Are you Leading a Rebellion in your Industry?

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“Rebellions are Built on Hope” ~ Jyn Erso, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Yes, I am a Star Wars fan. In fact, I’m old enough to have seen the first three movies in the theater when they were originally released. I love all the movies in the Star Wars franchise but Rogue One spoke to me as an entrepreneur and a leader.

If you haven’t seen it, the story features a character named Jyn Erso who leads a small team of rebels to capture plans which will help the Rebellion destroy a powerful new weapon the Empire has developed.

In one scene, the leaders of the Rebellion are meeting to decide on how to confront the Empire and their new weapon. Discouraged by fear and the overwhelming force of the Empire, the rebel leaders decide to disband and hide.

It’s at this point when Jyn and a small team of committed volunteers decide to do something about it. Against all odds, their tiny band of rebels takes on the Empire. Their heroic actions create a spark that ignites the rest of the Rebellion forces to join in the fight.

As a leader of a small company competing against large industry giants, I have been in those meetings where fear was present.  It’s natural to look at the size and strength of your competitors and become discouraged. What gives me confidence in these situations is to remember other David and Goliath stories.

One that I recall the most is the story of Netflix and Blockbuster Video. Back in 2000, Blockbuster was the giant in the industry and Netflix was just a small start-up. I can imagine the small team at Netflix was easily discouraged when they considered the size and strength of their rival who had 60,000 employees and 8,000 stores.

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

This is where hope comes in. Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the most brilliant military leaders in history stated that, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” This is especially important in a small business facing overwhelming odds. A leader must be the spark that ignites the rest of team.

As in the Rogue One story and the case of Blockbuster Video, large and powerful competitors always have a weakness. It’s the job of the leader to find that weakness and rally their team to exploit it. We should never underestimate what a small team of committed volunteers can do against overwhelming odds.

We each have the power to lead a rebellion in our industry. So, what are you doing to lead your rebellion? Have you found the weaknesses of your largest competitor? Are you rallying your team to exploit those weaknesses? Does your team look to the future with hope or are they discouraged by fear?

As a small business leader, we deal in hope. What hope are you providing today?

5 Reasons to Celebrate the Tough Times

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” ~Louisa May Alcott

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were reminiscing about a business we worked at that went through a rough period. Market demand had dropped, orders were down, margins were being squeezed, and we had a new business system that limited our view of the situation. He mentioned something that really struck me. He said, “I’m glad we went through that time because it made me a much better leader.”

Leading during difficult times takes everything you have, but the truth is, you will be better off because of that experience. In a great article called 9 Things Great Leaders Do in Difficult Times, Bill Murphy Jr. says, “Great leadership seems easy when things are good and everybody’s happy. When times grow tough, however, a leader’s true colors are revealed.”

Murphy suggests that in difficult times, great leaders:

  1. Control their fears
  2. Focus on the mission
  3. Put the mission ahead of themselves
  4. Rely on their training and preparation
  5. Are tough, but human
  6. Encourage their people
  7. Communicate effectively
  8. Use their resources wisely
  9. Imitate the leaders who inspire them

Having led both military and business organizations through some pretty difficult periods, I would agree with Murphy’s thoughts on this subject. I also think there is another side to tough times that he did not consider. As my friend said to me, tough times make you a better leader. Let me suggest five reasons why:

Tough times require you to operate at your highest level. When the seas are calm and the weather is nice, you don’t have to be on the top of your game. But tough times require an intense, 24/7 focus on the problem. As a leader, everyone in the organization is watching you and depending on you to make the right decisions to lead them out of the situation. It requires focus, determination, decisiveness, courage, intensity, and perseverance. It will take your absolute best.

You learn a lot about yourself during tough times. The challenge of leading during difficult times is learning to deal with those voices of self-doubt, fear, and worry while your team is depending on you for confidence and strength. Tough times are the ultimate test of a leader’s character and resolve. There is nothing that will boost confidence more than facing the toughest challenge in your career and coming out on top.

You build strong bonds with your team during tough times. When you stand shoulder to shoulder with your team through a crisis, you build a bond that can last a lifetime. When a leader and their team step up and work together through a tough situation, it builds a powerful new level of trust and respect. The overall capability of the organization is forever enhanced through this experience.

Tough times give you a new perspective. Your perspective forever changes from having withstood a difficult period. You have a much greater appreciation for when times are good. You also are less likely to let people, politics, and minor issues get you down. Tough times help build your maturity as a leader.

Tough times become an anchor point for the rest of your career. Great leaders can almost always point to a time in their career when they became great. In most cases, it was leading an organization through a tough situation and coming out on top. The most difficult situation you face may actually be the defining moment in your career.

Most of us don’t want to go through difficult times. It’s human nature to want things to be easy. The problem is that when things are easy and you aren’t challenged, you don’t grow. Confidence and maturity as a leader come from dealing with your self-doubt and fears while overcoming adversity. Tough times require your best, you learn what you are capable of, you learn what your team is capable of, you build strong bonds, you gain a new perspective, and your performance will define your career. So why not celebrate the tough times? It may be the best thing that ever happened to you.

So what do you think? Can you grow as a leader without experiencing difficult times? Does your learning accelerate when facing a crisis? Should we seek out leaders that have proven themselves in tough trials? Are there other ways our perspective changes by enduring tough times?

Embrace your Critics – Here’s How

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing” ~ Aristotle

I had my first real harsh blog post critic last week and it was great! Let me explain.

I recently wrote an article called 10 Simple Ways to Become an Extraordinary Leader in 2015. In the article, I shared ways to show respect for employees from my 25 years of experience as a leader in both the military and industry. The post received a lot of attention on LinkedIn and the feedback was mostly positive until it crossed the desk of my critic.

My post must have hit a nerve. The following day, she posted an article called Just How Sick of Leadership Posts Are We? The article featured my story prominently displayed as the example of what is wrong with all stories on leadership.

As I read through her post, I went through a number of emotions like anger, frustration, and indignation. Then I began to see her point and understand her perspective. I soon realized these are the same emotions I’ve experienced before when dealing with “business critics.” We’ve all had experiences with these type of critics. They are the ones challenging your assumptions, telling you-you’re not doing it right, reminding you that it didn’t work in the past, or saying it can’t be done.

If you’re a leader doing big things, you are going to encounter a lot of critics along the way. Consider it a badge of honor. The challenge is to learn how to avoid letting criticism derail your plans while still using the feedback to refine your activities.

As a leader, dealing with criticism is an important skill. Todd Kashdan, Professor of Psychology at George Mason University, says one of the most important things you need to master as a leader is how to handle feedback well. He suggests 3 strategies:

1. Look at the person doing the criticism. Molly Cantrell-Kraig, the founder of Women With Drive Foundation, says there are three types of critics you should really listen to: Those speaking from a position of caring, those who have successfully navigated the situation about which they are talking, and those who bring solutions with their criticism. She suggests these are the type of critics who will genuinely help you refine your activities. Critics who might otherwise have an agenda, a conflict of interest, or stand to gain from criticizing your efforts should not be given the same level of attention.

2. Understand that everyone has biases. Not all critics have the same world-view as you. While it is important to seek diverse opinions when creating plans, it is equally important to understand that the past experiences of others will affect their advice. Understanding the perspective of your critic will better help you decide on how to utilize their advice.

3. Create space between you and your plans. As a leader, we need to learn to create distance between our plans and ourselves. It allows us to look at criticism from a more rational perspective, avoiding the obvious emotional response. If we view criticism as aimed at our plans and not us, we can create the distance we need to look at criticism more objectively. This is necessary to find those nuggets of advice that will help us improve our efforts.

Leadership is about influence and change and anytime you implement change, there will be critics. As a leader, it is important you understand the motivation of your critics and their biases. It’s also critical to create a distance from yourself and your plans. These strategies will help you avoid the emotional effect of criticism while still using the feedback to further refine your activities.

I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite perspective on critics from Teddy Roosevelt’s “Citizen in a Republic” speech called “The Man in the Arena.”

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.