NOTE FROM NATE: So it's been a month since we posted a commandment. Now, I"m pretty good at sticking to our editorial calendar +/- a day. But for some reason, this post was just too easy to delay. I thought I was just being lazy, or prioritizing my clients over my blog, or <insert another lame excuse here>, ...
Truth is, I still hadn't learned this final and critical small biz commandment. Read on.
In January 2005, I was deployed to Al Udeid Air Base near Doha, Qatar. As a 1st Lieutenant, I was convinced I knew damn near everything there about my job there as an Executive Officer, having survived that gig the previous year under two radically different bosses. I couldn't be more wrong. But we'll get back to that.
An exec's job was taking care of the commander's administrative workload.
In my case, I processed memo's (email and hard-copy), performance reviews, disciplinary reviews, award nominations, etc... through a lengthy review process that usually ended with my boss, Colonel John Venable, Operations Group Commander.
A former commander of the Air Force's elite Thunderbirds flying team, Colonel Venable was hard-core. Completely serious all of the time, with a wrinkle free flight suit, clean-shaven and perfectly combed hair and a steady poker face. Traits most people down-range didn't stress too much - in fact most of the fighter pilots grew little caterpillars of hair on their upper lip, dubbed "the deployment stache" which couldn't be shorn until the deployment ended.
But not Colonel Venable. He ran a colossal group of assets that included 15 flying squadrons hailing from five different countries, with missions happening day and night. And I swear, I never saw him show a sign of worry even when a C-130 mission piloted by his deputy commander, Lt Col Jurkovac, took heavy fire when trying to drop some supplies to the Army ground troops up north, or a sign of relief when Jurkovac got his crew back in one piece.
And to top it off, his intense work ethic spilled onto my lap as well. No comma splice, missing form, or late paperwork was ever tolerated. Just a few negative words from this guy could crush your soul. "Lieutenant Wright. This mistake will not happen again. Understood?"
One particularly crappy day, I vented to his affable deputy and asked him "What is up with Colonel Venable? What's his problem?" So Jurkovac sat me down and defended his boss mercilessly - translated: he slowly ripped my ego and opinions to shreds.
He wrapped up his tirade with:
"Nate, I've been in the Air Force over 20 years, and I can easily say that John Venable is the finest commander I have ever worked for. Period. He is the way he is, to protect us. To make sure we come back alive. Now stop bitching and start fucking working harder. You are here to HELP him, so he can continue taking care of us - and you!"
Shit! No doubt that was the second most humbling moment in my life. And coming from the mouth of a true warrior, and proven badass.
So I started working my ass off. I mean REALLY working. Not just trying to push out flawless work, but setting the office up so that my successor scheduled to come in a few months could step into my shoes without skipping a beat. And I started paying attention to my stoic boss, and noticing two traits that made him great:
He was deliberate and intentional with everything he did.
He wouldn't silently scowl at the Major giving a sloppy briefing. Instead he slowly and carefully, and privately tell him what he did wrong, and the consequences of a repeat failure. He would only use just enough sparse and precise words to get his team moving in the right direction. He would allow people to fail publicly, rebuke them privately, then quietly commend them when they eventually got it right (I fell into this category).
So, how is this relevant?
It's easy to lose your way when buried under the ridiculous workload of running your business. Hell, I pulled more hours in the first year of Small Biz Triage than I did during my 6 day a week, 12+ hours a day work schedule in Qatar.
But those crazy hours didn't yield proportional results. In fact, I felt as if I kept falling behind. Then I got focused, reduced my hours, built a better team and grew my business to the size it is now. Then last week, we had two of our biggest clients cancel their contracts with us. We were almost obsessively focused on helping our clients grow their businesses, and were yielding great results on our campaigns.
Why this major fail?
We forgot our intention.
In both cases, our relationships with those clients were dysfunctional. And the cost to make them functional and consistently fruitful would require a major shift in how we do business. To be blunt, we were not willing to do that for the sake of two clients despite the significant cash-flow from the two (30% of our monthly revenue).
So what did I do with this knowledge?
Nothing. So the relationship silently soured and resulted in two displeased clients.
And what would Colonel Venable have done? He would have deliberately ended those two relationships, with the intention of replacing them with clients we were better suited to help. A hard decision for sure, but the right decision that would ultimately have protected my Small Biz Triage family from the short-term financial panic that ensued.
A hard lesson that I should have learned years ago. An elegantly simple solution.
Unearth your real intentions, and deliberately pursue them, free of distraction and fear.
Now I'm just hoping this lesson stays learned.
Will keep you posted.
Here's the full list of commandments:
10th Commandment - Be Human
9th Commandment - Leave No Interaction on the Table
8th Commandment - Remain Relevant
7th Commandment - Rock Your Niche
6th Commandment - Get Uncomfortable
5th Commandment - Don't Dilute
4th Commandment - Practice Confident Exclusion
3rd Commandment - Don't Rush
2nd Commandment - Pursue the Human Connection
1st Commandment - Be Intentional
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