I enjoy watching the leaders around me and trying to learn their secrets. Mostly, they inspire me to do better, achieve more, however, it is not always the case. Sometimes it is from their failings that I learn more about myself.
Such as an occasion from many years ago…
What happens in the War Room stays in the War Room
We called it the War Room. It was the meeting room we went to when deals got “complicated” or it looked like we were going to lose something. We had just come up with a plan to save a major sale from going to the competition and the team had been dismissed leaving only my mentor and me to discuss further. It was at that point that he turned to me with a look of panic on his face and said: “We need to cut Steve from the deal”.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Steve himself had just left the room with his own action plan which had been agreed to by my mentor. And now, before we have even had a chance to row our life raft in the direction of land, my mentor was trying to throw him overboard.
This was a man I had looked up to for years. I had sat through countless lectures from him on the best way to to work with other teams within our business and now, in this moment with the heat on and the eyes of the executive team glaring at us, he was cracking.
I’d been working with Steve on this particular sale for the past six months. At that point we were in the final critical hours, when this multimillion dollar sale would either arrive or vanish and my lecturer of business morals had completely lost his nerve.
He was scared that a last minute issue with one particular part of our proposal would unhinge the entire sale. Like cancer, he wanted the problem surgically cut from the deal. This was a new level of pressure for him and he was having trouble coping.
This pressure was not new to me, though, I had felt it many times before and since. I had sweated under the heat of its spotlight and I knew its taste. If you have ever been up against a do-or-die deadline you will know it too.
Also like me, anyone that has suffered from anxiety, and exited stronger, knows exactly where their limits are, having broken them so many times. Right then, I was not even close but he was over the edge and making bad decisions because of it.
He may not have cared who was sacrificed to meet his ends but I did. I couldn’t even mask my disappointment or anger. “Don’t ever say that to me again!” I said before walking away. You could say it was a tipping point in our relationship.
From that point on his panic spiraled. He was so convinced that we would lose that he started to distance himself from everyone. He complained loudly about what we had supposedly done wrong and how he thought we should have done it. He also told the executive team that he had tried to guide me but I had flatly refused him.
I ignored him completely. I just kept my head down, pulled my team together and we rowed that life raft for land. Whenever any of us got tired, another would row harder in their place. Soon the business was divided between thinking who was the greater fool: me for not giving up earlier and dragging my team along, or him for abandoning us when things got tough.
For the record, we won that deal (as a team) and it was one of the sweetest victories of my professional life.
I never quite looked at that man the same again and I wasn’t alone.
Is this just another lecture on teamwork?
No, and please don’t get me wrong, I am far from perfect. I generally try not to judge other people but I am loyal. And even under immense pressure, with the heat on, that is one area I won’t surrender.
Pressure and heat affect people in different ways. Perhaps there are other areas, outside of loyalty, where I would have cracked but in that instance, I was made of harder stuff.
Past pressure had already hardened me.
So my lesson today is this.
There are plenty of people out there that will try and tell you what to do and how to do it. Some of them through blogs just like this. They may use inspiring words or motivational speeches to get their messages across.
But how do we know what they would actually do themselves when the heat is on? We don’t.
So I would like you to consider this. Diamonds are the hardest natural material made on earth, and also one of the most beautiful. But they don’t start out that way.
They start out very common indeed as carbon (just like coal). However unlike coal, natural diamonds are forged under high pressure and high temperatures.
Like most of us at some point that carbon feels the pressure of its situation and faces it’s own tipping point.
Will it succumb to its environment and look for the easy way out, become coal? Or will it absorb the pressure, harden itself for the next test and the many after that? Will it become the diamond it always had the potential to be?
If it does, and you also can, please remember this, like me you don’t have to be flawless just persistent!