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If you’re not pissing someone off, you probably aren’t doing anything important.

Oliver Emberton

Elon Musk, Henry Ford, Abraham Lincoln, Malala Yousafzai, Martin Luther King, Angela Merkel, Mandella, Ghandi, etc. No doubt these leaders endured a lot of hatred as they challenged norms and were innovative in thought and the execution of new ideas. We’re not accustomed to change and often push hard against it. We like staying in our comfort zones and sticking to the “it’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality.

I’ve found that the best leaders are those that take the hard left when everyone wants to go right. It’s those who can say, “yes, that’s the way it’s always been done, but surely there’s a better way.” Leaders don’t always have to be the “ideas” people. It’s the execution of game-changing ideas that change history. This can’t be done without bravery, self-belief and unwavering persistence.

Henry Ford famously said, “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” If we listen too intently on want people want, we may lose focus on what they need. This is what separates visionaries from prolific customer service-based leadership. This is management that looks inside-out versus outside-in.

Leadership needs to be authentic and “practiced not so much in words as in attitude and actions.”

I am in the middle of a great book called Built to Grow by Royston Guest. He tells the story of Sylvester Stallone who tried his hand at acting and screenwriting and couldn’t book a job to save his life. He was living in poverty and struggling to find enough money to eat, and then one day in 1975, he caught the Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner fight which inspired him to write the underdog script we know today as Rocky.

“Twenty-four hours of focused writing gave him the script that is so beloved today…but once again, absolutely nobody wanted it. By this time, he was so poor he had to sell his best friend… he stood outside a liquor store with his beloved dog and offered it for sale for $50, giving him some temporary relief.

And then it happened! Or almost anyway.

The poor, hungry, desperate Stallone was offered a massive (for its time) $100,000 for the script, potentially solving all his problems in one fell swoop. He insisted that he wanted to play the role however, and when they declined, this man, with his back against the wall, turned it down. Yes, you read that right.

A few weeks later, they came back with a higher offer. He insisted once again that he act out the role and once again, the offer was rescinded. The offer came back again and again, and eventually topped $400,000 but Stallone refused to sell it unless he could also play the part of Rocky. Eventually, the investors relented but with one very stiff caveat: they would offer only $25,000 if Stallone played the lead role because they didn’t want to take the risk. He accepted and went straight back to the liquor store to re-acquire his dog.

I know, you’re thinking that this can’t be real, but I assure you it is. Wait for it though, it’s going to get even crazier. Stallone waited outside that liquor store for three days before he saw the guy who bought his dog. He offered him $150 for it. The guy declined. He offered more and more and more, and eventually he offered the guy $15,000 and a role in the movie. The guy and the dog are in Rocky. The following year, 1977, Rocky won the Academy Award for best picture and at the awards ceremony, Stallone read out all the rejection slips he had received. The film cost $1,000,000 to produce. It grossed $225,000,000 at the worldwide box office.

Stallone’s story is one of outrageous levels of commitment to his dream, vision, and goals. Are you that committed? Do you have what it takes to turn your vision, goals, and dreams into reality? I said at the beginning I love this story, but, it’s just one of literally thousands that I could have picked. Why not make yours one of them in the future?

Too many people live in what I call “the safe harbour of the known.” Doing the same things over and over again, and following the same routine and thought processes, thinking that just because it worked in the past, they can keep replicating it into the future.

Some things will. The challenge is that some things won’t. Einstein defined insanity as continuing to do the same things and expecting different results. Real joy comes when you put some ‘skin in the game’ and take some chances. It opens you up to failure, and will test your resilience like nothing in the world, but without it, can you really hope to be a high achiever?"

Royston Guest (2017) Built to Grow, 1st edn., West Susses, United Kingdom: Wiley.

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