The Second Decision With Randy Nelson

We recently got the chance to talk with ForbesBooks Author Randy Nelson about his book, The Second Decision. Read on to learn more about the Amazon bestseller and Randy’s entrepreneurial expertise.

ForbesBooks: What is The Second Decision?

Randy: It’s a two-part leadership decision. Part one is to decide what role you are going to play over the next 3-5 years; The Leader, the Role-Player or the Creator. Part two of the decision is whether to commit to becoming a qualified entrepreneur. It’s the decision you make when you fully realize the responsibility that rests on your shoulders. Your company is no longer an idea on a napkin, you have staying power and there is lots to accomplish over the next 3-5 years. Are you enjoying this? Are you up to the task? Most importantly: Do you possess the vision, the personal skills, the perseverance and the nuts-and-bolts knowledge that your company needs from its leader at this stage of its growth? If not, can you get there? Do you want to?  

FB: What does it take to become a qualified entrepreneur?

Randy: The first step in becoming a qualified entrepreneur is for the entrepreneur to:

  • …become fully self-aware that they don’t know what they don’t know, and that it’s better to achieve a status of “I know what I don’t know.” This self-knowledge makes clear how the entrepreneur’s shortcomings may be affecting his or her company…and usually results in a commitment to a life-long learning process.  
  • …become fully self-aware that, for the business to succeed long-term, a transition must occur from the business being about “me” as its entrepreneur/CEO to the business being about the overall needs of the company.
  • commit to undertaking the preparation necessary for making the Second Decision. This is a conscious choice to acquire a more disciplined approach to management and leadership – or to bring that discipline to the company in another way. The qualified entrepreneur knows that it’s less important how his or her role is shaped than that the company excels and succeeds.  

The next step is to complete the Entrepreneurial Qual Card (EQC) that I created in The Second Decision.

In the Navy, before the Captain would let me lead the submarine on his behalf, I had to be qualified. I had to complete my Navy Submarine Qual Card which included all of the knowledge requirements necessary for me to be truly lead a nuclear submarine and its 100+ crew. The process was long and arduous, and after my last interview with the Captain himself, he inked the final signature on my card and then pinned my Gold Dolphins on my uniform (think Pilots wings for aviation types). I was now qualified to lead, after a combined 24 months of school and training on my submarine, the USS James Madison.

As an entrepreneur, there are no qualifications needed, ever.  No oral or written examinations, just fill out the legal paperwork correctly and you are off and running, forever. The EQC content was designed around the top reasons companies fail or underperform, and built to ensure the entrepreneur gains a full understanding of the overall operation of their company they are leading. The knowledge requirements on the EQC are designed to fully prepare the entrepreneur to lead their company into the future, similar to how the Navy qual card process was designed to prepare me to lead the submarine.

FB: Why is it important to determine your role at a company?

Randy: As I mentioned, there are three qualified roles to choose from; The Leader, The Role-Player and The Creator. Most importantly, there are no right or wrong roles, and there are no bad choices. The only unacceptable choice is to choose to lead your company into the future, to demand high performance from your employees and to not commit yourself to becoming a qualified entrepreneur. The stories of entrepreneurs founding their company and eventually getting kicked out as the CEO are endless. It takes allot of guts to admit that you are not the right person to lead your company for the next 3-5 years. I know from personal experience, I turned over two of the businesses that I founded and built, at years 10 and 13 respectively. I love to start and build businesses, but I don’t love to operate them long-term…there are better people than myself to do that. The Second Decision book takes you on a self-awareness journey to help you decide what role is indeed the right one for you to play in for the next 3-5 years from the following:

  • The Creator. This qualified entrepreneur loves the company that he or she has built, but doesn’t want to be the CEO. This individual prefers to hire the right people to operate the business, so that he or she can be free to pursue passions outside the company.  Entrepreneurs who itch to start multiple companies are the perfect fit here.  In addition, this could be the path for a CEO who is ready to retire or turn the business over to a new CEO and move on to some non-entrepreneurial pursuit.
  • The Leader.  This could be the Founder, the Owner/Operator – the Captain of the Ship, if you will. Regardless of title, this is the qualified entrepreneur who, at any stage of the company’s growth, wants to self-qualify as CEO. He or she has the capabilities and is willing to commit to the work and learning necessary to lead the company, as well to put the right people in the right seats to support a vision.
  • The Role Player. This qualified entrepreneur prefers not to be CEO at all, or wishes to leave that role after a certain point in the growth cycle. He or she is willing to hire the right people to operate the company so he or she can pursue passions inside the company. Alternate roles for the entrepreneur in this choice could include Chairman, Board Member, Inventor, Chief Sales Officer, COO, etc.  

FB: How can The Second Decision train you to become the qualified leader that every company needs?

Randy: I challenge all entrepreneurs to do three things.

  • #1 – To grow their leadership skills as fast as their company is growing, because the growth of a company is limited by the growth of its leaders. (leadership growth)
  • #2 – To double their personal capacity every three years (knowledge growth). Another way of saying this is to continue to get qualified at the next level every 3 years.
  • #3 – To learn to “Listen with the intent to understand, not reply” (Stephen Covey) (leadership development growth). When this practice is implemented (and by the way, this is my # 1 leadership lesson learned over the past 27 years), the entrepreneur learns that the ability to ask great questions (listen to understand) is much more powerful and impactful than trying to prove that they know everything (listen to reply).

The EQC will provide you with the knowledge base needed to lead your organization into the future. A favorite quote of mine by President Harry S. Truman is “All readers are not leaders, but all leaders are readers”. I will take it a step further, all qualified entrepreneurs are readers and lifelong learners. When the entrepreneur commits to the three challenges above, and completes the EQC, they will put themselves in a position to develop their leadership teams and employees to their fullest potential.

FB: What separates The Second Decision from the other business leadership books?

Randy: I am a huge fan of leadership books and have read more than my fair share of them in my career. I consider myself to be a pretty disciplined person, both in my personal and professional life. But I noticed something along the way in my career. Every leadership book taught leaders how to become better leaders, but few, if any questioned whether the leader was the right person in the right seat for the future. The Second Decision challenges the entrepreneur to do just that, to ask themselves that question. One of the greatest gifts I can give to entrepreneurs is to give them permission to say that they don’t want or need to be the leader. Just because you started the company, that doesn’t mean that you need to stay with it forever. The Second Decision is to choose the right role for themselves and to become qualified. The EQC gives them the knowledge requirements needed to run their own company, but some may decide it is not for them, and that is perfectly ok. The Leader needs to become a qualified entrepreneur, the Role-Player and Creator can hire CEO’s and have them become the qualified leader. My goal with the Second Decision is to help them grow in self-awareness so they are capable of making these critical decisions, and to be comfortable with them. We need better leaders. We need better creators. We need better role-players to reduce the abysmal failure rate of small businesses – 70% fail after 10 years. We need to do better, and that starts with the entrepreneur.

FB: What are some of your career highlights?

Randy: I have had some great entrepreneurial and leadership successes over the past 35 years that I am very proud of, here are a few of the highlights:

  • Built and sold two successful businesses while raising 6 children! These businesses have produced over 1 billion in sales over the past 25 years.
  • Co-Founder; Orion International. In the past 25 years, Orion has placed over 36,000 exiting military personnel into industry and has grown to become the largest military recruiting company in the US.
  • Co-Founder; NSTAR Global Services. NSTAR and is a leading global services and staffing firm focused on the high tech Semiconductor Industry. NSTAR was awarded # 163 on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing privately held businesses in the US and made the Inc. 500/5000 list 4 consecutive years.
  • I served  6 ½ years as an officer in the Navy Nuclear Engineering Program, completing three years on the USS James Madison, a Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarine from 1984-1987.
  • I have served on the General H. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center Advisory Board at NC State University in Raleigh, NC since its inception in 2002, chairing the Board in 2014-2015. General Shelton served as the nations’ #1 military advisor to both President Clinton and President George W. Bush during his service as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (1997-2001).
  • Selected as Entrepreneur of the year finalist for the Carolinas region
  • Selected to attend various entrepreneurial educational programs through the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) including the Birthing of Giants at MIT and the EO London Business School
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