My leadership in 2020 quite possibly pivoted on one, single conversation. While there were countless important conversations in 2020, one outweighed them all. It outweighed all the others because had it not happened, the door would have been shut to possibility.
The conversation was one I had on ZOOM with my Executive Coach. It was sometime in the Spring, at the beginning of the pandemic, and I was outlining where the business was. Without thinking about it in advance, the words came out of my mouth that, “we probably would not be profitable for the next few months because our business had taken a downturn.” There is so much wrong in that statement that it is embarrassing to write in this blog, but it is what I said in the moment. Without hesitation, my coach immediately pushed back and asked, why?
I had more reasons for “why” than I care to share here. I had rehearsed them while I worked out, while I vented to my wife about what the politicians were doing, and even to my sisters as we talked about the downturn. I was proficient at this question, but I knew what my coach was getting at. He did not want to hear any of those lame excuses. What he wanted was extreme ownership.
I paused before responding.
I thought for a second.
Deep down inside me I knew I had already errored by surrendering leadership to circumstances. This kind of blaming, and lack of responsibility, is the birthplace of lousy leaders. As dark as the current situation was, and our company had just taken a loss, I had to turn on the flashlight and begin crawling out of the darkness.
I had to believe.
Before going on further, some of you are rolling your eyes at the word believe because you have been punched in the face one too many times. I get it. I am a driven, type-A leader. Belief on its own won’t get you to the promised land. Like Joshua and Caleb, we are going to have to work hard to enter the promised land. But also like Joshua and Caleb, we are going to have to believe the promised land is where we need to be.
Without belief, the only guarantee is failure. With belief, opportunity arises.
So, I responded back to my coach that I knew what he was going to tell me. After he asked me what that was, I told him that I could not open the door to disbelief. Rather, I had to LEAD our team with the BELIEF that we COULD be profitable.
A few days later, someone on our operational team asked whether we could reforecast our sales and profit goals. My immediate answer was no.
The team pushed back.
I stood my ground.
We must hold the line, I told them. While we did not choose the pandemic, it is what we are dealing with. Further, if we gave an inch, everyone would take a mile — not because they are lazy, but only because they are human and had multiple demands being placed on them in, and out, of the workplace. I repeated, we are holding the line.
We had to collectively believe profitability was possible.
I do not have time to go into all the things we did, but rest assured the hard work was done by our various teams. They worked harder than ever before. They are the heroes in this story. Because of their hard work, we handed out more in bonuses in December than we had the year before. Our operational team now believes they can reach higher goals in future years because of how everyone came together.
They believe now too.
Leaders, your team will rise or fall to the level of your belief. This starts with your attitude about everything and everyone.
Believe in your company.
Believe in your teammates.
Believe everyone can get better, starting with you.
Believe you can overcome when things get bad.
Believe you can work whatever the problem is.