There is no rule which states that an entrepreneur needs to be the most extroverted person in the room. There has been a long line of entrepreneurs who prefer to be behind the scenes, working on the guts of their business, making sure their ship continues to run the right course. No matter how shy, how quiet, and even how introverted you are, there is one thing an entrepreneur does have to hold a command over – communication. A leader will need to communicate with a team accurately and efficiently at some point in time. Being able to master the art of communication can give any leader a boost in their management skills. Hearpreneur had the chance to sit down with Caren Merrick, entrepreneur guru and communication expert, to learn more about her company, Pocket Mentor, and her advice for sharpening your communication edge.
Tell us about your background and why you started your business?
I’m a serial entrepreneur and adventurer who believes that businesses can be a force for good in the world. I’ve founded, led, or invested in a variety of tech and social impact ventures, including co-founding the global B2B software company, webMethods in my basement, where it grew to a global company with 1,100 people and $200m in revenue and was sold to SoftwareAG for $540M. I co-founded and was president and chairman of the webMethods Foundation which made grants to innovative nonprofits and social entrepreneurs who improved the lives of thousands of low income families through education.
I serve on the boards of several public companies that help small and medium sized businesses grow and prosper.
Some of my businesses were more successful than others and I would love to give entrepreneurs the kind of advice I wish I’d had so they can accelerate their success and gain confidence to succeed.
Pocket Mentor is a mobile app with advice, insights and step by step plans and videos to help leaders grow themselves, their teams, and their businesses. I developed it to solve the “mentor scarcity” problem. Everyone knows that we go further and faster with a variety of mentors. Problem is, there aren’t enough qualified mentors who have the time, talent, or inclination to advise leaders and aspiring leaders..
Can you tell us more about your company, Pocket Mentor?
Pocket Mentor is a mobile app and digial publishing company that offers insights that leaders and aspiring leaders need to grow themselves, their teams, and their businesses. It offers daily advice for leaders, the kind I wish I had known as I started and grew businesses, and what leaders have told me that wish they had known. It’s a one stop shop and includes proven ideas from the latest research. Its designed for busy leaders and aspiring leaders to access 24/7, anytime, anywhere, on your iPhone.
Improving communication skills is also a big focus. We know the #1 complaint that teams have of their leaders is poor communication skills. At the same time, leaders at companies say the #1 issue they have with their teams is poor communications.. Seventy percent of professionals say they do not feel engaged in their work, and improving communications skills builds trust and better relationships. So a key part of the app is devoted to help leaders and aspiring leaders grow in leadership by being better communications every day.
How has effective communication impacted your life both in and out of business situations?
If you think about those painful setbacks and failures in business or relationships, you often find that a key factor was a breakdown in communication – you didn’t understand the needs of your audience (you weren’t listening) or they didn’t understand you (you didn’t reach them.)
I’ve observed that someone can be the smartest person in the room, have the best ideas, best team, and best product, but if they don’t communicate well, they will not achieve their potential, or worse, will fail.
In my first big professional job out of college, I realized that the people who were succeeding knew how to communicate, so I took a 2 day course and saw immediate results in terms of my own confidence, and earned greater respect and influence. I was offered a series of promotions.
You can trace a lot of problems and set-backs to a communications issue of misunderstanding. The great thing is that problems are often solved through better communication.
In year two of webMethods, we had not secured an major VC investor and we were running out of cash. WE had a cool product called the XML application server. But not many companies were buying it. After reviewing and analyzing customer and prospective customer needs, I realized that no one wanted to buy the XML server, they wanted to buy what it did – integrate global company IT systems with their trading partners. So, I went out on a limb and said that I thought we should change the product suite name to reflect the key benefit – and we changed it to B2B Integration and suddenly, with just a few words, our prospects understood the value. This was one occasion where communicating completely changed the trajectory of a company and it went from $27,000 in revenue to over $200m in a few short years.
In your experience, what are the biggest communication flaws entrepreneurs and business owners have?
The biggest communication flaws of many entrepreneurs is a lack of listening – they are constantly in urgent mode and aren’t listening to the market and prospective customers, and they aren’t listening to their teams because of their urgency. Another flaw is that many entrepreneurs don’t know their own communications style or strengths, and they think everyone should communicate just like them – they don’t appreciate the strengths and variety of communication styles of others.
Entrepreneurs don’t think they have time for self-assessment or self-discovery – I’ve worked with many talented leaders who just kept doing the same old thing and didn’t grow as communicators and leaders.
How would you recommend introverted employees and entrepreneurs overcome their communication hurdles?
Play to your inherent strengths. Since introverted employees want time alone to think, make sure you get it because that is where your best insights come from – those are the ideas and solutions that differentiate you. Guard the time on your schedule because your ideas are what differentiate you.
Although there are too many meetings, and those that are poorly run, these are an opportunity for you to influence, so don’t dismiss them as a waste of your time. Think about what you want to say in advance, and step out of your comfort zone and say it. If you are called upon at a meeting and don’t have an answer, simply say you want time to think about it and you will answer later – people appreciate candor and boundaries.
How should leaders conduct themselves in order to maintain a good standing with their employees?
If you want to be listened to, listen. If you want influence and respect, respect and value each person on your team. Asking questions focuses you on listening, and listening builds trust. Good leaders ask a lot of questions – that is how they get to know their audience, and their teams are an important audience.
You learn so much when you listen! And the people on your team want to be listened to as it helps them learn and grow and contribute. Success won’t happen unless the whole team is working together – the leader influences, but doesn’t control.
As an entrepreneur guru yourself, what advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs looking to get out and network for the first time?
First, entrepreneurs need people to succeed. You need to be constantly out there sharing your ideas and getting feedback. And you need a variety of people and mentors who will champion you and your product/company.
If you don’t consider yourself a networker, think of it as an opportunity for you to grow yourself and your business while at the same time helping those you network with to grow theirs. You can’t develop a business and lead a team without a variety of relationships, but you can’t only think about what’s in it for you; you need to think about the value you add to the networking experience and relationship.
When you are networking and getting to know someone, ask yourself how you can help them – can you make an introduction that would be valuable to them, send them an article with an insight, recommend someone for an open position if they’re hiring; these are just a few ways to add value. You can also ask the simple question: How can I help you or your business?
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs, business owners, and employees in general on how to find their best ‘voice’?
Spend some time in self-discovery – whether it’s through an assessment like Strengthsfinder, (which takes about 20 minutes!) or a 360 assessment from an outside source, which takes longer and is more thorough. The more you know yourself, the better you will be able to work and communicate from your strengths.
When you spend time understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, it will help you appreciate others much more and you will be able to connect, engage, influence, and achieve together. And when you take just a bit of time to know your own strengths, you will be reminded that others have strengths you don’t have; and they are different from you, and you can find ways to better communicate, influence, and unleash their potential when you appreciate that.