Every entrepreneur or project manager, at some point, experiences “desolation”.
It’s that dark lonely place where founders either make it or break it.
When it seems like, for some reason or another, you’re alone. You’re running on the fourth coffee of the day just to make it to that 8th meeting, after all, you did just pull an all-nighter to get ready for that 7am presentation.
“I’m awake. Trust me. I’m justing focusing all of my brain power on listening to you.”
(Image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
You’re surrounded by people and it doesn’t matter. You feel like a lone warrior for your cause.
I was there. And, here’s what I learned from it…
The Four-Fold Path Out of “Desolation”:
1. Lead by example. Dance like no one is watching.
One of my favorite leadership videos has been the one about the “first follower”.
I was the shirtless dancing guy. Both figuratively and literally…
Though the point is that nurturing the “first follower” is just as important as being “lone nut”, you’ve got to realize that, in real life, the “dancing” can go on for days, months and even years.
You’re probably gonna be the lone nut dancing to your own beat for an indeterminate amount of time. So, you might as well enjoy it.
We get so engrossed in creating a final product that we fail to enjoy the process in which it came to be.
While you’re waiting for the first follower, dance like no one is watching.
Lead from the trenches. Make it look easy and you might even inspire someone. Or, you might find out that you’re not as alone as you think. Which leads me to…
2. Get clear on roles. Listen, look out and don’t settle.
In the beginning, I had 20+ people say yes to my vision for SPIN. I, now, realize it’s a whole lot easier to say yes to a vision when it’s undefined in the 3D world.
I had difficulty getting replies to text messages let alone getting 20+ people to show up for meetings.
Take a breath and make a list. Get specific. What do you need? Where do you need support? What tasks could you pass on?
Look at the big roles (e.g. finance, operations, chief doodler) and look at the smaller tasks where others can contribute or jump in.
Clarity is victory.
More importantly, commitment needs a tangible expression. May it be a contract, task or a regular meeting, without a structure your “team members” will just be ghosts that need constant resurrection. In the case of SPIN, I had to make sure each team member committed to a project and a weekly report.
“Spirits from beyond, please help me find my CFO. She has left Facebook and stopped answering my calls.”
(Image from of occult-games)
Don’t settle for a core team full of people who will “help out”. Be specific about what you need listen, look out and be the space for that list to show up (big and small). And, manage your expectations.
It’s like a relationship. When someone says “let’s just fool around”, it probably isn’t marriage. If you’re not clear from the get go, someone is bound to get hurt.
And if it doesn’t work out…
3. Don’t dwell. Drama is addictive.
Anyone who watches telenovelas will tell you they can’t get enough of it.
Drama is like a monster that you need to feed. If you don’t feed it, it dies. And one thing about drama, is it usually has something to do with your ego.
Thank God someone stopped feeding the monster.
(Image from chinatownconnection)
Get over yourself.
The mission is bigger than your ego. And if it isn’t, you’re probably not going to last anyway.
And, to make it last…
4. Faith, Courage and Context.
Whether you’re a believer or not, faith is an irreplaceable asset in the world of enterprise building.
Together with a shit load of courage, it’s going to take you from failure to failure to another failure (don’t forget to dance like no one is watching) to a small win and, possibly, the ever glorious and fulfilling “victory”.
So, you got faith in your product/project. And, you’ve got the balls to stand on the precipice of the unknown even if people are laughing at you. But why are you still feeling overwhelmed?
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received was “if you feel overwhelmed, your plate is too small”.
Context is decisive. The bigger the plate – the smaller your problems seem.
When it’s about you and your ego, consider that the plate you’re using is very small.
Create a context that works for you. Look for one that inspires you and is big enough to make all those “little” tasks seem insignificant.
When I have trouble waking up, I remember that I have 30+ students, dealing with poverty on a daily basis, that depend on me for first class education. When my personal problems seem big, I put them against society. When society seems too big, I look at humanity. There’s always a bigger plate…
Dancing. Clarity. No Drama. And, big plates full of faith, courage and context. That’s your path out of “desolation”.
Field Manual is a series of instructional insight-driven posts designed for founders, entrepreneurs and changemakers.