In October 1066 AD William I, Duke of Normandy, was about to lay claim to England on the field of battle against King Harold II.
As William led his men ashore in southeast England on their way to what was to become the historic Battle of Hastings, legend has it that this man-who-would-be-king rather ignominiously stumbled and fell face-first into the mud.
One of the classic truths about leaders, including once-and-future kings and small business owners, is that stumbling is virtually ordained. So whether the untimely descent is an honest mistake or unfortunate circumstance, the question is not if we will stumble, but how we behave after the fall. One of the great maxims is that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.
Back to our Norman invader: The future king of England demonstrated how leaders often have to think fast in order to snatch victory from potential disaster. Looking up from the mud, seeing “bad omen” written all over the faces of his superstitious men, William stood up, displayed his muddied hands and cried, “By the splendor of God, I have taken possession of my realm; the earth of England is in my two hands.”
So, when you look up from the “mud,” how do you behave? Of course, you could complain about how deep the mud is “How can I grow my business without enough capital?”
Then there’s the ever-handy option of blaming others for the mud, “Yes, ma’am, I know you bought it from us, but that’s a manufacturer’s defect. You’ll have to send it back to them.”
Or you could just blame the mud itself: “How can I possibly compete with the Big Boxes in this economy?”
At least one thing hasn’t changed in a thousand years: There are still plenty of people standing around – employees, customers, etc. – watching us when we stumble. And like William’s men, these latter-day witnesses are also vital to the success of our empires.
The Battle of Hastings arguably changed the course of history. But who knows what the world would look like today if our hero had become known as William the Whiner instead of William the Conqueror?
So, when you fall face-down in the metaphorical mud of your battlefield, your future may well depend upon whether you – like William – stand up, assess the damage, accept the circumstances, claim responsibility, remember that you are a leader on whom many depend, and then drive on to win the day.
It also helps if you can think fast.
Write this on a rock...Leaders don’t whine, complain or make excuses – they lead.
Jim Blasingame is one of the world's leading experts on small business and entrepreneurship. He is the creator and award-winning host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The Small Business Advocate® Show. In addition to his weekly columns, Jim is the author of two books; Small Business is like a Bunch of Bananas and Three Minutes to Success.