One of the most delightful clients I have ever had the pleasure of meeting at VIM Executive Coaching was a man named Carl, but all of his friends called him “Cal.” He is a highly successful entrepreneur who owns several companies. Believe it or not, his first successful venture was a company that sold glue. That’s correct, glue! Then he took an interest in a ceramic shingle company. It was followed by a venture backed organization that developed a classical music app and a fourth company that made a tracking device for sight hounds! He is indeed a man all over the board, going from low tech to hi-tech and even going to the dogs. Along the way, he converted some of his earnings into commercial real estate, and he founded a “small” commercial real estate company. It would be an understatement of me to say he has become wealthy.
Good for Carl
Carl reminded me of certain aspects of Warren Buffet. Unlike Buffet physically, Carl is all of 5’ 5” with bushy gray hair and a beard. Like Buffet, Carl buys his clothes off the rack and goes to the local barber. I believe his Toyota Corolla is now celebrating its 12th year and he and his wife have been living in the same home in a modest neighborhood for about 30 years.
The good luck and good fortune that Carl enjoys belies his origins and his hard times. He and his wife are cancer survivors. One of his children was born with a spinal deformity. He has had business failures and was once swindled. In short, he has suffered – and he understands suffering.
He is an authentic man, an authentic entrepreneur and more so, an authentic human being. Carl came to VIM Executive Coaching because he was trying to resolve some employee conflicts and he desired some objectivity. Though he is a mindful man, he recognized he needed some objectivity which we happily supplied!
Carl has long been involved in meditation and in fact, he and his wife both like to meditate – a direct outcome of the cancer treatments and the acceptance that came of having to deal with a harsh disease.
However, everything I have described both good and bad is really a prelude to what makes Carl a rather exceptional entrepreneur. Buddhist philosophy often describes the attribute of recognizing one’s suffering as suffering. Carl is not a Buddhist (I believe he was raised as a Presbyterian!), but because of what he has been through he is always helping others with their own problems. I know this for a fact. As busy as he his, with as many interests as he has, one of his favorite pastimes is to help other entrepreneurs.
Carl and I used to frequent the same café and coffee shop. Two, very nice ladies owned the place and unbeknownst to Carl they were having difficulties with a new landlord. I mentioned it in passing to Carl in one of our meetings as an off-handed comment as we were concluding our meeting. I thought no more of it.
Much to my surprise, about a week later I stopped by the café late in the day for a cup of coffee, and there at a table were the two ladies, Carl and a man (presumably the landlord) locked in a serious, but seemingly congenial conversation. I was to later learn that Carl had helped them with a renegotiation gaining them some concessions for a longer lease. Naturally, he charged them nothing for his services (though I believe he was awarded some apple pie for his troubles!). He helped them because he understood their struggle.
Authenticity Springs from Mindfulness
What makes Carl an effective entrepreneurial leader, an exceptional manager and an authentic human being is his mindfulness. Part of authenticity is borne out of his mindfulness and meditation, but I believe a larger part is due to his understanding of suffering. It is a simple sense of compassion that stems from his own suffering and his ability to relate on a human level.
He is not suffering because he has been authentic, he is authentic because he understands what it is like to suffer. Whether an executive leader is dealing with an employee disagreement or a manufacturing problem, the ability to show empathy and to understand how we all can suffer and struggle makes for a more effective leader no matter the situation.