Who doesn’t enjoy a Sunday afternoon drive? When the sun is shining and the chores are done, a winding ride through your neighborhood can be a great way to relax. Streets lined with white picket fences divide perfectly manicured lawns in front of big, beautiful houses. You probably have a couple favorites and think about how convenient a three-car garage would be or all the time you’d save if you had a sprinkler system.
It all looks so easy from the outside.
But how often do you think about the work that went into getting those manicured lawns just so? What did it cost to install those sprinklers? What sacrifices did the homeowners make to build their dream homes? We all see the beautiful houses, but we don’t see the mortgages. The same can be said for how we look at other people – in life and in business.
As business owners, we’re familiar with sacrifice – even if we look like we’ve got it all figured out. After all, most successful companies are built on past failures. For every organization that grows to have a great valuation and garner tons of publicity, there are dozens of instances when it almost didn’t work. Successful entrepreneurs could talk for hours about the sleepless nights they spent worrying about their companies.
But most don’t, so we don’t see it. And that’s too bad, because those challenges can and should be used as learning opportunities for the rest of us.
Take FedEx, for example. In 1971, Federal Express was a self-funded startup hoping to become the first company to ship packages anywhere in the world overnight. Within three years, fuel costs skyrocketed and FedEx began losing $1 million per month. In a last-ditch effort to save the company, the founder gambled his last $5,000 on a few games of Blackjack. Amazingly, he won enough to send his jets on a few more trips. His winnings gave the company just enough time to stay afloat – and today, the company is worth nearly $35 billion.
Of course, gambling isn’t always – in fact, it’s really never – the way out of a rough patch. But sacrifice is always a precursor to success.
Of course, busy entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones with backstories full of sacrifice and adversity. That’s something for all the head honchos out there to remember. Everyone has a story that the rest of us can’t see from the outside. Nobody “has it all.” And, if we want to find success as a team, we’ve got to learn to look a little more deeply at each other – to be vulnerable and own what it took to get us where we are.
So, how can you set an example in your own business that helps those around you appreciate and learn from the struggles behind your success? And just as importantly, how can you create a culture where your employees also allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to share their own backstories? Here’s how:
- Start by telling people about your own struggles. Be transparent with your employees. They’ll respect you for it, and you may find that they’ve faced some of the same hurdles along the way.
- Create a culture of openness where it’s okay to be human. Encourage your employees to be honest about who they are as people, not just as professionals.
- Make space for mistakes. Nobody is perfect. There can be no success without trial and error. Build a culture where it’s okay to make mistakes and not be “perfect.” Employees empowered to take risks always change businesses for the better. The “safe choice” rarely leads to the big idea.
- Most importantly, ask questions and wait around to hear the answers. It sounds obvious, but a lot of people don’t listen. You can’t build understanding with someone who won’t open up to you, and people won’t open up to you if they don’t think you care.
Success doesn’t come easily – for anyone. It’s hard. Really hard. It requires sacrifice and occasional failure.
But bouncing back in the face of adversity is what makes companies, and people, great. We’ve all got a lot to learn from one another. So, look past the surface and make sure you really get to know people. Learn the prices that people at every level have paid to get where they are. See the mortgages behind the houses – and celebrate them.
Because it’s the strength to move forward in the face of adversity that separates “bankrupt” from “bankroll.”
Andy Bailey is lead entrepreneur coach with business coaching firm Petra.