The Critics Don’t Count

I have had the opportunity recently to spend a significant amount of time in two executive
learning environments with others. My fellow attendees were intelligent, articulate and
committed. Each made a sacrifice of time, money and in opportunity cost to attend.

Each was there to learn, to grow, personally and professionally, their leadership skills. All
were leaders and most were business owners.

The media can portray owners as single-minded, greedy people. Whether it is Mr. Potter
from “It’s a Wonderful Life” or Gordon Gecko from “Wall Street,” owners can sometimes be
tagged as evil.

The owners I know are very special. They take risks. They see opportunities where others
see nothing. They bet on themselves, and when their companies grow, they bet on those
added to payroll.

I know more than a few owners who kept employees on the payroll long after the employee
stopped making a significant contribution to the company.

Why did the owner make this decision? Perhaps a sense of loyalty and obligation for years
of service; maybe the decision was made out of compassion because to let someone go in a
bad economy might well mean the loss of a home or the dissolving of a family.

These decisions are quietly made every day. They don’t make the pages of the paper and
people don’t tweet about them.

Owners aren’t quite as mean or ruthless as they have been portrayed.

Most owners work hard, put in long hours, and make contributions to their community in
more ways than they understand. Yes, taxes are paid and owners vote in elections, but
dollars are invested in hiring, buying goods and services and in buying and renting space.

Owners often serve on nonprofit boards and write checks to local causes.

It is easy to criticize owners; they can be an easy target. I heard a person say unkind things
about one owner, punctuating it with “They never give to the community!”

Owners don’t take credit for their contributions. Most don’t seek attention. Some aren’t
aware of their impact. Many remain focused on clients; the management of scarce
resources and making sure there is a profit to reinvest in growth.

Owners can be their own worst critics and their own worst enemy.

Despite good and bad, owners rise early, work hard during long days and return home
exhausted, often seven days a week.

On April 23, 1910, former president Teddy Roosevelt gave a 35 page speech
titled “Citizenship in a Republic” at the Sorbonne in Paris. From that speech, what follows
below is the part most remembered—

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or
where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who
is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives
valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without
error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great
enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best
knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least
fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.

Owners are the engine of the American economy. Every one of our Founding Fathers was
an entrepreneur of some type. These brave men risked signing the Declaration of
Independence and later worked to create the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Business owners risk everything by starting, growing and building a business.

Let’s give credit where credit is due.