Friends with the Pain

I rode a mountain bike race a couple of weeks ago, and half-way through I was in a lot of pain. My legs were burning, my heart was pounding, and my arm hurt from an unfortunate encounter with a tree. But in the pain, there was a certain amount of comfort. Now, I’m not some wacko that enjoys pain (though my family would argue about the “wacko” part), but I’ve been racing long enough to make friends with pain for a simple reason: If I’m in pain, the guy next to me is probably hurting just as bad, and if I’m willing to suffer longer than him, he’s going to fall off.

Running your business is a lot like racing bicycles or playing football or hockey, or whatever sport you’re into. It’s crazy fun, but there are parts of it that are hard, unpleasant, even painful. It’s natural to want to avoid pain, but as a leader, your willingness to lean into that pain might be the difference between winning and losing.

  • It’s painful to tell your longest tenured employee he or she is going to have to leave the business if they’re not willing to live your core values; it’s even more painful to move them out, if they don’t change their ways. But leaning into that pain creates a values-driven culture that your employees crave. You just took the lead in the talent war.
  • It’s painful to look at a red income statement and make the hard decisions – reduced staff, simplification, slower growth, delayed projects – required to get back in black. But making those decisions creates a culture of financial strength and discipline. You just developed the ability to outlast your competition when the economy turns south.
  • It’s painful to come to work every day at 6:00 AM for a month, so you can finish your Rocks (90-day efforts that really elevate the organization) by the end of the quarter. But those Rocks are the investments in people, capabilities, and systems that super-charge your growth. You just opened a lead in profitability and market share that your competitors might never close.

If you’re an entrepreneur, I want you to win. Winning for you might mean being #1 in your industry, or successfully transitioning your business to your kids, or improving the lives of thousands (or millions) of people. The good news is you get to define your win; the bad news is you have to lead the charge, especially when it’s painful.

So, here’s my challenge to you: when you go to work tomorrow, start the day with that one thing you least want to do. You know what it is, it just popped into your mind. It might be a hard conversation, or a project you need to kill, or facing a financial reality you’ve been avoiding. Whatever it is, take it head on, and then sit back and listen for a very faint noise… the sound of your competition whimpering as step by tiny step, you leave them in your dust.