Which Pain Do You Choose?

The bottom line job of a leader is to make decisions.  Depending on the circumstances around which a person is leading, these decisions can be a matter of life and death.  Think military or other high stakes jobs like logging (rated number one of the top ten deadliest jobs in a Forbes article in 2013).


I’d argue that making decisions quickly and absolutely is the most important skill of a leader.  Notice I did not say making “right” decisions.  I said making decisions.  Leaders make questionable decisions all the time.  What sets great leaders apart is they own and empower their decisions….and the consequences thereof.


A Brief Tale of Two Brothers


Two brothers were on a sailboat on the ocean.  Both were competent seaman.  During the night, they took four hour shifts at the helm so each had a chance to sleep.  


One night while out at sea the brother who was asleep awakened at the sound of a loud foghorn.  He knew they weren’t close to land.  So the only other option of where this sound could have come from was another vessel.  And it had to be very close judging by the volume of the scream of the horn.


He rushed to the deck and saw that he and his brother’s boat was on course to crash into a container ship head on.  Yelling to his brother, he said, “Hard left!  Hard left!”


The brother seemed to be frozen and staring at the container ship like a deer in the headlights.  He yelled again, “Hard left!  Hard left!”  No movement whatsoever.


At this point there was only one thing to do.  He rushed over to his brother, pushed him out of the way, grabbed the helm and made a hard left.  This leader saved the day.  And in this case that meant saving he and his brother’s lives.  


This leader is my good friend Bill so I know it’s a true story, not an anecdote to make my point.  Bill is in his seventies and has owned/operated, bought, sold or grown eight different companies in his career.  The biggest one did over $300 Million in revenue per year.  


Bill knows what it takes to lead in business and in life.  He’s a practiced risk taker and decision maker.  That’s what got him to hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue.  Nothing else.  Bill has no college degree and was called stupid while growing up as he failed the fourth and ninth grades.  


Obviously Bill is not stupid.  He grew up with a learning disability during a time when they had no idea what that even meant.  The point is Bill learned the skills he needed to thrive.  The ability to take risks, make decisions, and be responsible for the consequences.  If he can do it, so can you.


What Gets in the Way of Making Decisions?


Leaders are action takers.  They don’t wait around for the right decision because they know they’ll be waiting a long time.  They don’t wait to feel comfortable because they know they’ll be waiting a long time.  They don’t wait for the fear to go away because…..


There’s no such thing as the right decision.  There’s only what works and what doesn’t work.  Leaders know this even if solely on a subconscious level.  


What gets in the way of making decisions is the need to be right, comfortable and sure.  Bill’s brother wasn’t sure what to do so he did nothing.  


What if he turned the helm too hard and capsized the boat?  What if he chose to turn and couldn’t do it fast enough and they hit the container ship?  What if he made the wrong decision and Bill got mad at him because he screwed up the boat?


Yup.  Any of these scenarios could’ve occurred and they all could’ve been painful.  What do you do if you’re faced with a decision that will result in something painful either way?  Well, you still have to choose.


Which Pain Will You Choose?


I got off the phone with Nick, a client of mine, shortly before writing this article.  The conversation we had inspired me to write this.  Nick’s a leader.  Always has been, always will be.  He and his wife own and operate a financial services practice near Dallas, TX.


Nick’s been crushing it lately due largely to his very successful marketing.  In the recent months he’s grown the business to where it earns a comfortable living for his family.  He wants to grow and knows it will likely take his investing diversifying his marketing efforts.


This week NIck has been presented with an opportunity to host a radio show as another tactic to add to his strategic marketing plan.  It’s something he’s had a goal of doing in the near future.


You guessed it.  Nick needs to make a decision, and fast, or else he’ll lose the opportunity to a competitor.  Not a life and death decision, but it’s certainly high stakes.  


Here’s the deal.  This is going to cost him $78,000 and a year of his life.  He’s run the numbers and adding the radio show to his marketing plan will grow his business to a whole new level.  IF….it actually works.  


There’s pain on either side of the fence.  If Nick chooses to go with the radio show, it’s going to cost a significant amount of money, he’ll likely have to hire several new people, and learn how to operate inside of a new set of circumstances.  A more stressful cash flow scenario, the headaches of hiring, training and working with new employees, and the risk of not acquiring enough clients to make it worth the investment.  


Conversely if Nick opts to not go with the radio show, he’s going to have to deal with the consequences of waiting until later to do it.  He’ll be wondering how it would’ve went had he chose to do it.  What if it worked?  What if he can’t get the same opportunity next year?  


Nick needs to make this decision by Tuesday, and no matter what he chooses, it’s going to be painful.  The clock is ticking and he’s taking action by calling his team of advisors and supporters to help him through the process.  Ultimately he knows he’s the only one qualified to actually choose.


It was so much fun talking to him about it.  It was like watching a good thriller.  I could feel the adrenaline rush as if it were me in his shoes.  I’ve been there many times.  And I’ve made decisions that worked and those that didn’t.  


Now you get to choose.  Who will you be and what will you do when faced with tough decisions?  Will you be and do whatever it takes?  Will you wait for someone else to choose for you?  You’ll see.  And so will those around you.

The Buck Stops Here

Leadership is both an amazing gift and an unreasonable responsibility at the same time.  The reason is because the buck stops with the leader.  They’re the highest level person to turn to when there’s a problem, complaint, loss or victory.


I’m talking about a certain kind of leadership.  It’s rare.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s totally unfair.  It’s completely unreasonable.  


This kind of leadership is only found in people who make a bold choice to be a certain way.  Sometimes this choice is made consciously, sometimes it’s a subconscious choice.  Either way it takes a thick skin, a lot of patience, forgiveness and compassion.


These leaders relate to themselves as The One.  That means they’re the example to follow.  They’re the model of who their followers want to become.  And they do their absolute best to be the one they’d like to follow themselves.


This means the leader is expected to show up this way every day.  Again, completely unreasonable and totally unfair.


But what if I feel sick?  Sorry, my job is to show up anyway.  But what if I have a deadline and my team and I are way behind?  Sorry, my job is to show up anyway.  But what if everything around me in my life seems like it’s falling to pieces?  Sorry, my job is to show up anyway.


This doesn’t mean leaders aren’t allowed to be human.  It just means leaders aren’t allowed to let their humanity be an excuse to not perform.  It means leaders must show up for their teams as an example of excellence regardless of the circumstances that surround them.


If you’re a leader, and you’ve done what it takes to be self-aware, you’ll notice that what you do, your team will do times a thousand.  Consider for a moment what that means.


If you show up with a negative attitude, they will too.  Times a thousand.  If you show up being self-righteous, they will too.  Times a thousand.  If you show up blaming circumstances and other people for your results, they will too.  Times a thousand.


Think about what you want to see in your teammates and commit to being that way 100% of the time.  100% of the time?  Will you ever reach that level?  


Probably not.  This is a completely unreasonable challenge.  And, if you lower the bar, so will your team.  Times a thousand.  I’ve seen it time and time again.  If leaders think this doesn’t apply to them, they’re sadly mistaken and it shows.


If you want to create a culture of winning on your team, I encourage you to consider taking on the challenge.  I promise your team will be happier and more engaged, you’ll see more favorable results, and life in general will be all around better for you.

Extreme Ownership

There are many traits these rare leaders have.  I want to highlight this one because it goes along with my theme of unreasonableness.


One of the best sources whereby I learned about this concept is the book by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin called: Extreme Ownership.  I recommend this book to most of my clients.  It gave me a serious smack in the face and inspired me around the importance of leaders taking ownership.


Willink and Babin are retired Navy Seals turned leadership coaches and consultants to med-large size corporations.  They served together in the Middle East after 9/11.  This is where they learned about the importance of Extreme Ownership.  


If you guys ever read this, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service.  And thank you even more for helping me learn this invaluable lesson about leadership.  My life, my family, my clients, and my teams are all the beneficiaries of your work.


Imagine the turmoil these men were surrounded by.  Their daily circumstances were actually trying to kill them.  Ruthless enemy soldiers with bombs, machine guns, and a death wish.  They had to trust their teammates with their lives.  


When it came down to it, these men related to themselves as the owner of it all.  Whatever happened, there was never anyone else to blame.  It was always on them.  No matter what.


Yup, even when it was clearly someone else’s fault.  It didn’t matter if another soldier didn’t do their job.  It didn’t matter if there was a miscommunication.  It didn’t matter if the higher-ups made an unreasonable request.  


These guys learned to take responsibility for everything, all the time, no matter what.  Like they owned the joint.  Because that’s what elite leaders do.  


What they found was that their teammates began to follow suit.  Because, you know, teammates will do what their leaders do times a thousand.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  So we might as well give them habits to follow that work vs the other way around.


What would your team look like if everyone took 100% ownership regardless of circumstances?  What would your team’s results look like?  What would the energy of the team be like?


Do you think you’ll get more accomplished?  Do you think people will be happier and more engaged?  Do you think this concept would make life, outside of the work you do, different in a positive way?


Don’t take my word for it.  Go do some research.  Better yet, go practice this and see what happens for yourself.  I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Startup of 1

But what if I don’t have a team?  What if I’m all by myself?  Does any of this apply to me?


If you’re still reading at this point, it definitely does.  You’re here for one of two reasons.  Either because you aspire to build and lead a team in the near future or because you’re an army-of-one by choice and recognize the need for leadership development for what you’re up to in work and in life.  


There’s an old saying I’ve heard many times that’s contributed to who I am today.  I have no idea where I heard it so I apologize for my lack of citation to whoever made it up.  “Leader of one, leader of many.  If you can’t lead one, you can’t lead any.”


Who’s the one?  You are.  I am.  We all are.  Leadership has nothing to do with how big your team is or even if you have a team at all.  It’s a way of being.  A way of life.  You either choose to practice it or you don’t.


Another one of my favorite books is called The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday.  He likens this concept to a Startup Of One.  I think that paints a pretty clear picture of what this means.   


We who choose this way of being to practice are choosing to be responsible for everything.  Every moving part of a project, business, cause, family, friendship, or conversation.  All of it.  Like we own it.  Because we do.


A person drawn to this kind of lifestyle wouldn’t want anyone else to own their life.  And that’s exactly what we’re doing when we blame anyone or anything else for our experience.  We’re giving them the power over us.  We’ve become their slave.


The beautiful thing about all of this is that you get to choose.  If you’re ready to free yourself from the bonds of slavery.  If you’re ready to relate to yourself as the owner of your experience.  All you have to do is take 100% responsibility.


Simple, but I would never try to convince you that it’s easy.  You’ll make mistakes and you’ll probably feel bad about it.  Are you going to let that stop you?  You’ll see.


I recommend you treat it the same way you would a marathon.  One step at a time.  Get curious about what this all means for you, your team, your projects and your life.  Ask yourself where you would go to find some answers.  Then go there and keep going back.  You’ll get the hang of it.  


For me this is a lifelong journey.  I’d never ask you to do something I’m unwilling to do.  And, as you can probably tell, I love talking about this stuff.  So any time from now until forever please feel free to reach out.


Congratulations on your choice.  Whichever choice you made.  For choosing is what leaders do.  Blaming is what victims do.  


Most People's Misconception About Coaching

I wanted to share with people why I coach.  Most people have bought into a commonly believed myth about coaching.  It's not their fault.  There are tons of coaches out there that get hired based on attraction to their personality.

People think they need to follow someone who's done EXACTLY what they want to do.  This person's made millions and millions of dollars and spends  3 months out of the year on a yacht....so....they must be able to help me.  

Listen, I've had a ton of success.  But my claim to fame is that I've failed way more times than I've succeeded.  As a matter of fact all the champions out there that you can think of right now are the same way.  Ask Michael Jordan.  He'll tell you he's missed a thousand shots for every game-winning shot he's taken.  That's why his team always trusted him with the game-winning shot.

Watch the video below and learn a bit about my story.  There's even more here on other pages of my site.  It's ugly.  That's why it's here.  Because I'm about telling people the truth about who I am and where I come from.  I'm about being an example of a truly successful person.  One who's willing to tell people everything.  Not just talk about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Pun intended.  You'll see what I mean if you watch the video.