‘Captain America: Civil War’ Shows You How to Kill Your Team’s Morale

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m usually behind when it comes to movies—except when it involves the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War has raked in nearly one billion dollars since its release on May 6.

If you haven’t seen it yet, go. It definitely makes up for Age of Ultron’s lackluster storytelling. Hats off to the Brothers Russo, who had also helmed the second movie in the Captain America trilogy, Winter Soldier. I can’t wait to see what they do with The Avengers: Infinity War. (Although, I admit to rolling my eyes at the fact that it’s following in the steps of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games by splitting the last movie into two.)

Besides just being awesome, I love the fact that Civil War highlights the detriment that division has on a team. They’re a crew of fictional superheroes, but the same can apply to any group—including a business segment.

Here are a few ways Civil War shows you how to kill your own team’s morale.

NOTE: Spoilers!

Letting Ego Take the Pilot’s Seat

It was clear from the first Avengers that tension between these strong-willed (and just plain strong) characters would be an ever-present theme throughout these movies. Civil War, as the title and trailers suggest, elevates that tension to a whole new level.

Like the Avengers, you want your business to be awesome. That means on-boarding amazingly talented individuals. Some team members may have the best of intentions, but if they refuse to work together, things will eventually fall apart.

Great leaders need to read the people on their teams so that they can best address unhealthy tension before it becomes a bigger problem.

Handling Mistakes Out of Fear

In the first few minutes of Civil War, Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen), makes a massive mistake. No one takes it harder than she.

Captain America/Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) acknowledges her good intentions (as well as his fault for hesitating to take out Crossbones). He also sympathizes, since their line of work is dangerous and always presents the possibility of collateral damage. Basically, he tells her to not beat herself up anymore.

Iron Man/Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) doesn’t see it the same way. While he also understands Wanda’s intentions, he views her as a danger to herself and others. So, in a way, he puts her under house arrest.

One can argue that Cap is being too lenient and Stark is being too harsh. The point is that she made a mistake and she can either be punished for it or grow stronger from it. If she were not remorseful, Stark’s methods would make more sense. Since she was, however, I’d have to side with Cap on that one.

Mistakes are bound to happen. With some, the damage is worse than others. Handling them out of fear rather than respect is a surefire way to kill your team’s morale and post a giant “Do Not Enter” sign for any future creative energy.

Telling Lies and Twisting Truths

Speaking of mistakes, no one has screwed up more than Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan). He makes Wanda’s slip-up look like child’s play.

Joe and Anthony Russo (and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) did an amazing job developing Bucky into perhaps the most tragic of all the characters in Civil War. And it takes only a few lies and twisted truths surrounding his past activities to divide a Marvel universe.

A recent Forbes column by David K. Williams highlights the costs that “mean” people can wreak on an organization. “Mean people, or individuals who engage in ‘workplace violence,’ are perpetrators of physical, mental, or emotional abuse, bullying, or threatening behavior,” he wrote.

I knew a company that had a mean individual. Some of his colleagues likened him to Sheldon Cooper, the sociopathic character from The Big Bang Theory and portrayed by Jim Parsons. And just like Sheldon, he talked down to scientists who held only Master’s degrees as opposed to Ph.Ds. (Heaven forbid you should only have a Bachelor’s.)

Mean people like Sheldon tell lies and twist truths, like about Bucky’s past, to manipulate others into turning against each other. It’s stupid, it’s costly, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

Micromanaging the Fire Out Of People

Micromanagement is rooted in fear and distrust. While Elon Musk famously micromanages his companies to astronomical success (no pun intended—okay, maybe a little), in most work environments, it’s a fast way to kill creativity and increase stress.

On movies like Civil War, the geek in me seeks out behind-the-scenes peeks and cast and crew interviews online. After watching a few with some of the actors, including Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Sebastian Stan, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), it seems that the Russos were not micromanagers when it came to their performances.

I don’t know if they were more like that in other aspects of moviemaking. But at least from the people whose faces we see on the screen, I didn’t get the sense that their directors were also dictators.

If you’ve hired amazing talent, then chances are you don’t really need to look over their shoulders with a yardstick in one hand and a cattle prod in the other. The actors in Civil War don’t seem the type to trade mediocre performances for a paycheck. They seem passionate about, and highly trained in, their craft. The Russos just gave them the environment that would naturally draw out those performances.

As a leader, you really just need to give your team the tools, the space, and the trust to take an assignment and let them unleash their own creative energy. Healthy teams will keep each other in the know and make adjustments as needed.

The freedom to do an awesome job transcends industries. Most people will work hard and work well if they are allowed to do so. In fostering division, however, no one wins.

And with that, I will leave you with the last doughnut.

3 Reasons Why You Need a Side Hustle

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Back when I was an editor with a salary and benefits and I told people what I did for a living, I usually received a polite nod followed by a change of subject. I surmised this response was for one of two reasons: 1) they didn’t know what editors did and/or 2) they didn’t care. (Maybe a bit of both.)

Now that I’m not an editor anymore and my answer to the “work” question is “I sell stuff online,” you wouldn’t believe the questions that follow. Actually, you could, because most are, “What do you sell?” (clothes), “How did you get into it?” (long story), “Where do you get the stuff you sell?” (mostly charity stores), and “Which website do you sell on?” (eBay).

Many have also told me they’ve thought about selling on eBay on the side but don’t really know how to start. Truth is I didn’t know either. Up until the summer of 2014, my knowledge of e-commerce was chopping an old tower computer I had in high school and selling off the parts.

There are buckets of blogs and articles out there that will tell you how to get started selling stuff online, so I won’t go into that here. But I will say that it’s a pretty simple way to bring in a few extra bucks with relatively little investment and commitment.

If selling used stuff online is not your thing, you may still want to find a side hustle. Even if you have a well-paying full-time job that you love, you may find other benefits more useful than cash.

1. Diversifying your income

You might hear about income diversification more within the realm of investment, such as this article that appeared in Entrepreneur back in March. In a way, starting a side business is an investment.

I started my online shop when I lost my job. Up until then, my only income was my paycheck. If I’d started my current business as a side gig while I was still earning my salary and benefits, it would’ve been far easier than starting from scratch.

I really hope you never lose your job. Trust me—it sucks. But if you do experience a sudden and unexpected loss of your primary income, cash coming in from a side business can make things easier as you look for another job. Or, if you so choose, you can use your newfound freedom to grow your side business into your main one.

2. Tax deductions

A side business can really help at tax time, even while you’re still working for someone else. Since I print shipping labels and packing slips, my toner is deductible. Whenever I look for inventory, my mileage for each shopping trip is partially deductible. One of my close friends is an accountant, so if I have accounting questions for her, we can chat over dinner and I can deduct her meal and mine.

Last summer, my family wanted to caravan out to Florida for vacation. Since I had to shut down my shop for a week, I wanted to make the trip work for me. So, I scheduled some stops in Louisiana to find inventory. I worked with my CPA and found that I could take deductions for my mileage, meals, lodging, and of course whatever inventory I bought.

Depending on the type of business you have, possible tax deductions lurk in all kinds of places, such as workshops and seminars, books and other educational materials, art supplies, photography equipment, and even child care expenses. Check with your CPA to see what deductions qualify. He or she might even help you find more.

3. Trying something new

Let’s face it. Even if you have an awesome job, it can get dull sometimes. Having a side hustle that’s different from your day-to-day is a great way to break up the monotony, learn something new, and/or just have fun (like an income-generating hobby).

Before I started my tiny business, I didn’t know the first thing about fashion or e-commerce. I just knew that I liked Lucky Brand jeans, so I started with a few pairs I found at a charity store that I thought were cool and in great condition.

Imagine my surprise when they all sold in a couple weeks and netted me twice as much as what I had paid for them. I felt like I was committing fraud. (I learned from a buyer later, however, that he hated shopping. So, he was happy paying me a premium if it meant someone else could do the digging and have his items delivered straight to his doorstep.)

Fast-forward to nearly two years later and I still don’t know a lot about fashion or e-commerce. But I know more than when I started, like the difference between denim and chambray. I also know more about SEO than I did before. I’m even building relationships with other individuals who do what I do, exchanging tips and sharing especially great deals.

Maybe you like photography and want to make engagement or family portraits on the side. Or you’re a developer and don’t mind doing a little extra coding as a freelancer. Perhaps you make art or jewelry or leather goods and want to sell your creations on Etsy or your own Shopify. Whatever you’re into, it’s easier than ever to start a side hustle and reap the benefits. So what’s stopping you?

Still No Guaranteed Paid Time Off for US Workers

I am currently in the South of France on the second leg of a five-week jaunt through Europe. I found an apartment near Monaco through HomeAway.com that has a not too horrible view.

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Image Credit: Christine Dao

This is a trip I’ve wanted to do for a while. When I had my Salary and Benefits, it was immensely difficult to get any time off (let alone a month or more). I suppose when you have a job with loads of tight deadlines, you pretty much don’t have a life outside of work (unless you just don’t sleep).

But now that I have a tiny business, I have more flexibility to live life beyond work. I started this trip about two weeks ago in the UK to visit with my cousin and her family. She used to live in Australia, and we started talking about work practices in different countries. And we agreed that workers in the US work far more than people in other parts of the world. That can be both a good and a bad thing.

Without a doubt, many (though definitely not all) Americans know how to hustle, how to put in the extra hours, and how to give 110 percent. That drive and ambition can be really constructive—in the proper context and the proper timing. But not always.

Everything, from a car to a plot of farmland, shows that any system under continuous stress WILL (not may) fail if not given the time to rest and receive proper maintenance. And yet the US is still the only developed country that does not require employers to guarantee paid time off. It also doesn’t require guaranteed paid maternity leave.

I’ve never really understood why this is. I don’t condone laziness (obviously!), but I also saw first hand in my own working experience how quickly someone can burn out if he or she isn’t able to just get away from the grind once in a while. And anyone knows that weekends are never enough, what with all the catching up on things that had to be put off during the regular week.

I understand that private business wants the government to be hands off. But with so many regulations on health and safety and what not, shouldn’t insuring that workers have a certain amount of time off out of the year be a no-brainer? Of all the things our government requires of us, I would think that it’s the least that can be done.

But I guess that doesn’t really affect me now, except when the post office is closed for an observance or holiday—like today for Labor Day.

Do you get paid time off from your employer? How do you spend it?

When Credit Cards Can Be a Tiny Business Owner’s Best Friend

Image from Flickr.

Image from Flickr.

I started my tiny business with $200, and I didn’t want to go into any debt. Everything I made in the first few months rolled back into the business to help it grow.

I didn’t know at the time, but I apparently had been using what Zeev Farbman, CEO and co-founder of Lightricks, calls “The Bakery Model.” In essence:

You make a bagel, sell the bagel, buy ingredients to make more bagels, sell those bagels and on and on you go. (source)

I think most people who sell for profit on a platform like eBay use this model naturally. Different types of products and services might require some kind of outside funding. But in the case of the Denym Dystryct, I was using an existing and high-traffic marketplace platform that made it simple for me to simply acquire inventory with the limited funds I had on hand and start selling.

In early 2015, however, I needed some printer toner, storage bins to safely store my inventory, and a few other things to make my tiny business run more efficently. I had cash from sales in my PayPal account at the time, but it would take at least a few days for it to transfer to my bank, and I had wanted to take advantage of some promotional prices at the time. So, I used my credit card. And at the end of the month, I paid it off.

That’s when I started to see that credit cards don’t have to be evil if they are used properly. In fact, they could be really beneficial to a tiny business.

Credit cards are easier to get than business loans.

Anyone who has tried to get a loan for anything recently knows that it’s a pain in the eye. Even if you have excellent credit. I was also admittedly too lazy to go even apply for one.

But I didn’t need thousands of dollars. I just needed a few hundred. So, I applied online for a credit card that I could use solely for tiny business purchases.

Fortunately, I have excellent credit, so I was approved in seconds and I got my new card in the mail the following week. Way less painful than begging a bank for a loan.

Credit cards can help buy equipment and build inventory.

As my sales grew, I needed to have enough stock on hand to fill orders, and I had to make sure that my equipment was in working order. Otherwise, I could lose orders and momentum (eBay is a huge marketplace, and if I didn’t have what someone wanted at the time, he or she could easily find another seller).

When I increased my inventory by a manageable amount using my credit card, I was able to increase my store’s offerings. My sales went up.

Credit card benefits can be (gasp) beneficial.

The credit card I use for my tiny business purchases has cash back benefits. I prefer cash back, and I use it towards my balance when enough points have accumulated. There are a lot of cards with different benefits out there, and sites like CreditCard.com can help you figure out which one works best for you if you need one.

It is important to note, however that credit card benefits are just that—BENEFITS. The cash back is pennies to the dollar. And while getting it is a perk, it doesn’t excuse the fact that I have to still pay back what I borrowed. So, I only use it when I know I can pay it off fast. If I can’t, I have to wait or figure something else out.

Credit cards can help track business expenses.

I still keep receipts from my tiny business purchases, but it’s good to know that I have a record of those same purchases on my credit card statement as a back up. Having a record of all my purchases comes in super handy during tax season. And some credit cards can put your spending into pretty little pie charts online to show where you’re spending the most (i.e., stores, gasoline, cellphone bill, etc.). That way, you can adjust your spending accordingly if you need to.

Credit card companies can help dispute charges.

A few months ago, I bought a lot containing 13 pairs of jeans from a liquidation auction site. According to the photos and the description, I understood that some of the jeans would not be sellable.

But if at least half of them were in good condition, I could still turn a decent profit on them. When I got the lot, however, I was severely disappointed. Nearly all the jeans had some significant damage, such as broken zippers, holes in the seats, broken belt loops—stuff that I would never intentionally list in my store. When I contacted the liquidation auction site with photos of the damaged jeans and asked for a refund, they basically said, “Nope. Sucks for you.”

So, I contacted my credit card company, told them what had happened, and they started looking into it. During that time, they put a hold on the amount I had paid for the lot and the shipping, which meant I didn’t have to accumulate any interest on that amount while they were doing their thing. A couple weeks later, my credit card company contacted me back and said they finished their investigation and returned my money in full. (Win!)

Suffice it to say, I won’t be doing business with that liquidation auction site again. Or probably any liquidation auction site ever. But that was the first time I had ever contacted a credit card company to dispute a charge, and it’s good to know that I can do it again if I have to (hopefully I won’t, though).

Credit cards are not evil if you treat them with respect.

After I graduated from college, I had an uncomfortable amount of credit card debt that took me a few years to pay off. After that, I didn’t carry a credit card balance again for a while.

I started using cards again earlier this year for my tiny business, but with the understanding that I have to use them wisely. That means only buying what I really need for my tiny business and nothing else. It also means paying off balances fast so I don’t have to pay a lot in interest.

So that is my experience with using credit cards with my tiny business so far. Do you have any other advice to add?