Unlike most reality show winners, Randal Pinkett was successful long before he was hired by Donald Trump after the fourth season of “The Apprentice.” His company, BCT Partners, was posting seven-figure revenue numbers just four years after Pinkett launched it in 2001 with no start-up capital. He holds five academic degrees and was a Rhodes Scholar and captain of the track team at Rutgers. At the age of 37, his CV already reads like a who’s who of the world’s best corporations and academic institutions. On top of that, he’s written two books and has a third on the way.
He shares his thoughts about where he’s been, where he’s going and what he’s learned along the way.
Entrepreneur: What did you learn from Donald Trump that has helped you in terms of being an entrepreneur and running your own businesses?
Pinkett: Being on the show was like taking a test. You don’t really learn anything, but it is a great evaluation of what you knew coming into the test. The experience was a great test of my business acumen. I didn’t learn a lot, but it did reinforce and validate that my approach to business is a solid one that can be equally effective at my firm, BCT Partners, or in a surreal reality television show environment.
As the apprentice, I learned a tremendous amount over the course of the year – everything from the project I managed in Atlantic City to observing Donald Trump in action and studying his company and how it’s run and organised. Even in my travels across the country, meeting people at different events and engaging other entrepreneurs, young people and business leaders, I’ve learned a lot.
One of the more specific lessons that I’ve applied in my role back at BCT is really trying to decide what is the best leverage for my time. Donald Trump is a very busy man and he has a lot of responsibilities, but he does a really good job of zeroing in on his unique contribution to his organisation. For him, it really is the art of the deal and being involved with getting deals and closing deals, and he’s extremely good at that.
So before going on the show, I would say that my time was very scattered. It was divided up among many different tasks, from project management, sales and marketing and operations to administration and hiring. Now, I focus on one thing, and that’s business development. I build relationships, I find opportunities and I close deals.
Entrepreneur: You were a Rhodes Scholar and an accomplished athlete at college. How important is it to be well-rounded?
Pinkett: I’m a big believer in well-roundedness. You learn things like how to multitask and how to juggle different responsibilities, how to focus on what you’re doing when you’re doing it and to develop a level of proficiency, if not excellence, that I believe spills over. I believe the discipline it takes to be an athlete spills directly over into things like business or time management, or leadership for that matter.
Entrepreneur: Your book Campus CEO talks about how people can start a business at college. What ratio of education to practical experience and street smarts makes a successful entrepreneur?
Pinkett: It is an equal and healthy balance of both, and I say that from the standpoint that you don’t necessarily need a formal education to qualify as having an education, but rather you need to spend time studying and learning and mastering what it is to be in business. You don’t learn things like financial accounting or profit and loss or internet marketing strategies just by living life. You’ve got to sit down and spend time to read and talk to people and learn and understand and digest, and then embody those best practices.
But at the same time, I believe there is a tremendous value in street smarts, in developing a level of intuition and dedication and a street-level mentality that says you’re willing to try anything and to put in the time and effort to get the job done and to trust your gut and follow your instincts and not necessarily rely on what conventional thinking would suggest, but what your intuition would suggest.
Entrepreneur: Your latest book talks about ways for African-Americans to break into predominately white institutions. What’s the line between recognising things the way they are and striving to change things for the better?
Pinkett: At every stage in our lives, we have to make judgement calls about whether we want to challenge the system or subscribe to it. Part of the art of facilitating change and challenging societal norms is knowing when to hold them and when to fold them – to use Kenny Rogers’ lyrics – when to stand up and speak up and when to sit back and manoeuvre more quietly. If anything, the more influence that you have, the more responsibility you have to challenge the system.
I wouldn’t tell a college graduate who has been hired by a corporation to challenge the dress code on day one. But five years from now, if you become a manager or an executive, and you believe the dress code may not be accommodating people of different backgrounds, you’re at a point in your career where you can challenge the system and facilitate change. Change in our society is predicated upon individuals being willing to stand up for what they believe in, and often that means going against the grain.
Entrepreneur: You’ve put a lot of emphasis in your career on social entrepreneurship. Why is it important for business owners to give back to their communities, and what are the best ways for them to do that?
Pinkett: I believe that the mind-set of social entrepreneurship is not something that you do because it’s philanthropy or goodwill. You do it because it’s good business that can actually lead to competitive advantage for your firm. The way that it’s done is by creatively seeking out opportunities where your business objectives align with social objectives. You look for the synergy between your corporate responsibility and your branding, or you look at how involving diverse suppliers can actually give you an edge. You look at how you can partner with your local community to better serve that community, but also to draw talent from that community. It’s about making the commitment that you believe in these tenets and seeking out those opportunities.
Entrepreneur: What’s next for you at this point?
Pinkett: I’m expecting BCT Partners to continue on our current trajectory and establish ourselves as a legitimate and long-standing social enterprise.
3 Signs You Are Your Own Worst Business Enemy
It’s hard to be objective about ourselves but if we really pay attention our colleagues will reflect how we are perceived and what it means for the business.
Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of your own way.
Entrepreneurs and business owners have to keep all the trains running on time, as well as figure out the next place they’d like those trains to go, metaphorically speaking. It’s a huge, complex job. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to realise that in many cases, the problem behind an underperforming company is the boss.
How do you know when it really is “just you,” though? We human beings have a notoriously difficult time being objective about our own behaviour and choices.
So, try looking for the following signs in the people and circumstances around you.
1. Your employees seem unusually tense or flat lately
Has the camaraderie vanished? Is the workplace one big collection of really bad moods, most of the time?
Of course, the boss’s mood can infect the entire office. As the leader of your team, you set the example and the atmosphere, and your employees follow your lead.
Getting along with others, both inside and outside your company, is imperative for success. If your employees and customers sense a negative change, then it’s worth examining your behaviour. These signs could be symptoms that you’re becoming a toxic boss.
To address this, first make sure you’re acting with integrity and in accordance with your personal values. Next, make an effort to demonstrate empathy with your employees. You don’t have to agree with every single point they make to do this. Respect their boundaries and try to see the issue from their perspective.
Finally, make sure you listen deeply. Employers who simply command and demand compliance find themselves stuck with the “toxic” label all too quickly. Instead, be curious about your employees’ perspectives and problems. Ask open-ended questions to get them to tell you more, and listen to what they say.
2. You feel deeply frustrated with your employees
Are you feeling unusually impatient around new workers? Do you find yourself snapping at experienced workers over small annoyances or accidents?
If so, there could be some deeper issues at play.
Insisting on perfection, or even just on competence in an unreasonable amount of time can eventually sour your entire workforce and drive away valuable employees. You’ll have a hard time attracting and retaining talent if you create an awkward, uncomfortable or outright hostile environment.
Instead, try practicing a “talk-down” method on yourself. When you feel your impatience or annoyance growing, mentally talk yourself down from these emotions to a state of greater calm. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- On a scale of one to 100, how bad is this, really?
- What’s the worst that can happen here, realistically speaking?
- If that happened, how would we respond?
- Is this more important than my relationship with my employees? Or my reputation?
In most cases, reflecting on these questions helps you keep small issues in check. You’ll also want to give some thought, however, to whether there’s a bigger issue just beneath the surface. Using smaller problems as a diversion from the bigger ones provides an effective distraction from tackling life’s larger challenges, but doesn’t do much to help us solve underlying issues.
3. Minor projects are infinitely refined and “perfected” but your company hasn’t come up with a strong new idea in ages
One of the most common ways entrepreneurs become their own worst enemies is by focusing too heavily on things that don’t deserve so much attention. For whatever reason – be it fear of failure, fear of success, or something else altogether – people fall into the habit of spending too much time perfecting existing projects when they should be thinking about what’s next.
Not giving yourself enough time to create and innovate is one of the biggest ways to become your own worst business enemy. Your primary job as the business owner is to create that overarching vision for your company, and then work with your team to figure out how to achieve that vision. If you’re not even allowing yourself the time to do so, you’re fighting an uphill battle without reinforcements. After all, no one else can really do this kind of work for you.
To combat this tendency, try keeping a log of your time for two weeks. Track your time in fifteen minute increments to help figure out where you’re spending the majority of your attention and energy. Then carve out uninterrupted “CEO time,” and schedule it as if it’s a firm appointment you cannot reschedule or miss. Give yourself at least three hours a week to work on new ideas for your company.
It’s hard to be objective about our own behaviour and surroundings. Instead, use your colleagues, employees, and environment as a mirror to reflect back to you the reality of how you are perceived and the ways that perception is impacting your business. Then take the appropriate action to mitigate those challenges.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Why Elon Musk’s Vision Should Change Your Business
If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, there’s no sitting on the fence, its one or the other.
It’s about the big picture
Elon Musk is the kind of guy who probably divides the room wherever he goes; in the same way that people either prefer Superman or Batman, soccer or rugby, maybe summer or winter. There’s no sitting on the fence. It’s one or the other. You either like Elon Musk or you don’t. But this article is not about him, its about you and how you are leading your business.
Love him or hate him, I don’t believe any business leader can get away from the fact that Elon Musk, possibly more than any other contemporary entrepreneur, is going to have an influence over your business. And if he doesn’t, he should, not as an individual as much as an archetype.
In the early 2000s another famous South African born entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth was the first South African to become a space tourist. We were all proud, and asked ourselves what we would do if we had billions of Rands… how would you spend it? Mark’s rigorous preparation and orbit in space riveted the nation, from coffee break conversations to television documentaries and Grade 5 school projects. Everyone was talking about it. Mark’s trip was ultimately the fulfilment of one man’s personal ambition, a dream long-held and finally fulfilled.
Aligning the planets
Elon Musk seems to be a different kind of dreamer. He does not only dream for himself, he dreams for humanity and that is rare. It is also why I think that his vision is something that every business leader should take note of. Look at any Start-up:101 Pitch Deck and you’ll likely see Guy Kawasaki’s famous 10, 20, 30 format and the first slide trying to answer the question, “What problem are you solving?”
Imagine setting yourself the problem of transitioning humanity into becoming a “multi-planetary species”, as Musk famously declared in a 2017 TED interview, and if that’s not enough, you are also working to revolutionise transport and save the environment through clean energy. In my view, Elon Musk (flawed as he may be) represents, two essential qualities that are absolutely indispensable for leaders and businesses of the future: Hope and Vision.
The lever that Musk has chosen to crank open the future, restore hope and unlock his vision, is technology. Misunderstood and much maligned, technology; like Musk, also instantly divides a room.
Technophiles on the one side, technophobes on the other and you must choose. You cannot half use technology, you either opt in or you opt out. The only choice is whether you will use technology responsibly or not. This is no small question and something that many business leaders (including Musk) have shown some commitment to by adding their support to organisations such as the Future of Life Institute.
Ships are not built to stay in the harbour
Technology is agnostic, it is neither good or bad. It’s influence lies in how you choose to use it. With so much talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and how it is going to impact our lives and, in a business context, the lives of our employees it seems prudent that, as leaders, we establish a clear vision for technology in our businesses with due cognisance of how it is likely to impact our staff and our customers alike.
A business that integrates machine learning and AI into its business management system, for example, may in future have unprecedented access to information, provide intuitive robotic support 24/7, and the power to influence behaviour. This goes beyond ‘old-school’ marketing and advertising, heading into untested waters.
While we should rightly rely on our policy makers and legislators to put regulatory frameworks in place to guide how we use technology, as business leaders we should already be taking the first steps towards developing a technology-use policy in our businesses.
Like Musk, our aim should be to bring hope and share a vision. A hope that, even with the threat of diminishing resources in our businesses, we are up to the task of conceiving novel and exciting alternatives that, even if it looks different than in the past, are able to meet the needs of our people. And a vision, not just to increase shareholder value or to be the leaders in our field, but something aspirational.
A commitment to lift eyes and hearts with a big vision, maybe not for interplanetary travel, but at least to let your Enterprise boldly go where it has not gone before, not as a tourist, but as the captain of your ship. Because if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, there’s no sitting on the fence, its one or the other.
6 Ways To Lead In The Multi-leader Economy
Why business leaders today compete for mindshare among their employees, and how they can lead.
I recently attended an event where a CEO delivered the company’s annual results and outlined its future strategy. He closed the talk with some inspirational content to get the team excited about the year ahead.
While I listened to this business leader speak, I also had my eye on the audience. While the content was relevant and inspiring, the narrative and delivery was off. This was evident in the audience, who seemed disengaged – most had their faces in their phones. These employees, who should be inspired by their leader, were simply biding their time, waiting for the next speaker.
Was it because they’re generally rude, disengaged people? Not at all. In fact, they were a phenomenally switched-on crowd when we presented to them. So why weren’t they listening intently to the proverbial captain of the ship?
Leadership competition hotting up
I believe it’s because leaders today are competing for the attention of those they lead. People are exposed to hundreds of potential leaders in their daily lives, and that number grows daily as the internet brings a whole host of outside influence into reach.
While many of these influencers are not tasked with leading, per se, great leaders seldom have to force a following. They naturally build one through an innate ability. They achieve this by delivering inspiring and engaging content on a regular basis via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, podcasts or TED.com.
And it’s not just inspirational visionaries like Jobs or Branson who people listen to today. Anyone with a strong message can self-publish to spark debate, inspire or influence.
Understand the new dynamic
Accordingly, whenever a leader steps up to deliver something relevant to their team, they need to be aware that in the past 24 hours their audience has probably watched people like Simon Sinek, Mel Robbins or Will Smith deliver a message that could spark a different way of thinking.
If you’re a business leader and have not considered the possibility that your team is also being influenced and, often, led by a host of other leaders, then you’re in for a tough time. The reality is that leaders now face fierce competition, and as the head of an organisation you need to take charge and own that space.
Here’s how you can take the lead in leadership:
1. Maintain face-to-face engagements
This is still the best way to work, especially when talking about important matters. I have a standing one-hour meeting with my team every three weeks. I open this session with a 10-15 minute talk on a specific topic I feel is important. The remaining time is used for open discussion. These sessions have been incredibly powerful, because it’s an opportunity for everyone to have their say, share their views and contribute to growing the business and the team, together.
2. Write narrative that catalyses conversation
This pertains to the content of your engagements. This needs to be something that’s not only on your agenda, but also on your employees’ agenda. People need both answers and guidance, but when leaders and teams can work on both aspects together, magic happens.
3. Deliver with conviction
Leaders often throw out a concern, hoping that it gets resolved. You can’t do that. Leaders need to stand up and deliver with passion to galvanise their teams. Sure, be part of the conversation, and ensure that your team knows how important it this, but understand that it’s more than just a conversation.
4. Get them to challenge you
The proverbial ‘open door policy’ requires employees to walk up to the door. Our regular team session offers me the opportunity to ask everyone, collectively, about their thoughts on a subject. I’m basically standing at the open door and asking them to come in, and not just randomly, but to discuss something pertinent.
5. Make the changes required
After listening to your team, take action. Due to the influence of social media, society today is plagued by “ask-holes” – people who ask for advice or ideas, but never action them. Leaders need to listen and take action. Not that you should do everything you team asks, of course, but listening is the first step to understanding, and action needs to follow.
6. Rinse, repeat
Effective leadership is not an annual speaking engagement. It requires constant work to keep teams focused on the business. The biggest failure in most businesses is a lack of communication, which is something leaders need to constantly work on.
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