What Separates a Great Leader From a Good One?
We're searching for top company cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Apply Now »
The odds of success are against you, the efforts required to keep your head above water are massive (as is the stress) and at the end of the day, your competition may come out with a better product that sinks your entrepreneurial battleship and sends your customers overboard.
Good things don’t come easily -- at least not in my experience. Becoming an expert requires focus, consistency, discipline and dedication. In the SEAL Teams, we honed a particular skill every day: jumping, shooting, diving, small unit tactics, looking cool (or not). Some days were fun, others not so much (you never get used to cold water).
But what separates the professional from the amateur is not just a test of skill, but a measure of will. That is, startup success only comes to those willing to put in the time, do the work and sacrifice self for sustained effort.
If you want to get better at public speaking then you don’t practice writing in your journal. If you want to shave precious minutes off your marathon time then the bench press probably isn’t the best avenue.
It’s no wonder that 46 percent of startups fail due to weak sauce, otherwise known as poor leadership. Unfortunately, incompetence, low or non-existent levels of self-awareness, poor planning and exorbitant expectations are common practices among so-called “leaders” who do anything but lead.
However, those who choose to beat the entrepreneurial odds do so not because their ideas are more innovative than others’ (okay, maybe in some cases), but because they put their nose to the grind and work at daily improvement for themselves, their team and customers.
And you know what? Leadership is no different.
Much has been analyzed, written and speculated about as to what makes an effective leader. My take is this: if you want to improve at anything, then you must practice it daily. What makes special operators so effective on the battlefield stems from the same virtues that turn aspiring leaders into leaders that others espouse -- an intense desire to win, improve and never quit.
Fundamental behaviors of leadership such as trust, empathy, humility, listening, courage and all the other traits that inspire others and separate good from great and mediocre from superior are the same no matter where you are or who you’re with. The tactics for doing so may change as personalities and situational contexts differ, but the objective of leading -- of creating value for others -- remains the same.
Take, for example, Dave Brailsford and his famously coined phrase, "The Aggregation of Marginal Gains." As coach for Britain’s professional cycling team, Brailsford led the team to the country’s first-ever win in the Tour de France simply by focusing on “a 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do” related to cycling. His idea was that all the little things that people tend to overlook because they “don’t matter” eventually add up to become big things that serve as the defining factor between failure and success.
Bottom line: If you want to extend your entrepreneurial reach and improve yourself as a person, a professional and a leader, then hone in on the fundamentals that drive you -- every day.