In 1988, Randy Nelson was one of the founding members of the Raleigh-Durham chapter of EO. He remained a member for nearly 20 years and recently transitioned to an EO Strategic Partner (SAP) in 2018. Randy is a graduate of EO Birthing of Giants (now known as EO Entrepreneurial Masters Program) and EO/London Business School program.
Randy has helped many EO members with his transformational and thought-provoking ideas. We recently asked him to pass on his greatest lessons after two decades of peer sharing and executive learning with EO. Here’s what he shared.
When I am asked what my greatest lessons learned have been over my 20-year EO career, I always respond with the same answer:
- Listen with the intent to understand, not reply (thanks, Stephen Covey!)
- Have self-confidence and self-awareness
For many years, I did exactly the opposite of number 1 above—I listened with the intent to reply, not understand. I listened with the intent to vigorously defend my position because I thought it was a strength to prove how prepared I was! I thought I was supposed to have all the answers so, when questioned, I got defensive. I dug in. There was no ill-intent, I just thought that was what I was supposed to be doing—proving to my employees that I knew what I was doing. I certainly did not want to look unprepared or to show any signs of weakness in front of them.
When I learned my nickname around the office was “The Iceman,”—named for the chill that followed me into a room—it was a career-defining moment that forced me to look in the mirror. I made a decision to change.
I needed to listen with the intent to understand, not reply. I needed to learn to ask the right questions—not to have all the right answers. I needed to understand that how I had been listening was a weakness. I needed to learn that it was indeed a strength to be able to listen and learn from anyone in my company.
I certainly was full of self-confidence at the time, but to make this transition to a better way of listening, I also needed to introduce a heavy dose of self-awareness—lesson number 2.
Did you know that “the lack of self-awareness is the fatal flaw of an entrepreneurial leader”? This phrase has stuck with me ever since I heard it at the EO/London Business School many years ago.
There is no doubt that EO members have the self-confidence necessary to start and build businesses—and I commend each of you for that; our economy needs you! But if you can blend in self-awareness at a much higher level, your ability to scale your business improves dramatically.
What exactly is this self-awareness stuff? Here’s my favorite definition: Know thyself. Improve thyself. Complement thyself.
Let’s take a closer look at what this means for you.
- Know thyself. Personality and leadership assessments are a great tool for this. Your family and friends, and your leadership team (and employees) will also be glad to provide their input! Your EO Forum is also invaluable in helping you understand yourself better. Before you can improve yourself, you should fully understand your starting point—and there will be both strengths and weaknesses because every person has both.
- Improve thyself. Throughout my Decision Series for Entrepreneurs® content program, I challenge readers to double their personal capacity every two to three years. Essentially, this is committing to improving yourself on a career-long basis. The very best entrepreneurs in the world are lifelong learners. They are also committed to implementing what they learn.
- Complement thyself. You can only grow so much doing all the work. Entrepreneurs who successfully scale their businesses surround themselves with people better and smarter than themselves. This is simply what great entrepreneurial leaders do, and what you must do to reach your full potential in your business.
Think about your EO career to date. What have been your top lessons? When you uncover what they are, share them within your EO Forum the next time you meet, and have your Forum mates do the same!
Randy Nelson is currently the CEO of Gold Dolphins LLC, a coaching, writing, speaking and consulting firm for entrepreneurs and leaders. Prior to Gold Dolphins, Randy built and sold two successful businesses which have produced over $US1 billion in sales and remain industry leaders today. Nicknamed the “Triangle’s Yoda” in Raleigh, North Carolina, by his EO Forum, he has a lifelong passion and successful track record for entrepreneurship and leadership. He and his wife, Kristi, reside in Clayton, North Carolina. They have six children and six grandchildren.