We live in a time of disruption, and because it’s all around us, many people often think it’s easy to be a business leader who breaks the mold and creates something entirely new. Some might even think that ever-advancing technology forces change, thus making disruption inevitable.
But it is not easy.
Of all the attributes that define the Henry Fords, the Elon Musks and the Steve Jobs of the world, there are several that are easily identified. They are creative, innovative and visionary. But there’s another attribute that is often overlooked: I believe they are boldly courageous, too.
Disruption disturbs the status quo. It can change the way people lead their lives. As a result, it is often viewed with suspicion and skepticism. If you had told someone even 40 years ago that they could work from anywhere in the world with a slim device carried in a pocket, they likely wouldn’t have believed you. That is why you need a big dose of bold courage in order to build a disruptive business.
As Steve Jobs narrated in a famous 1997 Apple campaign, those who do things differently are “the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … they’re not fond of rules.” There will be naysayers and critics. There will be some who will doubt you. When you have a brilliant idea of how you want to change things with a new product, service or process, you’re at your most vulnerable.
Here are some points to help you embolden your courage.
Find your cheerleaders.
Identify those who believe in you and want you to succeed. I’ve observed that, sometimes, business leaders who dare to think differently are often unpopular. They might be too much for some people—too brazen, too persistent, too energetic. Competitors scrutinize them. If others don’t share your vision for how to do things, they might call you a dreamer or someone who is out of touch with reality with how things work. But remember: The ability to dream is the ability to imagine something others haven’t thought of yet. I believe imagination is fundamental to being human, let alone a successful business leader.
The key is to find your people. Seek out those who share in the excitement of new ideas. Talk to leaders who caused some disruption when they started out. Identify those who want others to succeed. Surround yourself with peers who celebrate you, rather than people who merely tolerate you and your vision.
Don’t let challenges stop you.
Struggles are not just an inevitable part of achieving your goals. They are also a key component to success.
Disruption can be messy. You’re charting a new path. You’ll make mistakes. Some things don’t work as you hoped. Or, roadblocks you thought you could surmount are immovable. You have to have the courage to own the mistakes. Take responsibility for them. Stand in the rain, as it were, and don’t try to shelter yourself. As all entrepreneurs know, this is how you learn. You reassess, find a detour around the roadblock or map an entirely new path.
What I have come to understand is that doubt is the force that kills dreams, not failures along the way. Unfortunately, as many disruptive business leaders know, doubt can often be weaponized. It might start with one person’s comment or a competitor’s offhand observation, and suddenly the skepticism can dominate the conservation in business circles and become fodder for stories in the media. It casts a shadow that follows the business leader around.
But here’s the important thing to remember: Confidence in your idea, no matter how many times you experience a failure along the way, is the greatest determinant of success. The success you’re after might not arrive exactly when you had hoped or even anticipated. It rarely does, in my experience. Success has its own timeline that could vary greatly from the one you might have drawn.
Find your sanctuary.
One thing that is rarely discussed in business circles is how to bolster your vision or stay true to your idea when it involves courage. As mentioned above, a community of supporters is important, even if that is just your friends and family.
But a sanctuary is also important. Finding a place where you can hear yourself think without distraction, block out the chorus of naysayers and find the lessons in your setbacks is just as necessary as finding community. Maybe your sanctuary is a corner in your office, a canoe out on a lake or 45,000 feet in the sky at the controls of a jet.
Courage is really about having the strength to confront fear. Having a vision is seeing what is invisible to others and finding a new way to do things. That’s exciting, but let’s face it: It’s also frightening at times. When you dare to take a leap, you can fall. And who wants that? Remember the saying famously attributed to Earl Wilson: “Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you’re scared.”
Know yourself. Test yourself. Question yourself. Trust yourself and your instincts. I believe they will always serve you well. Find a place where the world you want to change is quiet for once. Only you know where that place is. Visit it often because the world is only getting noisier.