What Napoleon Can Teach Business Leaders

A leader is a dealer in hope.
– Napoleon Bonaparte

This is a lesson I learned on one of my earliest turnarounds, and though I’ve talked about it before, it’s worth reiterating to emphasize the point.

A very large cheerleading supply company was having huge problems and needed to be brought through a Chapter 11 restructuring. So, they brought me in.

I realized more than anything during this project that nothing pulls a team or company together like having hope, and I hardly think that any company could have taught me this lesson quite like a cheerleading supply company.

When you think about cheerleaders, you realize that they’re cheering hardest when their team is down and needs a big score (or three) to win the game. It’s the cheerleaders job to keep the crowd on its feet and not to let the fans’ silence and dejected feelings infect the team. The worse the situation is, the louder cheerleaders cheer.

So when it was a cheerleading company restructuring through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, you could imagine that they knew how to cheer for themselves and keep the hope alive.

After 18 months we came out the other side of this restructuring, and at the hearing, I gave everyone pompoms, including the judge.

To this day I still have my pompoms in my office to remind me that no matter how bad things get in a turnaround, as the appointed leader, it’s my job to be a dealer in hope. It’s my job to tell everyone that we will get through it and that we have to work harder than ever to pull us out the other side.

If I don’t do that, I’ve done nothing.

As a business leader, no matter what level of management you’re at, it’s your job to deal out the hope, whether the chips are down or up. No one can fight or work or play if they don’t have hope that what they’re trying to accomplish is possible.

Be a leader who deals in hope.

How do you bring hope to your team or business?

What Cheerleaders Can Teach Us about Big Business

 

Last night I did a radio interview (that I’ll post when the podcast becomes available), and I was asked a question that I thought I’d share my answer to with you here.

I was asked about my guiding principle – one that helps me lead my firm and other companies that hire me as their CEO.

My Guiding Principle: Be Proactive, Not Reactive.

I live by this motto, give speeches about it, and I’ve mentioned it here before.

All businesses have problems. Nothing goes as you expect it to. But if you’re proactive in your leadership, decision making and planning then you’ll have the tools, people, and ideas in place to handle much of what comes at you.

On the contrary, if you’re constantly reacting to everything, you’ll never get your feet underneath you long enough to resolve your problems.

I’ve also found that honest communication goes a long way. People try to lead secretly, and that doesn’t work. Yes, leaders run businesses, not committees, but if leaders are honest with those involved, especially key stakeholders like boards, banks and creditors, there is a much greater chance for success.

Ra Ra Ra!!!

My initial turnaround success was a Chapter 11 restructuring at a company called Cheerleader Supply, a $50+ Million revenue business with over 1000 employees. As their name suggests, they made cheerleading uniforms, pompoms, etc., and they sent kids to summer camp to learn how to become cheerleaders.

It was the spirit of Cheerleader Supply that helped get it through Chapter 11 restructuring, and I learned a serious lesson about attitude from them.

Think about football games. When your team is down, the cheerleaders cheer harder – they don’t get dejected. Seeing that attitude – embodied by everyone at Cheerleading Supply – inspired me and allowed me to be the best catalyst for big change that I could be and ultimately brought that company through Chapter 11.

I’ve applied that attitude to everything going forward. To this day I still have a pompom in my office reminding me of this original successful turnaround and the importance of cheering harder and having the right attitude even when things seem their darkest.

What You Can Do

I encourage you to go forward with this attitude, which goes hand and hand with being proactive instead of reactive.

The proactive leader is cheering constantly for his company by saying that nothing is going to stop it from being successful – especially not his own complacency when it seems like he’s up by four touchdowns and can just coast (are we good with the football metaphors?).

Learn from the cheerleaders and be a proactive leader.

What’s your guiding principle? How do you think these notions can help you in your life and business?