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The Benevolent Dictator: Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, and Outwit the Competition

ISBN: 978-1-118-00391-6
264 pages
June 2011
The Benevolent Dictator: Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, and Outwit the Competition (1118003918) cover image
An unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations

What does it require to take a concept rapidly and effectively from mind to market? The Benevolent Dictator recognizes that entrepreneurship is a gauntlet. Those who succeed are benevolent dictators—able to make the intricate process happen in days, weeks and months to win.

The Benevolent Dictator gives you no-nonsense how-to advice and examples that have worked. This non-traditional, gung-ho guide is not afraid to lay out the leadership methods that can effectively get a new business off the ground, and through the requisite fast-track growth phases that produce tangible success measured by your bottom line and your wallet.

  • Learn critical specifics on how to move from idea development to build-out, through steps for continuous improvement, and on to the big cash out
  • Features proven tools, strategies, and tactics that will help you bottle entrepreneurial lightning over and over again
  • As the cofounder of office retail giant OfficeMax, the author turned a $3 million investment into a $1.5 billion sale in his 16 years as CEO

Beating the competition is never easy. For those times when you need an iron hand, then you also need the wisdom to know when and how to use it. Whether you're a business student, aspiring entrepreneur, or a practicing executive, you need to discover the winning ways of The Benevolent Dictator.

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Author’s Note.

Phase One Start-Up.

1. Lesson #1: To Successfully Launch a Start-Up, There Must Be a Benevolent Dictator.

2. Lesson #2: The Best Ideas Can Come from What’s Right in Front of Your Nose.

3. Lesson #3: How to Find the Money to Make Big Money.

4. Lesson #4: Once an Entrepreneur, Always an Entrepreneur.

5. Lesson #5: It’s Better to Be Lucky Than Just Good.

6. Lesson #6: ‘‘GOYA’’—The Only Way to Really Test an Idea.

7. Lesson #7: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Focus, Discipline, and Follow-Up.

8. Lesson #8: Competition Stinks.

Phase Two Build Out and Put the Idea to the Test.

9. Lesson #9: Business Is a Series of ‘‘Go’’ and ‘‘No-Go’’ Decisions.

10. Lesson #10: Treat an Idea Like Clay.

11. Lesson #11: Always Be Prepared with Plan B . . . And Sometimes C and D.

12. Lesson #12: You’ll Never Reach Critical Goals without a Definitive Timetable.

13. Lesson #13: Never Be as Weak as Your Weakest Link.

14. Lesson #14: Raising Additional Capital Requires Creating Demand.

15. Lesson #15: Everything You Wanted to Know about the ‘‘D’’ Word but Were Afraid to Ask.

16. Lesson #16: Managing People Is about Achieving Objectives through Others.

17. Lesson #17: Good Intentions Will Get You Only So Far.

18. Lesson #18: Don’t Open the Doors until the Start-Up Passes the Smell Test—And Don’t Be Afraid to Call Time-Out Just to Be Sure.

Phase Three Constant Reinvention.

19. Lesson #19: Pot Stirring 101—The Key to Continuous Reinvention.

20. Lesson #20: Is Perception Reality? How to Manage Risk, Take Chances, and Remain Standing.

21. Lesson #21: How to Keep Lethargy at Bay . . . Or Why Time Is Your Most Precious Resource.

22. Lesson #22: How to Avoid Analysis Paralysis by Learning When to Make ‘‘Battlefield’’ Decisions.

23. Lesson #23: Don’t Drink Your Own Bathwater—You Could Choke.

24. Lesson #24: When the Wolf’s at the Door, What You Do Can Make the Difference between Living to Fight Another Day and Going Down for the Count.

25. Lesson #25: Using the ‘‘Mother Rule’’ Can Help You Avoid Costly Hiring Mistakes.

26. Lesson #26: When Communicating, Cut to the Chase.

27. Lesson #27: Survival Math—Business Is Not a Zero-Sum Game.

28. Lesson #28: Manage by the Three Ps—Persistence, Perspiration, and Performance.

29. Lesson #29: You Can’t Live with ’Em—How to Manage Prima Donnas, Employees Who Think ‘‘It’s Not Their Job,’’ and the Perfectionists.

30. Lesson #30: The Golden Rule of Trust and Respect: You’ve Got to Give to Get.

31. Lesson #31: Why You Must Look at Business through the Customer’s Eyes, Not Just from an Operator’s Perspective.

32. Lesson #32: When It’s Time to Pull the Trigger and Fire a Customer or a Vendor.

33. Lesson #33: Spurring Growth—How to Eat an Elephant One Bite at a Time.

34. Lesson #34: If You Don’t Like the Competition . . . Buy Them If You Can.

35. Lesson #35: The Easiest Path to Hypergrowth Is with Other People’s Money.

36. Lesson #36: Beating the Competition Requires That You Know More about Their Vulnerabilities Than They Know about Themselves . . . And Knowing Yourself Better Than They Know You.

37. Lesson #37: If You Negotiate with Yourself, You Have a Fool for an Opponent.

Phase Four The Payday.

38. Lesson #38: Payday . . . And Lessons from the IPO Road Show.

39. Lesson #39: If the Flame Starts Flickering: How to Tell If the Fat Lady Is About to Sing.

40. Lesson #40: How to Put Lightning Back in the Bottle Again and Again—Many Entrepreneurs Are Serial Entrepreneurs.

Epilogue.

Index.

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Michael Feuer cofounded OfficeMax in 1988 starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money, a partner, and a small group of investors. As CEO, he grew it to more than one thousand stores worldwide with annual sales topping $5 billion. He is also CEO of Max-Ventures, a venture capital and retail consulting firm, and cofounder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a comprehensive health and wellness retail chain that launched in 2010. After opening initial laboratory test stores in Florida and Ohio, a national roll-out is now underway.

Dustin S. Klein is the Publisher and Executive Editor of Smart Business Network, publishers of Smart Business, the nation's second-largest chain of regional business publications. He has interviewed thousands of senior executives and civic leaders across America. He is a regular presenter on business-related issues for public and private business audiences and is a frequent guest on television, radio, and Internet programs.

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July 15, 2011
The Benevolent Dictator

We all know that not everyone is the same. We all have different opinions, different preferences, with different skills and ways of getting work done. And when it comes to managing a team, those differences can make a leader’s job difficult, frustrating, and exhausting. After all, how do you coach, motivate, discipline, and guide the “whole” when the “parts” are so varied? Take a deep breath, because according to OfficeMax Cofounder and former CEO Michael Feuer, the task might be easier than you think.

“Anytime you put more than two people together, you’re going to run into politics and a variety of human resource-type issues that cause problems and distractions,” says Feuer (pronounced “Foyer”), author of the new book The Benevolent Dictator: Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, and Outwit the Competition. “However, you’ll make your life much easier if you remember that managing people is nothing more than achieving specific objectives through others.”

Feuer speaks from experience: He has launched a number of successful business ventures, including OfficeMax and his newest business, Max-Wellness, a new and unique health and wellness retail chain.

The lessons he’s learned, as he writes in The Benevolent Dictator, have convinced him that leaders are most likely to succeed when their management style mirrors that of a benevolent dictator: At the end of the day, the “dictator” side of you calls the shots and makes the difficult decisions, but your “benevolent” side does so while putting the interests of the organization, your team, and your customers ahead of your own. The challenge, of course, is that striking this balance isn’t easy.

            Feuer explains that because managing others while working toward goals can be such a tricky business, many leaders just keep piling objectives and goals onto their own plates. Exhausted, they don’t have the time or energy to tackle the most substantive issues or the opportunities that provide the biggest payoff.

“I’ve learned that if leaders want to ensure long-term success for their organizations, they need other very good people,” Feuer notes. “And more importantly, they need to know how to manage those people effectively. Sometimes that means showing, coaching, or teaching…and sometimes it means telling them to take a cue from the Nike slogan and ‘just do it’!”   

If your leadership style needs a benevolent dictator boost, read on for Feuer’s trusted and true lessons on how to achieve greatness through your team:

Understand the business of “we.” When it comes to leadership, pronouns make more of a difference than you might think. In fact, they can either make you into the type of leader people want to follow or the type they only put up with. When you speak of the company and its objectives in terms of “we” instead of “me,” you show that everyone is in it together, and that the organization sinks or swims based on everyone’s efforts. You also show that you know to give credit where credit is due—to the team.

“My rule at OfficeMax was that if something bad happened, ‘I’ did it—as far as the outside world was concerned,” Feuer recounts. “After all, I was the CEO and chairman, so it was only right for me to shoulder the blame in public. But when something good occurred and we achieved or exceeded goals, I would always say ‘we’ did it. Following this rule helps you to build a fully committed team, because they know we’re all in it together.”

Learn the theory of (business) evolution. As a leader, you’d like to think that your team is like the Three Musketeers: all for one and one for all, with no one abandoning his colleagues until the mission is over and the results achieved. Unfortunately, in business, that’s not always the case. The cold hard reality is that in the course of the overall mission, people will come and go, and many won’t finish in the same role where they started. Hardest of all to accept is the fact that you’ll have to make many of the who-stays-and-who-goes decisions yourself.

“One of the most difficult lessons I learned about managing people is that you need to have an evolving team,” Feuer admits. “My best advice is to hire people with something to prove, and then put them in a position to excel. You must also be able to make hard decisions, such as choosing to hire from the outside when there isn’t time to train an internal candidate for the next level, or determining when a legitimately hard worker has nevertheless been given enough—or too much—authority.”

Learn to delegate. If you can’t do it all yourself, the only solution is to share tasks—but delegating is something that can be unexpectedly complex. Some leaders fail because they don’t know how; others don’t have the time, and still more are reluctant to pass the baton. In order to successfully incorporate others into your organization’s vision and growth, you can’t just pass along tasks and say “do it”—you have to nurture your team, and then realize when it’s time to give them the space and opportunity to accomplish the objective.

“After I’ve done my best to match various tasks to my team’s strengths, I get out of their way, even though it’s not always easy,” Feuer says. “In recent years, I’ve actually worked from home until about 10:00 each morning, because I don’t want to be too available to my team. They need to be able to handle problems and make progress on their own, and they won’t be able to do that if I’m there to bail them out at the first sign of trouble—and by staying away for part of the day, I won’t be tempted to step in prematurely.”

Take the time to teach. Dealing out tasks and responsibilities is a step in the right direction, but you also need to teach others how to succeed. In most cases, teaching through your own example will be the best lesson your team could ever receive. Of course, the “catch” in this strategy is the time factor. Training others to do things the right way takes time that frankly you don’t always have. But, although it can be painful at first, there is a huge payback if you persevere—both in terms of increased productivity to your business and the satisfaction you obtain by passing your talent on to others.

“Teaching is an art, and I’ve found that medical schools and hospitals have hit upon a very efficient and effective method,” Feuer shares. “It’s ‘watch one, do one, teach one,’ and it can be used to teach almost any aspect of business from sales calls to client presentations to data analyses. In practice, it works like this: If you’re training a new salesperson, he’ll first watch you do a few sales calls. Once he’s learned what works and what doesn’t, he’ll make a few sales calls under your guidance. And finally, when he’s got the hang of it, he’ll be able to train new salespeople when they’re hired. If you use this model in your organization, you’ll find that the responsibility of teaching is shared…as is the personal satisfaction it brings. This way, you aren’t overburdened, and everyone enjoys increased productivity.”

Keep your people off the rocks. Imagine that each of your team members is traveling along a path. Some days, the way forward is clearly marked and the going is smooth. Other days, however, the route is murkier. There are potholes and dead ends…and the road is also lined with rocks. If someone veers too far to the side, he’ll hit the rocks, get hurt, and damage his vehicle (in other words, the organization).

“Your job is to keep your people off the rocks,” asserts Feuer. “This seems like a simple enough concept, but many leaders don’t fully grasp it until they’ve had to deal with some crashes and near-death experiences. It’s more than worth it to keep an eye on where your team members are driving, and to correct their courses when you see them swerving too close to the rocks.”

Believe what you say. Consider this: If you don’t believe in what your organization is doing or don’t think it can accomplish the goals you set forth for your team, then why should your people think any differently? The fact is, a genuinely confident leader can motivate an underdog to succeed against all odds…while a leader who is full of doubt can doom a venture that should have been a sure thing.

“I knew the going would be tough, but I never once thought that OfficeMax would fail, despite the fact that we were up against much larger, well-established competitors,” Feuer recalls. “Because I made my vision known to all, my mindset became viral, and people bought into my beliefs—mostly because I was sincere and because I knew how to sell my message.”

Explain what “no” really means. Teach your team that the “no” they receive the first nine times is merely a disguised “maybe”—because the other guy is looking for a reason why not to proceed, or doesn’t understand what they’re asking. It’s only after the tenth time—when the other person hangs up or walks out of the room and slams the door—that “no” really means “no.”

“I’ve seen it over and over: Hearing ‘no’ simply means that you haven’t effectively or passionately explained what you need—or adequately expressed how your success will translate to their success,” says Feuer. “Obviously, you and your team have to be tactful. You certainly don’t want to alienate potential investors, vendors, or customers by harassing them, for example, for a more favorable answer. But you don’t have to take ‘no’ for an answer either.” 

Identify your under-the-radar superstar. It’s natural to look for standouts and home-run hitters to emerge as your MVPs. However, looking a bit further down your team’s bench can pay off, too. Many times, individuals who prefer to follow and who dislike the limelight are the most reliable and consistent. You might also have potential superstars who’ve simply never been given the opportunity or encouragement to shine.

“Most leaders tend to be unrealistic about filling all their positions with overachievers,” points out Feuer. “For one thing, doing so is economically impractical. Also, you don’t want a team of people who will be constantly trying to out-do one another—you want a combination of leaders, thinkers, doers, and followers who will work well together. As a leader, simply encourage your team. Watch how each person thinks and performs under adverse circumstances and see who comes out on top. You might be surprised by the result!”

“As your venture gets more complex, your days will become more compressed,” concludes Feuer. “And it doesn’t take a whiz to realize that you need the help and buy-in of others to make sure you don’t come up short at the end of the day. When you can effectively manage, providing your team with the leadership and encouragement they need to achieve desired objectives, the success you reach together will be much greater than any you would have achieved on your own.”

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