Burn The Boat

In ancient times of war commanders would order their soldiers to burn their boats on the enemy’s shores as a signal to incoming sailors that the soldiers were going to win the war or die trying with no chance of retreat. Check out this video about Hernando Cortez who decided to take a chance; burn the boats.

In our lives we like to create options or a ‘plan B’ just in case something goes awry. While this is the intelligent decision, consequently it creates room for error that never allows you or a team to reach full potential. The reason we cling to these ‘safety boats’ is due a fear based on experience and the personification of it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Again this is the intelligent thing to do, especially as a business owner. However we have to create environments where every once in a while you must throw caution to the wind and go for it.  I’ve spoken about how a good indicator of proper leadership is knowing that your team will follow you over a cliff. Burning ‘your boat’ is similar, except this time everyone’s livelihoods, passions, and personal intentions are at stake; essentially the plan must work or you’ll die trying.

Burn the ego 

The most frightening thing for a CEO or independent business is to not have a project live up to their vision. Just because you plan and visualize for something, does not mean that is how it will turn out; get over it. It is infuriating when things do not fit into the ‘vision boat’ because the vision is perfect in your mind and anything less or different is unacceptable. When you take on a project it is important to put everything into your ‘vision boat’ then burn it. Let me say it again, put everything in your vision boat and burn it; because the result of lowering the expectation of perfection will create room for creativity, a lesson, and ultimately lower your anxiety about anything being perfect. Stop feeding your ego with the “We are the best” mentality because that is toxic enough to sink any boat.  Move forward with “We can deliver” to burn your ego and create something withstanding.

Die trying

As mentioned it is always good to have a back up plan. However consider this: If your business has not grown, because you have not taken a chance you are failing. This is called the Complacency Boat.  Businesses should always grow whether that is in tactics, offerings, staff specialties, and upward movement for all employees. When Cortez decided to storm the beach and get the treasure he essentially said we are going to do this or die trying. In a business sense, this does not mean you actually die, it means you are putting everything on the line because you are expecting it to be successful. Thus burning the Complacency Boat. But what if the Die Trying boat goes up in flames and you are stuck on the island of What Now? A true leader will pick up the pieces that are left from the boat and build a house on the island that would be named New Ideas. Not many people will remain after the Die Trying boat goes up in flames. That is alright. As the house of new ideas is being built continue to build more Vision Boats that will travel to a safe complacency island, pillage the island for more new ideas and strategies, burn the vision boat, and be prepared to reemerge as a force that will succeed or die trying; then rise again.




Teaming Up: Respect the lanes

As a government contractor there are opportunities where two or more contractors team up to go after projects. Which is excellent when all parties work cohesively. However, there will definitely be times where it can be a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ situation and the fight for leadership ensues. Just because you are a leader of your company or within your industry does not mean that you have the final say in a group. The ‘top dog’ position is a rotating one when it comes to teaming up because everyone has a deliverable to bring to the table.

 Deliver in your lane 

Everyone has a lane they are in and responsibility to deliver their solutions, results, or product within their designated realm; unfortunately some may be peering over their ‘lane’ to see what the other team member(s) is doing and merge themselves into the other lane. Don’t do it. Not only does the focus switch from your designated task, but also it presents a feature that no one likes to deal with in business, arrogance.

Let’s say you are a start up technology foundation that has three board members of whom each has a skill set or connection that will contribute to the foundation. The goal is for the board members to bring together the following teams: Network Engineers (NE), Finance(FI), and Graphic Design (GD. By delivering through these respective teams the foundation can build up and start serving the community within six months. The GD team is slow in their progress for an unknown reason, but possibly due to a lack of personnel. If the NE team leader decides to take over GD and assign tasks to the network engineers to ‘assist’ in the graphic design tasks the project would suffer immensely because of the improper ‘merging’. The network engineers do not know anything about graphic design and have been pulled away from their tasks due to the arrogance of their leader thinking that they could replace the team leader of graphic design without merit.

Now if the NE leader had made suggestions where they saw holes in the way that the GD team was working things would have turned out differently. The NE leader could have met with the GD team leader and discussed the observation, made a suggestion, found a solution, and possibly talk to the FI team and made some adjustments to allow for more personnel to deliver the product.

We have to remember that making a suggestion is far different than taking over. And when teaming up every individual has a part to contribute to the success of the project. This can happen within leadership or the employees carrying out the tasks. If you want to merge over and make suggestions to keep the engine running it is most welcome. Other than that, stay in your lane, so that the direction will always be forward.

“They listen to feedback and are willing to acknowledge mistakes and they will change direction if a decision turns out to be wrong. This last point is critical because 50% of all business decisions are wrong. They also create working environments that are open, transparent and democratic.”- Dr. Robert Hogan, founder and president of Hogan Assessments ,  The Value of Humility in Leadership (Forbes) 


We are all in this together 

Over a Cliff: Good Leadership equals a strong following

One of my mentees showed me a clip from an old episode of Scandal she watched where the character Abby was irate at the main character Olivia for not being true self and leading their company down the wrong path. Yet, Abby did express her loyalty by saying she would follow Olivia over a cliff.   One could say that it means I will follow you to the bitter end or that any leap of faith you take I am there to fly with you. That got me thinking about creating a strong enough team who will support you and be leaders within their own right to take you to the next level and fly. If your team does not express that they will chase you over a cliff and expect to fly, then you’ve been a boss to them and not a leader.

Learn your followers

When you hire someone it is based off of their skill set and their likability…if you just plan on being their boss. A boss operates like a jockey on a race horse, they drive their employees around the track and they get all the credit. A leader invest in their employees qualities and cultivates their skills and mentality to become experts or leaders within their own right. Not every employee is in a position to lead an entire team. However  every employee can be exceptional at what they do and bring their expertise to the table. By encouraging their growth as employees you become a leader that they can trust. They want to follow you, because you have taken the time to invest in their skills, learn who they are as individuals, and marry the possible life path with the company’s needs. Even if they leave the company there will always be a bond to return or assist like I talked about with former mentees. Don’t do your company the disservice of being a boss of working horses, create leaders and experts that will calmly walk to the edge of a cliff and jump with you to fly.


‘If you want to go quicklygo aloneIf you want to go fargo together.’-Unknown

Over a cliff and climb a mountain

Everyone loves a good comeback story. When companies like Apple, IBM, Starbucks, and Marvel were on the precipice of bankruptcy and the CEO’s had to make hard decisions of whether to fight their way from the edge or fall off, the employees were the ones who were their string of hope. The employees were likely fighting for their own positions and income, however that was one leg of the drive to get the respective companies back on their feet. When the CEOs came in and decided this is how we are going to survive they had to rely on their own confidence and the confidence of their sub-leaders (employees) to gain that second leg to get back up the mountain and become one of the top companies in the world of their respective industries. Companies are built by the idea(s) of one or few and nurtured to develop beyond the vision by those who know how to carry the weight.

The Lean-In on Leadership for your staff 

Creating a group of sub-leaders can easily be done by simply regarding them. To regard your employee can guarantee their loyalty to your vision and purpose regardless of the direction that you may be headed. Here are some suggestions that I have lived and observed.

  • Identify weaknesses and use it as a space to improve.
  • Consider all ideas as great ideas and dive deep into them until it shows that it is/is not good for the company.
  • Create a “winner circle” for small and achievements within or outside of the company. You never know how the new skill or development will help you move forward.
  • Encourage the sub-leader to keep moving forward whether that is by example or instruction.
  • If the sub-leader is on the edge of their own cliff, let them know that you will help them fly if they jump.

Being a leader is overrated. Be an inspiration.

“When you’re told to be a leader there are very few people that give you a blueprint on how to do it.”- Stacey Abrams

This statement struck me about how the concept of leadership had become so skewed by an ego driven approach and not a nurturing approach that creates more leaders and/or exceptional people within your company or community.

What is leadership? Is it a person who commands or a person who inspires action and creates a momentum towards a successful direction? I believe it is the latter because the “top dog” authoritative style leader is not only toxic, but ineffective. In business school they go over different styles of leadership: Transformational, Democratic, Autocratic, Bureaucratic, Servant, Transactional and Laissez-Faire.  But is there really a correct way to lead this generation of Millennials in the workforce? In my opinion, yes, Inspirational Leadership.

Inspirational Leadership energizes and creates a sense of direction or purpose for employees. An effective leader in this style would pull aspects of the other leadership styles because there is a time for each of these to meet the end goal of a project or purpose. By using this style, it encourages workers to lean in and grasp the company’s vision and conquer fears that would otherwise hinder the employee personally and ultimately professionally.

Millennials are the driving force of success for this country and to negate their ideals of how “comfortable” someone should be at work is antiquated and inefficient. Just as many seasoned CEOs or managers they entered the workforce with both gumption and fear, and to save their mental health from antiquated leadership styles they job hop. This is due to the lack of responsibility taken in leadership to create an environment for healthy consistent growth that dwindles fears and raises personal expectation to be the best.

Make fear your new friend.

When I decided to start my own business, I was terrified because I knew that the road ahead of me was not paved with open arms. I had to face my fears and lead myself before I could lead anyone else. I had to lead myself away from anticipating the worst, from fearing being the only woman of color in the room, from feeling like I would be a neglectful wife and mother, and many other fears that would hinder my success. By using inspirational leadership to build up myself, why wouldn’t I use the same style to build my company and create a space for employees to come in and conquer their own inhibitions. How could a manager direct or encourage an employee to complete a task when they themselves have yet to conquer something similar.

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Richard Branson

Richard is talking about the trickle up effect of investing in the people around you so that they can evolve and the company will always operate at their absolute best. If you can lead by inspiring people to be the best that they can be they can create their own blueprint for success that would likely benefit you or be an excellent ally for further growth. This is true in a company or community. When we as leaders, or inspirers, lean in to the people who are under our guidance we create streams of opportunities for success that benefit everyone. Let’s thrive together.