“I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God, that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me, God.” – Lt. Colonel Hal Moore
When I think about “Leading from the trenches”, this statement from the film, “We Were Soldiers” resonates. Leading from the trenches is a statement symbolizing us not only helping to direct, but to state, we are in the battlefield with those we lead. From my experience, it is when I stayed connected on the front lines in business that I was most successful. When I distanced myself from what was happening on the front lines, I had the most problematic situations in my life and business.
As business owners it is easy for us to live in a bubble of our choosing. In our attempt to escape or conquer reality, we create a delusional world where the rules are as we make them. If you have worked for a business owner, you likely know what I mean. Over time, the way we entrepreneurs see the world becomes different from how it is.
It is these times which remind me of the King David. King David was the 2nd King of Israel. It was during a season when David should have been at war with his warriors he chose to stay in his palace. During this time, when he was not leading from the trenches, he had an affair with one of his general’s wife. To cover up his sin, he indirectly murders his general. For most of us, we do not want to fight the battle, but often battle is the best place for us to live. It has a way of protecting us from harm.
To bring the concept of leading from the trenches back into the realm of business, let me rewind several years. When we started our marketing company in 2007, it was from recognizing the benefits our services provided to our own business that many of our services were born. Marketing activities which worked for us resulted in new services we offered to our customers. We went first and by testing our ideas and we learned how effective these methods were. We began to leverage our new-found knowledge to help other businesses benefit like we had.
This method of leading by example is one which has always been profound for me in my life. There is a resonating passage in the New Testament from Jesus Christ. In it, he directed his disciples to remove the plank out of their own eye before attempting to remove the speck from their brother’s eye. This concept of taking responsibility is one I have learned to prioritize in my relationships and problematic situations. Not always successful in doing going first, it still has been a huge reason for my growth in life.
There are key moments in my journey where people who led by example set a precedent which inspired me grow into a better leader. A specific moment which comes to mind is a situation where one of our favorite clients fired us. We were executing the work poorly on the project and after many attempts we were unsuccessful in getting back on track. Once the client realized this, he met with me to let me know about the situation and their decision.
Our client cared enough to meet with us, communicate his perspective and offer insights into our situation. His decision affected me and the lives of our team members. In response, I asked our client if he would be willing for his team and mine to meet and reflect. This meeting would allow our entire team to learn and grow from the experience. To my delight, he accepted the request and we spent a few hours learning on a deeper level. We faced the situation head on, took responsibility and learned some significant lessons.
For this client to jump in the trenches of where we were, help us after it ended poorly, was a once in a lifetime experience for us. To contrast this, there had been many times where, when a client engagement ended badly, it went bad fast. Anger, resentment and other emotions were how clients responded. We were expecting this same response and this gift of grace surprised us.
Out of everyone I have studied, watched or spent time around Jesus Christ was the ultimate mode