To succeed in any industry, you must keep moving. It’s how good leaders become great leaders. “The key to success is holding in your conscious mind what you want to achieve and then striving in everything you do to make the image a reality.” –Norman Vincent Peale
The golf pro I recently took lessons from was showing me the difference between how I swing my irons and how I need to swing my irons in order to hit the ball the distance it should go. He had me brace myself and then he took the palm of his hand and hit me in the upper chest. I resisted and stayed planted. He said, “Let’s try it again.” This time he took the palm of his hand and pushed on my chest with steady pressure until I stumbled off-balance. He shared with me the point of the little role play: if you keep the club moving with consistent speed, and don’t slow down the swing, the ball can’t help but fly as far as it should.
Same with you as a leader. You cannot achieve success without consistent effort and hard work every day. Just doing good acts of leadership periodically will not produce sustainable success, nor a culture for which your whole team will be proud to work. Nothing is ever accomplished with a good day here and there, with one employee check-in, with one community engagement, with one visit to a conference or a new vendor. There must be a tenacity about you that doesn’t let go until you get the result you want for this initiative—then onto the next one.
Of course, you’ll make mistakes, as will everyone on your team. That shows you are probably on the right track—actually doing stuff that matters! Sadly, many leaders go into “pity parties” where they pout and withdraw from people to lick their wounds, hoping someone on their team will pull them out of their funk. These “temporary quitters” are looking for sympathy from anyone who will listen to their “Woe is me” complaints, which then hurts the morale of all who listen. That low morale, which started at the top, now permeates a losing culture among the entire team because everyone has one eye on their leader for inspiration (and it’s not there!).
But that’s not what leaders do. Leaders anticipate it’s going to be harder than it looks, and we’re going to take some lumps. Then, when opposition or obstacles enter the picture, leaders know they can’t afford to “stay down”—and their people don’t deserve it either. Instead, you feel the sting of the disappointment for a short period of time, dust yourself off, and then bounce back and get back in the game. You maximize the learning from that loss–even documenting it for posterity and teaching your core team a landmine to avoid or a new procedure to mitigate it in the future–and re-double your efforts to not make that same mistake again.
You are a heat-shield for your team. By staying buoyant and calm in storms, you take the heat that your team cannot and should not bear. It’s the principle of “absorbent leadership.” When bad news and setbacks could potentially hammer the team into depression, a true leader takes the bullet and protects them from what would send them into a tailspin—which would then impact their peer-to-peer and employee-customer interactions negatively. You absorb that pain so they don’t have to.
Sometimes that “storm” or “bullet” comes from the outside: customers may be downright disrespectful or dishonest, or a new law gets passed by legislators. Other times, the resistance is found on the inside: your own family might be unsupportive of your choices and disown you; someone on your core team might decide to leave and try to start their own business and bash you on the way out; or an employee might cause enough strife that it’s causing dissension on the team.
All of this resistance could lead you to give up—because leadership is hard. You still have to engage the resistance graciously and with perseverance, listening and responding to concerns, yet clearly holding the line on your company’s direction and values. You cannot allow unhealthy people’s attacks to hold your business hostage. Effective entrepreneurs and managers know how to read the political landscape to get to win-win and cooperation with people who wouldn’t normally be an ally. Every so often, give yourself a pep talk: get re-acquainted with your True North and the WHY you got into this business, and keep on keeping on.
“The winners in life think constantly in terms of I can, I will, and I am. Losers, on the other hand, concentrate their waking thoughts on what they should have done, or what they don’t do.” –Denis Waitley
One author Angela Duckworth calls this intangible leadership quality: Grit. In order to provoke grit, there must be difficulty in your story. Some definitions of leadership grit are:
- Passion/perseverance over the long haul
- Long-term tenacity
- Utilizing every last drop of human effort
- Playing hurt
- Believing you can overcome any obstacle along the way
- Being “the little engine that could”
And you can get better at being “gritty.” Every time you don’t allow yourself to be stopped (think, force of nature), you get stronger. (Stretching outside your comfort zone helps, too.) And a cool result from this “doing whatever it takes” mentality is that it bleeds over into other areas of your life, too! You also become a role-model for those “less-gritty,” to stand back up when taking an emotional punch. Resilience then becomes “the way we overcome things around here.” They proudly think, “My leaders stands tall, and I stand with him/her.”
One more thing that can help you persevere under stress: having a strong support system. You’ll get in your own head too much if you are alone in leadership. Find and maintain relationships with friends and mentors who are FOR your success, and can handle your rants when things go awry. Everyone needs a place to vent, and then be re-directed back onto the path. “Off you go.”
Effective leaders go through adversity like a mud run and emerge on the other side to run another day.
If you want to learn how other local leaders build strength in themselves and their teams, subscribe to my local podcast The Tri-Cities Influencer, Start by liking the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TCInfluencer/