This is a talk I gave at the Entrepreneur 360 Conference.
Before I started my company, I had zero experience with leadership. I’d never even managed a single person. So, it was a long journey filled with lots of mistakes. I learned leadership the hard way.
Today, I’m going to share with you the biggest secret I learned about leadership.
Leadership has nothing to do with what you see in the movies. I don’t know about you, but I am no Jon Snow. In real life, leadership is about three things. First, you need to have the courage to sit in a room by yourself and make tough decisions. Second, you need to be well prepared to achieve your desired outcome. Lastly, you must have the determination to follow through on those decisions.
So, leadership is really about decisiveness, preparation and determination. Once you decide on a path and have a relentless determination to follow it, something magical happens; people rally around you. You become a leader.
Let me tell you a story where leadership made a big difference for us.
Last year, one of our major competitors, a multi-billion dollar Silicon Valley goliath, announced that they were retiring their popular online form creation product. When they made their announcement, they gave their users only six months to find another solution. That may sound like a lot of time, but many of their customers had used them to create hundreds of online forms, and received thousands of form responses. Re-creating that many forms in only six months would require effort and resources that many small businesses simply couldn’t afford.
Over the following weekend, I thought about the problem, and I made a decision. Instead of going about business as usual, we were going to take charge. We were going to do everything we could to help those people save their forms. Not only did we have the opportunity to gain thousands of new users, but it was also the right thing to do to step in and help all of those people. It would be a win-win.
Come Monday, I brought the team together and I told them we were dropping everything else and focusing on this single mission. My team was excited and they rallied around the cause. They were determined to save the forms that were critical to thousands of businesses.
Our collective brainpower came up with what we believed to be the best solution for our competitor’s stranded users: an import tool that would automatically transfer their online forms and data to our platform. No hoops to jump through. No tirelessly re-creating forms. Just a simple way for businesses to keep using their same web forms, only hosted on our platform.
But, it wasn’t an easy task. Building and perfecting the import tool was challenging enough, and getting people to use it was even more difficult. During those grueling months, we kept our motivation high by watching the numbers of forms transferred to our platform increase. And the growing numbers gave the JotForm team the determination to keep going.
By the end of the six months, we’d imported more than 100,000 forms to JotForm. We saved all those people from disruption of their businesses and, in return, they became happy JotForm users. It was during those challenging months that I truly learned what leadership was about.
It’s about decisiveness. Leadership requires making tough decisions. We couldn’t help stranded users half-heartedly. It required our entire company changing direction for half a year. That’s a huge decision to make. But if I hadn't sat down that weekend and made that decision, my company would have missed out on an enormous opportunity.
It’s about preparation. We worked fast during those six months, but we didn’t work randomly. We had a plan for absorbing stranded users that included huge investments in developer time, professional design, SEO strategy, a partnership with the competitor retiring its product, aggressive public relations strategies, and advertising. Preparation was key.
It’s about determination. If I hadn't asked my team to drop everything and focus on this mission, we’d have never experienced the success that we did. The outcome was successful only because our entire company was singularly focused on this goal.
So, today, I want you to do something for your company. Sit by yourself and come up with a new idea to grow your business. Then, decide how you are going to ignite your team to reach that goal. Today, it’s your time to be a leader.