What Actually Makes You A Strong Leader Right Now

Last week I had a former captain of the nuclear submarine the USS Sante Fe and author of the best-selling book Turn The Ship Around, David Marquet, reach out to me and ask, “What books have you read that changed how you lead recently?” David was a fantastic speaker we hosted at one of our Producers Club meetings who is certainly no stranger to intense stress and difficult situations.

This is a question I’m getting a lot right now. People are desperate for leadership and someone with answers, exhausted by the constant hammering of the news about Covid and anxious over the political wars and election, protests, riots, unemployment, and a worsening economy. They long for a hero – a strong, courageous and experienced champion who can tell them how to interpret what’s going on, what to do and lead them through this disaster of a year.

Mental health professionals are reporting record levels of stress, depression and anxiety from the isolation and cancellation of fun: sporting events, concerts, festivals and other gatherings. People are socially awkward right now and out of touch (literally), leaving them to communicate with the world through the sewer of social media.

To the point, one of the biggest “pandemics” right now is lack of sleep. I’ve never seen more products created and sold as sleep solutions, including supplements, weighted blankets, pillow sprays, essential oils, “magic” pillows and mattresses, pajamas and sound machines. The list is LONG. More to the point, people are weary, lacking peace of mind. A good question for anyone running a business: what are YOU doing to give some peace of mind and certainty to your team? Your clients? Your family?

Back to David’s question. What book have I read? NONE. Candidly, I haven’t picked up a book since March because I’ve been entirely and completely focused on steering MY ship through this shit storm. What has allowed me to successfully turn my ship (to play on David’s book title) is YEARS of successfully handling problems, setbacks, difficulties, crisis upon crisis, often stacked up on top of each other, getting kicked, punched and tripped repeatedly, raining flaming turds while the enemy ship throws rocks.

At 48, I’ve gotten through a sufficient number of extremely tough situations. Early on, I broke free of a cult religion and homelessness. I’ve battled cancer more than once. Been burned and dragged through numerous really, really bad business deals. A very brief marriage (if you can call it that) with an abusive and ugly man that I had to (literally) escape by dark of night, fearing what he’d do. Survived the 2008-2010 recession while saddled with my own stupidity in hiring losers and zeros. Horrific vendors screwing up my business in a major way and unethical clients. REAL poverty. Miscarriages. My brother being murdered. I’ve been lied to, spit on, harshly criticized online. Taken advantage of and shat on so many times I’ve lost count. A number of “friends” have turned on me, disappointed me and failed to be there when I desperately needed them. As Jocko would say: “Good.”

ALL of this has served me more than any book I’ve ever read – and I’m grateful to have had these difficulties. It’s made me stronger. It forced me to learn and up my game. Given me experience in handling bad situations and knowing how to act, make tough decisions and hustle. It’s also made me realize I’m a tough f’ing broad with a giant pair, able to chew through a metal fence – and that “this too shall pass.” I’ve gained experience and “muscle memory” for hard times that cannot be gotten in any other way.

It’s true what they say: Life is a grindstone; whether it wears you down or polishes you up depends on what you’re made of. I do not run away and cry about how hard life is, how difficult running a business is, how hard it is to find good people, how stupid our government is or how “unfair” life is. While others cower, I stand. While others complain, I roll up my sleeves and get to work, even if I’m swearing like a sailor while doing it. Shit happens, and I’ve got a giant shovel at the ready. I’m NOT governed by such situations. I determine the outcome, and I believe there’s ALWAYS a way out, ALWAYS something to be done.

This level of courage and skill is NOT gotten through reading a stack of books on leadership (although I’m definitely not opposed to reading). It MUST be learned by acting, by doing, by leading a ship through very difficult waters rife with enemy ships, again and again. Captain Sully didn’t whip out a manual when suddenly BOTH engines shut down on the plane he was flying. If he’d needed that, they’d all be dead right now. Same goes for any crisis – if you need a manual, you’re screwed. You must get up on deck and tie yourself to the ship’s wheel, embrace the suck and lead.

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