The request: A long-time Strategies client and salon owner gave me a call and asked:
“Can I pick your brain for a few minutes?”
Those few minutes turned into an hour and half.
The background: This owner has a very well run and profitable Team-Based Pay business, but it wasn’t always that way. Just over ten years ago, her business was deep into the “fiery pit of hell.” As always, it took a lot of hard work and tough decision making to transform it into a business worthy of admiration.
The tough question: She wanted to know how I worked my way out of a bout with depression in 2007 to grow Strategies into what it is today.
Wow! This was going to be deep conversation, but I was happy to go there if it could help an owner understand the very real personal dynamics of leading and owning a company.
The “deep” conversation: She wanted to me to explain how I found the strength and courage to not only pull myself out of depression, but how I was able to re-engage as a leader, inspire my team and make the tough decisions my company was waiting for me to make.
The “disclaimer”: I’m sharing my personal story because too many owners fall out of love with their companies. They allow themselves to get beaten up and stuck in ugly, and too often debilitating, situations that could have been avoided or resolved if they would only engage to the level of leadership ALL companies require.
The “Neil” story: Since the early 1990s, I challenged my audiences and clients to allow “no compromise” to guide their thinking, action and behaviors. From the very instant I completed a statement with “no compromise,” it was clear how profoundly it resonated.
In early 2005 I started writing my book, “No-Compromise Leadership.” Little did I realize the path it would take me on.
For the next five months, I worked from home. Slowly but surely the words began to flow.
As my writing progressed I found myself getting deeper into the true essence of No-Compromise Leadership. It became something profoundly personal. In the process, the writing became more difficult. That’s when it hit me that I was writing a leadership manifesto not only for the reader — but for me, as well.
I was at 61,078 words when I hit the wall and stopped writing. Where I once wrote with vigor and confidence, at 61,078 words I felt self-doubt. How could I continue to write a book on No-Compromise Leadership, when I was questioning my own validity as a no-compromise leader?
My company was doing fine but it wasn’t without its challenges. There were lingering issues that, while writing the book, I realized I had been avoiding.
Because I knew addressing those issues in a no-compromise manner could cause a major upheaval.
I became angry with myself for not seeing my own compromise. For two years, that unfinished book manuscript sat on the corner of my desk. Something needed to change first…
I knew that change had to be me.
From the summer of 2005 until May 2007, I methodically drove myself into a state of depression.
The sabbatical: In May 2007, I decided to make some serious changes in order to get better and get back to being “Neil” — the torch carrier for No-Compromise Leadership.
With the support of my team, I decided to take a three-month sabbatical, from Memorial Day until just after Labor Day.
I committed to going to the gym every day. Within a week I could feel a difference. I started spin class and eventually bought a road bike. I did 10 miles, then 20, finally working up to 30 to 50+ miles per ride. I was hooked on cycling. (In 2016, I rode 3,810 miles.)
The return to work: I returned to work on September 10, 2007. I tackled the tough decisions and changes that needed to be made. Yes, I was nervous, but I was committed to fixing what I didn’t like in my company. With the help of my team, we created the Strategies that you know today.
The unfinished manuscript: It was time to finish “No-Compromise Leadership.” On April 10, 2008, I received an email from a publisher that said, “I read your book cover-to-cover. This book needs to be published.”
No-Compromise Leadership was published in late 2009. It went on to win an IPPY (Independent Book Publisher) Award in 2010 in the “business and leadership” category.
The truth: My own compromise lead me into a state of depression — and caused me to fall out of love with the company I created. To this day, it was a surreal and difficult experience that taught me life lessons that I try my best to live every day.
The biggest lesson is that business is brutally unforgiving. Ignore your business and it will cut you off at the knees. Get too comfortable or overconfident and it will teach you that you’re not infallible. There is no such thing as “good luck,” there is only persistent No-Compromise Leadership.
Accountability. Being present. Culture building. Adjusting to change. Innovating. That’s what fuels a leader’s passion and creates success.
The bike accident: On June 7, 2017, I was hit by van that drove into my path. I never saw it coming. I spent 20 days in the hospital. I have a plate and screws in my left hip socket. It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.
Because of our systems and culture, Strategies didn’t skip a beat. My team gave me time to recover.
Labor Day Weekend, just twelve weeks after surgery (and with the surgeon’s permission), I got back on my trainer and began my road back. On October 1st, I did my first ride outside. I rode a total 100 miles in October.
The road back is never easy. It hurts. It makes you dig deep. It tests your commitment and courage. It gives you a deeper understanding of what “no compromise” means.
The accident lesson: Had I not spent the last ten years methodically letting go of control and empowering my leadership team with decision-making authority, Strategies would have struggled in my absence. My team actually exceeded goal during my absence.
The business-life lesson: It’s easy to fall out of love with your company in tough times. But “tough times” usually occur when leaders disengage, fail to act, and compromise. It’s easy to love your company when it’s healthy and growing. That’s why embracing No-Compromise Leadership is so important.
Here’s my challenge to you: I’m not suggesting that you fall into a deep depression or get hit by a van just to fall back in love with your salon/spa. I share my personal story to inspire and enlighten you that falling and staying in love with your company means doing the work of leadership.
Here are four No-Compromise Leadership challenges for you:
- Manage systems — Lead people: Yes, leading people can be frustrating. But the less you “lead” the more frustrating it gets. Systems don’t work without leadership and team accountability. Leading people without systems to efficiently organize work into predictable outcomes doesn’t work. You won’t love your business if you do one without the other.
- Urgency is energy: Companies that are vibrant and dynamic are infused with energy created by their leader. Too many leaders get frustrated at employees when they lack a sense of urgency in their work. Hey leaders, creating urgency is your responsibility. Urgency is what turns vision into reality. You won’t love your business if its energy level is barely noticeable.
- Positive cash flow is a discipline: The financial skills to create a profitable salon/spa are NOT OPTIONAL — they are non-negotiable. Without the cushion of a cash reserve, your business is living on the financial edge — and it’s hard to love your company when it’s creating what can be severe financial stress. If your financial reports are your company’s scorecards. You can’t win the game if you don’t know how to keep score.
- Culture building is 100 x more work: Well, maybe it’s just 10 x more work than you’re doing now. The term “culture” sure gets a workout these days, but the process of culture building at salons and spas is in its infancy. That being said, the understanding of what is true “leadership”, is also a work in progress. The more you learn about culture building and the leadership processes that support it, the more you will love your salon/spa.
Do the work. Fall in love. Stay in love.