase fulfillment of each of the four drives? The graphic below displays the four-drive ecosystem.
The four-drive ecosystem
On the organizational level this drive is usually met through the compensation and rewards system. Best practices include:
Pay as well as competitors. There can be exceptions; the need to acquire applies to intangibles as well. Organizations with good reputations may be able to attract talent at a discount; the reverse may be true for stigmatized organizations. Likewise, investments in employees’ long-term prospects via continuing education/development or ownership options may allow for a discount in pay.
Sharply differentiate good performance from average and poor performance. This should be based on metrics that are clearly tied to the company’s mission. Note that we say performance, and not performers. Performance may be based on factors besides the talent and motivation of the individual in question, such as job or market conditions. A person may perform well in some aspects of the job but not in others. Avoid creating a system that plays favorites or denies people the opportunity to improve.
Tie rewards clearly to performance. Ideally, this should be done at both the individual and group (organization and/or team) level. This requires deciding what performance metrics are truly important and being consistent in their application. There is no point to encourage senior employees to mentor juniors, for example, but only reward them for time spent with clients.
These practices are possible regardless of the amount of resources available, with the possible exception of the first.
Managers work within this system and their team members understand that they are constrained by it. Managers who succeed at meeting their team members’ drive to acquire:
Set clear expectations by which performance is evaluated
Demand high performance
Ensure their team members receive rewards and recognition.
Be exceedingly clear on metrics and priorities. People are stretched to the limit: Don’t demand busywork or needless perfectionism.
During this pandemic managers may be the only witnesses of extraordinary efforts employees are making to stay focused and productive. Sincere, informed acknowledgement of these efforts can go a long way. Recognize outstanding accomplishments during meetings or some other way.
For example, gifts and services are appreciated by people more than ever before. Gifts of consumable items are actually valued these days! A fruit basket looks pretty exciting. Especially good are rewards that will ease workers’ daily strains—deliveries, dog-walking, online entertainment or classes for children. With so many companies in flux, it may be possible to get good discounts or in-kind exchanges of items that team members would appreciate. Gift certificates for takeout to local restaurants, personalized miniature embroideries, and online classes in yoga (for adults) and improv (for kids) are only some of the creative rewards managers have given their teams.
Celebrate not only splashy wins but the steadfast, regular business-as-usual activities that are now being accomplished under extraordinary circumstances. Everyone on your team can now add the line “ … during a global pandemic” to their list of job duties. Acknowledge that! At the same time, be authentic and don’t condescend.
Don’t be afraid to give course corrections when necessary. In the words of CEO coach Sabina Nawaz, “Small and frequent performance guidance circumvents major corrections down the road and allows everyone to stay in sync despite distance and daily change.”
On the organizational level, this drive is usually satisfied through company culture. Best practices include:
Foster mutual reliance and friendship among coworkers. Much has been written about how to manage remote teams and encourage collegiality. Teams that have only recently gone remote because of the pandemic have a few differences. On the upside, they have already built relationships and can leverage those. On the downside, the distance from colleagues and work friends is experienced as a possibly demotivating loss.
Value collaboration and teamwork. There is also the issue that over the next 18 to 24 months some people will return to the office while others continue working from home; this can lead to rival subcultures. Onboarding and integrating new employees is also especially difficult. The major issue with remote workers and motivation appears to be feeling isolated and second-class relative to the onsite workers.
Encourage sharing of best practices. Encourage employees to tell you what they are doing well and how they are lifehacking. Share best practices and praise them.
Managers who meet their teams’ bonding needs:
Make employees feel a part of the team
Care about employees on a personal level.
Start meetings with a check-in or opening ritual before diving into business.
Think about creative bonding experiences—an online talent show? Recipe contest? Game night? Show-and-tell of each team member’s favorite piece of art or travel souvenir? These might even be ways for team members to show new skills or facets of their personality.
Zoom fatigue is real. Not all bonding has to be in the moment. Take advantage of asynchronous communication with a page or Slack channel for sharing recipes, articles, and snapshots.
The leveling effect of remote work may make this a good time for cross-team collaboration, assignment rotations, or peer mentorship opportunities. The fact that sales was on the third floor and R&D on the second isn’t quite as relevant as it once was.
On the organizational level, this drive is usually satisfied through job design. Best practices include designing jobs that comprise distinct and important roles, have meaning, and foster a sense of contribution to the organization.
This does not mean all jobs must be knowledge work, or that employees must work at the peak of their intellectual or creative capacity to be fulfilled in this drive. There are two main ways that the drive to comprehend is satisfied on the job. The first is through whatever opportunities for learning, problem-solving, and creativity exist in the job itself. The second is through understanding the role and value of the job within the organization. This understanding can transform even mundane jobs.
The many unknowns of the pandemic mean that people’s overall need for comprehension and control is severely stymied. Organizations that can satisfy this drive for their employees will find them highly motivated in return. People are desperate for a chance to feel in control, as if they are making a difference.
Managers meet the drive to comprehend by:
Empowering team members
Giving team members challenging assignments
Helping team members learn and grow.
Do “office hours” on videoconferencing to replace the informal conversations you once had in the office. This will encourage people to come forth with questions, and with observations and suggestions that might not seem important enough for a full meeting.
Job design may have to take a back seat to immediate needs at this moment because some companies may not be able to perform all of their usual functions, and others may be in all-hands-on-deck mode. At the same time, the crisis brings the opportunity to interrogate business practices. Managers should continually connect their employees’ efforts to the organization’s higher-level goals. If they are not able to do this they need to be having conversations with their own bosses. This may be a good time as well to “[Challenge] employees to think more broadly about how they could contribute to making a difference for coworkers, customers, and investors.”
Providing employees with opportunities for continuing education can be highly motivating. At the moment, experts, educators, and entertainers are releasing a great deal of content online due to public events being cancelled. Furloughed or underutilized employees, especially, should be empowered to do continuing education—in things they are interested in, regardless of its apparent relevance to their jobs. Organizations will need creativity in the coming months and years, and the most reliable recipe for it is to collide one way of thinking or body of knowledge up against another. Sign your best salesperson up for those violin-making classes!
Nawaz also recommends:
“Stay ahead of the game by inviting problems, not just solutions. Our previous rules of engagement have gone by the wayside, so no one has definitive solutions. Invite your team to come to you with problems, even if they don’t yet have solutions. Consider saying, ‘In our current world, we all have questions, few people have answers. If you see signs of trouble, issues that aren’t visible to me, don’t wait to come to me until you have an accompanying solution. Bring me your early indicators and together we’ll devise experiments to tackle the challenge.’ Explicitly signaling you want to know about budding problems will enable greater periscopic vision and access to broader sets of solutions.”
The drive to defend, though primitive—it’s rooted in the basic fight-or-flight response—is nonetheless complicated. Animals are concerned only with “mine” and “might.” For humans, the defense drive is combined with a sense of justice or fairness. The desire to have something valuable—a well-paying job with a good title, say—is the drive to acquire. The drive to defend is the desire to be known to have deserved the job and gotten it fairly, and to believe that the job will not be capriciously taken away. When this drive is negatively affected, people become fearful, resentful, and disengaged.
On the organizational level, this drive is usually satisfied through performance management and resource allocation systems. Best practices: Processes must be transparent and fair, and their transparency and fairness must be communicated to employees.
Managers who meet the defend drive well:
Create a psychologically safe environment
Treat people fairly. Encourage team members to speak up and listen to what they say.
Overcommunicate. Even without economic turmoil remote workers can develop negative attribution tendencies, such as assuming they were left off an email chain because they are being eased out when in fact a simple error might be to blame.
Creating a psychologically safe environment does not mean compromising on performance. Instead, it means acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable, especially in times of learning and transition, and that success consists of surfacing errors and learning from them. Make a clear distinction between mistakes and malfeasance. Allow time for team members to process losses with new technology and altered ways of doing things. Encourage them when necessary. Typing is faster than writing, but not when you’re first learning.
Normalize asking for help. Offer help before it is asked for.
If resources need to be cut, be clear about why. Let employees know that it is acceptable to be frustrated or upset; those emotions are entirely valid. This does not mean condoning unprofessionalism or abuse by any stretch—it means not putting the emotional burden on them to make you feel better about it. Explain the business case, give them time to process.
Integrate the drives, empower the managers
When employees report even a slight enhancement in the fulfillment of any of the four drives, their overall motivation shows a corresponding improvement; however, major advances relative to other companies come from the aggregate effect on all four drives. This effect occurs not just because more drives are being met but because actions taken on several fronts seem to reinforce one another. The holistic approach is worth more than the sum of its constituent parts, even though working on each part adds something.
When these actions come through one person—the manager or team leader—some integration automatically takes place. A course correction serves to hone the competitive edge (acquire), while improving understanding (comprehend), and, if it is delivered in a helpful and respectful way, strengthens the relationship between manager and employee (bond).
Please look to your managers: Do they have what they need to lead and manage? Are they leading, managing, and motivating their employees during these difficult times?
Tennis champion and Olympic gold medalist Venus Williams has some advice for the more than 30 million small business owners and entrepreneurs across the U.S. struggling to find their footing in the new normal: Don’t let fear take over. It’s a lesson she learned at the age of 19 while competing with sister Serena, then 17, at the 1999 U.S. Open. Williams only made it to the semi-finals—her sister went on to win the tournament.
“I let fear take over, and that’s where I should have just let go and would have been my best,” she says. “You want more, and you work very hard for more, so less than that is just not acceptable. That was my biggest loss.”
Speaking to Forbes ahead of the American Express “Business Class Live: Summit for Success” on October 20, Williams drew parallels between her experience playing tennis and running various businesses during the pandemic. “Even though it’s a very challenging time it’s an opportunity to really refine your business and make it something that is a service or a product that is really needed and not just wanted,” says Williams, the founder of full-service commercial and residential design firm V Starr and activewear brand EleVen by Venus Williams. “This year showed all of us that we need to be a product or service that you can’t say no to.”
All entrepreneurs can benefit from that guidance right now. As of August 31, more than 163,000 businesses have closed as a result of the pandemic, according to Yelp’s September Local Economic Impact report. This represents a 23% increase from July 10. Even more alarming: 60% of closed businesses have permanently shuttered due to Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions in many states. The Q3 Yelp Economic Average Report released on October 22, however, points to a hopeful rebound: More than 210,000 businesses have now reopened amid a significant increase in consumer interest for outdoor related services and activities.
For those businesses that have managed to stay afloat, the path forward will require the will to adapt in an ever-changing environment. In fact, about 76% of small and medium-sized businesses have had to pivot their business models to maintain revenue, according to the latest Business Resilience Survey of 1,000 business owners by American Express. Of those surveyed, 73% expect to pivot again in the next year. More than 80% still believe the benefits of owning their own businesses outweigh the challenges.
“It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to let it ruin your decision-making process. There’s always a reason to be afraid. But should you let that take over? Hell, no.” Venus Williams, Tennis champion & Olympic gold medalist
When it comes to overcoming obstacles, small business owners can’t afford to doubt themselves. Williams learned this, and the importance of mental preparation, long ago. “It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to let it ruin your decision-making process,” she says. “There’s always a reason to be afraid. But should you let that take over?,” she says. “Hell, no.”
The hard-earned lessons from the court have translated to the boardroom as she’s set out to become a multi-venture entrepreneur. Inspired by her father, who ran his own security company, and her mother, who encouraged her creativity as a child, Williams found her second calling in fashion and interior design. In 2002, she founded V Starr, which recently collaborated with Airbnb partner Niido to design its first-ever apartment complex. In 2009, Williams and her sister became the first African American women to buy a stake in a NFL franchise when they joined the ownership group of the Miami Dolphins. Three years later, she launched EleVen by Venus Williams and earned her associate degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Earlier this year, she partnered with Credo Beauty to launch a line of clean, mineral-based SPF products for EleVen by Venus.
Williams says running her businesses in the current environment has been one of the greatest challenges she’s ever faced, but she still appreciates the silver linings. “The world of business is really lending a hand to African Americans and women and minorities during this time. And that has also been unprecedented—so opportunity comes out of this really crazy hardship as well. You have to look at that as a challenge—you need to accept it and run with it. There’s no time to waste.”