July 26, 2012

Glory in the Struggle

Building a business takes time.  And effort.  And pain.  Lots of pain.

“Oh sh*t, one of my top stars just quit.”
“Oh frack, the employee we fired for stealing is threatening legal action.”
“Oh cripes, the sales team made the same mistake again?!”

There are days when just going to work feels like a grueling crawl through the mud.  We’ve all been there.

I can deal with this just fine if I’m making visible progress.  The worst is when I’m NOT making visible progress.  I don’t know if I’m even crawling in the right direction.  This is when the doubt and demotivating thoughts creep in.

A few years ago I wanted to begin building a unique culture in the company.  I decided to begin reading and discussing books with my management team.  Our first book was “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.  I explained to everyone how the book had changed my life, and my faith that it would also change theirs.  Everyone grumbled about a reading assignment each week on top of their regular jobs.  For the six weeks no one did the reading.  They rolled their eyes and faked the discussions.  They thought I was wasting their time.

I was discouraged.  My faith was shaken.  Was this a big waste of time?  I felt like I was wandering pointlessly in the wilderness.  But I persisted and kept us marching in the same direction.

One Monday Joe, a management team member, came to our meeting bursting with positive energy.

“Chris, I read the whole book last week.  I’ve applied a few lessons with my wife over the weekend.  It works!  Thanks for book.  This can change my life!”

Joe’s enthusiasm was infectious.  The other team members took notice.  “Hey, maybe there’s something to this book after all,” they thought.  Two weeks later everyone was participating enthusiastically.  They even started reading groups with their own teams.

It was then that I realized “There is glory in the struggle.”

The struggle is where things happen.  It’s where you move the business forward.  There can be no victory without struggle.  Struggle is glory.

This realization has given me strength.  Whenever I feel discouraged by difficulty, pain and doubt I remember “There is glory in the struggle.”  It’s like tapping an endless source of energy.

There is glory in your struggle too.  Forward!

  • Jessica_mccleary

    So hard sometimes to remember that part of running a business.  I have a couple of employees who are sitting around, clocking their time, and leaving, without looking up from their phones or Facebook, and I constantly wonder… how to get them to embrace their job, whether it is a $10 hour job or whatever.  Getting employees to be proud of their job, whatever it is and feel ownership is a huge challenge daily.  Advice? :)

    • Hi Jess – It begins with hiring.  Screen for enthusiastic, high-energy people.  Give them some homework after the interview.  If they don’t do it, great — they just told you they’d be terrible employees.  If they do it will it shows you they have good attitudes and high energy.

      I like to hire ambitious people who are going to use my job as a stepping stone for a year or two, then move on.  I focus on how the job will help them move forward in their life/career.  I avoid people who are happy to stay in the same job for years.

      A third key is to infuse the job with meaning.  What is your store’s mission?  What value do you bring to the world?  Healthy cooking?  Talk about that all the time.  Make your people feel like they are making others’ lives better value every time they do their job or interact with a customer.  Most importantly, model the behavior yourself.

      You might enjoy reading “Nuts!” about Southwest Airlines.  There are a million great ideas in there about how to get your employees excited and motivated.

  • Nga Nguyen

    “I can deal with this just fine if I’m making visible progress.  The worst is when I’m NOT making visible progress.  I don’t know if I’m even crawling in the right direction.  This is when the doubt and demotivating thoughts creep in.” – this is exactly what I’ve been thru, been struggling with managing people when I’m not a ‘leader’, supporting them without being seen as adding a value to the business. Maybe I’ve got to struggle a bit more before seeing a gleam of glory.

    • Yes Nga.  All great achievement has struggle.  Keep going.

      You mention “managing people when [you’re] not a ‘leader'”.  What do you mean by that?  If you are given responsibility for X, make sure your boss lets everyone know that you have responsibility for X so you can get the right support.

  • Quynh910

    thanks for the positive take on struggle anh :-)

  • Evelyn Nguyen

    I was engrossed in your story, Chris. Thank you so much…..I also had some trouble leading ACT team and felt hopeless when everyone did not follow the tasks first assigned. Then I did not depend on them, did not assign key tasks for them and did myself. It was terrible! Overloading and anger were all I had. I could not bare it anymore and I begged for their full support at that time. All I realize is that when an event comes, I should sell them cheer and responsibility enough to follow eagerly from the beginning to the end. Besides, suitable delegation is important.

    • Evelyn, no one is forced to follow you in a volunteer organization.  That’s why leading a volunteer group is one of the highest levels of leadership.  This is great experience for you.

      Follow the leadership basics.  Share your vision for the group.  Delegate or, better still, get people to volunteer for tasks.  Tell people how important their tasks are to achieving the vision.  Praise praise praise when someone has a behavior you want them to repeat. (Remember the praise formula — praise the action, tell how it helps achieve the vision, tell the person how their action makes you feel).

      Keep going em oi!  I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but believe me you are learning valuable leadership skills by leading the ACT team!