Leaders distinguish themselves in times of great risk and great reward. Whether it is the political leader who bolsters our confidence in times of crisis or the business leader who follows her instincts to seize an opportunity, we respect and admire the leader who is out front when the stakes are high.
What Would Floyd Do?
Floyd Bostwick Odium was a struggling attorney in Salt Lake City during the early 1920’s. By 1933, he was one of the ten wealthiest men in the United States. Along the way, he leveraged a $39,600 investment with a friend and their wives into a multi-million dollar investment company.
Floyd Odium knew that the difference between crisis and opportunity often depends on the leader’s perspective and commitment to accomplish what others are unwilling to even contemplate. Here are three ideas to help you step out front as a leader:
- Don’t confuse perception with reality. Odium sold one-half of his stake in his company plus nine million dollars in new securities in the summer of 1929 – mere months before the stock market collapse that signaled the start of the Great Depression. He didn’t confuse the prevailing perception that the stock market would continue to expand with reality. Armed with fourteen million dollars in cash and short-term notes, Floyd again challenged perception and purchased companies at depression-era prices.
The lesson for today: Don’t assume that your perception is reality. The world will look one way if your situation is secure. It will appear completely different if you are out of work or seeing your wages stagnate. Question your assumptions and seek the truth about every decision.
- Focus on the important stuff. Target Fixation is a phenomenon often associated with fighter pilots, motorcycle riders, and race car drivers. It is equally evident in individuals and organizations.
Target fixation can prevent us from seeing danger or attract us to impending doom. World War II fighter pilots spoke of becoming so totally focused on a target that they forgot to pull up to safety after a bombing or strafing run. Likewise, studies have shown that motorcycle riders will focus so intensely on the object they want to avoid that they steer themselves into a collision.
The lesson for today: Race car drivers operate in an environment where split second decisions lead to a victory or a crash. Their training related to target fixation is a vital lesson for today’s leaders. When faced with an opposing vehicle on one side and the wall on the other, the successful race car driver focuses not on the impending danger of a crash but on the hole that leads to safety and victory. The best leaders balance a focus on where they want to go without becoming so fixated that they ignore the consequences.
- Be bold. The Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli said, “Make no small plans for they have no power to stir the soul.”
What vision would Floyd Bostwick Odium set for his business today? My guess is that it would be bold. It would – like John F. Kennedy’s 1961 vision to send a man to the moon and return him safely in the next ten years – be something that captures the imagination.
The lesson for today: The legendary leaders of the future are being born from the crucible of today’s reality. They will not be found hiding. They will choose to lead.