Self-awareness is key to successful leadership. Strengths and weaknesses. How you are experienced by others.
How about what drives you? What is it that gets you out of bed every day to hustle?
You’ve seen people who get up late and immediately begin their days with dawdle and distraction. They go through the motions. They’re zombies.
But that’s not you. You have drive. A sense of urgency. Purpose.
Two business leaders bring different perspectives on how you should approach your work. You can learn from both.
Andy Grove was the CEO of Intel from 1987 to 1998. He refused to let Intel rest on its laurels and constantly drove the organization to identify the new: new products, new markets, new customers, in order to stay ahead of any potential market shifts. If they didn’t shift fast enough — or soon enough — someone else would win the game.
John Lee Dumas is the driving force behind the podcast Entrepreneurs on Fire and the author of The Common Path to Uncommon Success. JLD, as he is known, believes that you need to approach business with a focused commitment, consistency and a sense of optimism.
Pursue the new and different? Double down on consistency and persistence?
Do you focus on what’s behind you or what’s around the corner to see what might be coming to get you?
Do you look ahead to see what new opportunities might exist?
Driven by fear. Driven by optimism.
Both approaches can work. But go too far in either direction and it can lead to risks. Blind spots. Negative consequences.
But a combination of the two is powerful. And precisely what you need — to get farther faster.
The Prophet of Paranoia
Andy Grove was the former CEO of Intel. He led the company through a period of rapid growth and strategic pivot, from a manufacturer of memory chips into the world’s leading manufacturer of microprocessors. He championed the idea of dealing with change, and using it to transform an organization to become stronger in the process. Despite enviable market share, historical growth and profitability, he refused to let the Intel organization get complacent.
In his book Only the Paranoid Survive, he describes the concept of Strategic Inflection Points, which signal that the fundamentals of a business are about to change. The change can lead to a great opportunity, or it can lead to the demise of the business.
You’re a small retailer and Wal-Mart opens up a block away. You sell computer equipment and someone introduces an As a Service offering.
As a leader of your business, you can’t afford to sit still. But how can you see what competitors, technology, customers, suppliers, regulators, are doing that may impact you — in the future?
Grove had his team constantly challenge the status quo and look for new products, new sales channels, new suppliers and new customers; to be ready for unexpected market or technological shifts that inevitably occur.
“Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction. Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” — Andy Grove
There is an energy that comes with paranoia, similar to the energy found in fear. It creates action. It can lead to discovery.
To a point.
Past that point, it causes you to become cautious about going all in on an initiative. It can also breed distrust of people with different opinions. It strains relationships. It leads to competing agendas. If left uncontrolled, it can be exhausting for an organization, and potentially toxic.
As a leader, you can’t let it become a negative force in your organization.
The Guru of Grind
John Lee Dumas is the host of Entrepreneurs on Fire, a daily podcast where he interviews some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. He has conducted more than 3,000 interviews and generates more than one million listens per month.
His first conventionally published book, The Common Path to Uncommon Success came out in March 2021 (I’ve read it and yes, I recommend it!).
While John espouses lifelong learning and pursuing market opportunities, he is also the poster child for two elements: putting in focused work day after day for years; with a healthy dose of optimism.
JLD uses an acronym, FOCUS, which stands for Follow One Course Until Success.
People want quick results. When they don’t achieve the results they want or expect (however delusional those expectations might be), they quit.
By doing so, they ensure their failure.
“Set a goal. Make it big. Then look at the grind it’s going to take to get there. Fall in love with that grind. Then start grinding.” — John Lee Dumas
JLD was never complacent and he never quit hustling. Even when people told him he was crazy to try a daily podcast (which hadn’t previously been done). Even when he barely broke even after his first year in business. Even after he completed two thousand interviews, he was still looking for ways to deliver value to his listeners (which he refers to as Fire Nation). He kept grinding.
In his book, The Common Path to Uncommon Success, JLD shares insights and suggestions for entrepreneurs and leaders. The last chapter entitled The Well of Knowledge, includes quotations from others, with commentary from JLD. He leans heavily on James Clear and Kevin Kelly.
One Kevin Kelly quote is indicative of JLD’s attitude:
“The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.” — Kevin Kelly
As a leader, and particularly as an entrepreneur, there will be disappointments and there will be setbacks. If you have big goals — or are chasing BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), setbacks come with the territory.
But not every setback is a permanent roadblock. While you are grinding, you need to remain alert to possibility and opportunity, confident in your eventual success.
As Napoleon Hill would remind you, you might just be three feet from gold. Keep digging.
Just like paranoia, you can take pronoia too far. When you believe that the universe is conspiring to make you a success, you can relax your effort. If it is all going to work out in the long run, why work so hard?
As a leader, optimism and realism aren’t mutually exclusive. And neither one prevents you from putting in the work. Grind. Daily.
A Little Bit of This, A Little More of That
Anything in excess can work against you.
Too much paranoia stifles consistent growth and can create a toxic work environment.
Too much grinding without having the awareness around you can lead you to become great at something the world no longer wants or needs.
Too much pronoia can cause you to relax and get complacent.
The following should give you ideas on how you can use paranoia, pronoia and the daily grind to your advantage.
- Have your ear to the ground. Follow thought leaders in your industry to look at trends, forecasts and new innovations. If you work for someone else, you can solicit their ideas and recommendations, but don’t depend on them. This is your responsibility. This is your career. Identify people on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Clubhouse who are forward thinking and focused on your industry. Consider joining Trends.co, where they share investment ideas on people starting businesses in a variety of industries. You can gain insights into new applications, business models and sometimes get deep-dive reports on different industries.
- It may be included above, but make sure that you have access to a digital Sherpa, to help you identify how technology will impact your industry and your role. Look for ancillary applications and industries that might be a leading indicator for your own. Get comfortable with technology and new applications. If you need some instructions, start with YouTube. If you need more hands-on, hire a college student.
- Once a year take your team through the exercise of pretending you are a competitor. Come up with ways to drive your company / your department / your team out of business. Once you determine the ways, take a look at what threats you can mitigate and take those steps. Next, find what you might be able to turn into an opportunity either for your business or to take market share from a competitor.
- Be able to verbalize what it is about your grind that you love. It may be your big Why, it may be your ability to leverage your strengths. Make sure that it involves delivering value to someone else. It makes the grind sustainable. It makes the grind worthwhile.
- Participate in a mastermind group or peer group. You want people emotionally invested in your success to be able to offer insights and pointed doses of reality when required. JLD participates in several and recommends them highly. I’ve seen the value of Vistage, when a dozen CEOs get in a room once a month to provide advice — and accountability to one another, as well as share best practices with one another. They can encourage you, but also make sure you aren’t delusional. If you don’t have the budget to join an established group, start your own!
- Maintain a pronoid-leaning mindset through positive affirmations (for you) and continued communication for your team. When you approach uncertainty with a combination of optimism and confidence, you are drawn to opportunities and seeing things creatively. During the grind this mindset can help sustain you to survive / persevere / prevail / and ultimately, succeed!
The Joys of the ‘Noias and the Love of the Grind
Effort has never been a problem for you. But results aren’t immediate.
How do you maintain motivation?
You have to remain energized, if you’re going to lead and motivate others.
The paranoid approach ensures that you’re always looking to challenge assumptions and look for new opportunities, new products, markets and customers. That can work, but not exclusively.
The pronoid approach brings an optimistic approach that suggests that things will work out eventually, even if you can’t see it today. That helps you stay positive, which keeps you open for possibilities and new opportunities. That can work, too, but not exclusively.
You can take elements of both and use them for your benefit. You can learn about the market developments and future trends to be prepared for a pivot. You may uncover the opportunity that convinces you to jump ahead of the market trends. You can also bring optimism and positive energy. Your team will feed off of your confidence and follow your lead.
And then you and your team work. Like crazy. You’ll grind. Day after day.
And when success comes and everyone is celebrating, someone will suggest that you got lucky. That you’re an overnight success.
Prepare for it. You’ll be entitled to a good laugh.
They won’t have seen the sweat. The scars.
They’ll just witness the pronoia. It all came together.
You’ll be entitled to celebrate. At least for a day.
And then it’s back to the grind. For the love of it.