There was a story on NPR recently where a junior soldier in Iraq was recounting a fire fight he was in where he was completely surrounded. The soldier recounted the fear and desperation that gripped the team as they bravely fought the enemy in all directions.
The story turns when a more experienced soldier somehow arrives on the scene and takes charge of the situation. The junior soldier explains the deteriorating situation and ends with restating the obvious that they were indeed surrounded.
The more experienced soldier replies: “Surrounded? I LOVE being surrounded! Now, let’s develop a plan, attack the enemy and get this job done!”… And in an instant, the entire mood in the platoon lifted, they felt a rush of confidence and set about quickly working a plan to eliminate the enemy and win the battle.
So, you may be asking, what does this have to do with entrepreneurship or starting a business?
First of all, successful entrepreneurs tend to be strong leaders.
Displaying a consistent sense of calm in chaotic situations is critical. When you start a business there are a million things that will go wrong… and even when things are going right there is tremendous pressure. As a leader, if you fall apart or let the pressure get to you it will destroy your organization’s ability to function – even if you don’t consciously think about it, you are setting the pace, tone and mood of the organization – you are always on stage and all eyes are on you!
Secondly, the battle story talks about being surrounded on all sides and how difficult it is in a situation like that. Start-ups are surrounded as well with cash pressures on one side, family pressures on the other and competition in all directions. It is very easy to let this situation demoralize you and your team and you have to find a way of focusing on your plan and executing on it.
Lastly, a successful start-up operates in a very aggressive nature and tends to even use battle-like language when discussing operations not out of a fondness for war but more in the fact that the terminology of military operations tend to transfer well to both the specificity of the objectives involved in business but also, perhaps more importantly for a start-up, the energy and emotion associated achieving the next immediate objective.
Compare the two examples of a typical staff meeting at two hypothetical start-up companies:
“The next item on the agenda is the discussion of how we should think about our upcoming customer meeting. As we reflect on the customer’s needs and our competition we should develop a well-balanced and comprehensive strategy that allows us to beat the competition at each milestone in the customer evaluation phase that prevents the customer from positioning themselves in a more favorable light.”
“We need to discuss our plan of attack for this next customer meeting. We must develop traps and blocks that prevent the enemy from developing a tactical advantage while engaging this customer. We must bring all resources to bear in eliminating this competitor as a threat in each customer engagement and prevent them from flanking us in the process.”
Both examples are technically similar in the discussion of a need for the development of a strong customer engagement strategy.
The difference, however, in emotional connection and energy and importance is striking. Start-ups live everyday in a battle field and everyday they feel like they are surrounded. And ultimately, they are fighting for their lives!