Interview with Sylvia Lafair
Sylvia Lafair is a clinicalpsychologist and author of "Don't Bring It to Work". She specializes in developing leaders and transforming teams. Sylvia has been a top author for my site and I decided to ask her a few questions to learn more about her and how she helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
I started my present business by accident. I ran a very successful personal growth center and had no plans of working in the business world. At one seminar I was leading about positive family relationships a man approached me to work with his leadership team. Eloquently I said "Huh? Why?" he responded "they're fighting" to which I said "So, people fight". He was persistent and stated, "Look Sylvia, you work with families who have to get along, and my team has to get along."
I thought about it and saw there is shared interest through genetics (family) and shared interest through economics (workplace). That sealed the deal and the rest, as they say is history. I saw the power in understanding relationships and how to handle conflict effectively, and its impact at work has become a driving passion for me for the past 20 years.
The hardest challenge has been to find the right language to make the complexities of working together simpler to understand. This so called "soft stuff" is just the opposite. It is core to who we are and we have been living with a myth that we should be different at work than we are at home. Not so! That is part of what has caused so much extra stress both at work and on personal relationships. The issues that entrepreneurs deal with at a core level include understanding who pushes your buttons and what to do about it. Then the complexities and conflicts that are bound to occur can be dealt with smarter and faster.
How did you find your first customer?
As I said my first customer in my new "business of business" found me. My second customer was also someone who had gone through one of my personal development programs. He claimed that what he learned there has garnered him a great promotion in his company. He asked me to come do some team building at his organization. "Like what?" I asked "Do anything you want, experiment. I know you are on to something important." And, he quickly added, "This is a paying gig so send us an invoice." An offer not to be refused! I eventually started a program for the entire company called "Connections: Results Thru Relationships" that was hugely successful. We still go into companies with a more up-to-date version of this and it has proven to heighten productivity and lower staff tensions. Then we added "Total Leadership Connections", now starting its 10th year for entrepreneurs, family firms, executives in organizations large and small. It is an amazing open-enrollment program that gives individuals from a vast array of industries a networking arena and a place to gain clarity about the people part of business.
What is the best leadership advice you can provide for entrepreneurs?
Of course know and love your product. However, to really go for the gold nothing compares with an understanding of how relationships work. Learn about the ingrained patterns of behavior you brought with you from your childhood and how you respond when stress is high. That is when most tumble down the slippery slope of success and have either physical problems, family concerns, or employees/ customer difficulties. Save yourself from lots of anguish, get it right quickly.
For me this is a powerful area. You see I grew up in an entrepreneurial family business that had the potential for becoming a billion dollar company. However, my father and his two brothers fought all the time. One day my dad came home from work (I was 14 years old) and said dejectedly, "I'm done". It was sadly prophetic; he died the next day from a heart attack.
I do believe if the kind of work I do had been available then the three men could have resolved their difficulties. Most relationships at work end up often in a circular blame game and when I see this counterproductive behavior I just want to reach out and say "No, please, there's an easier way."
So I see my work as an insurance policy for the family, especially the children of entrepreneurs. I have helped so many figure out new and better ways of being in business, understanding the power of relationships and ways to collaborate so there is no need sacrifice home-work balance.
What have been some of your failures and what have you learned from them?
My biggest failures are similar to many entrepreneurs I know. I become bored! I have mastered putting a program together getting all the basics in and then I want to get to the next new thing. I don't do this as much now, but I used to give over the day to day running of projects without realizing that my personal presence was still requested and required; after all I was the "inventor" and while others were doing a good job I did need to be involved.
If you were to open up a new business in a different category what would it be and why?
The biggest need now is for businesses that have a deep belief and commitment to the sustainability of the planet. I would do something that would combine organic food and teaching kids about eating healthy. I'd love to open a chain where there would be classes for kids and parents so they could participate in quickly (that's the key word) putting meals together and learn about health at the same time. All the products, from eating utensils to window washing supplies would be in alignment with the statement "Do no harm". And somehow find a way to keep the costs down so this would be available for every pocketbook. Hmmm, maybe I should get in touch with Jamie Oliver and get this going!
If you could speak to any famous entrepreneur from history, who would it be and why?
I'd be first in line to talk with Steve Jobs. Even though so much has been written about him I'd love to hear more about the down days, the days he was not sure what he was doing would ever take hold. Then there are the Google guys, Larry and Serge. I was able to speak at Google and I must say I thought I had died and gone to entrepreneur heaven. The campus is fabulous, yet even more is the atmosphere of creativity and friendliness that made me wish I could start my career again and be a techy. One more from another older generation is Mary Kay Ash. She was what I call a GUTSY woman way before it was fashionable. She had humble beginnings and was able to use her skills and talents to help people help themselves. Even after all these years, and jokes about pink cadillacs, I still meet Mary Kay distributors who are enthralled with the products and the culture of the company. She leaves an amazing legacy and has given so much to important causes like combatting domestic violence and cancer. I'd also like to know how she has been able to keep the family in the business without intense friction, that ability still fascinates me.
The last thing I would like to add is that the entrepreneurial spirit is one of the powers that drives our country and that when the quest for success is aligned around the principles of passion, purpose, planet the journey, even with the bumps that inevitably occur, is uniquely rewarding.