I was truly honored to be a small part of a fantastic book entitled The DNA of Gutsy Leaders.
This book is a road map from 21st century gutsy leaders wired to lead people and organizations through change. Co-authors and husband and wife team Terence H. Biggs II and Dr. Sharon M. Biggs include actual interviews from several leaders who possess the DNA to respond to their giant leadership moments. The authenticity embedded in this leadership development book will help current and aspiring leaders identify and develop their own gutsy leadership skill sets and become Excellent Leaders without Excuse (SM).
Below is the chapter devoted to yours truly. For more info on book and how to order a copy, please visit its page on Amazon.
Excerpt from The DNA of Gutsy Leaders by Terence H. Biggs II and Dr. Sharon M. Biggs
A gutsy leader is someone who doesn’t operate within the confines of what the world thinks he or she should. The person is also willing to take the lumps for any bad decisions he or she makes. I’ve led by my gut instincts almost my entire career in forecasting and at times my observers viewed that as me not making traditional business moves.
For example, a former close friend was at one time perhaps one of the most renowned financial commentator in the country. Just around the time that my daughter was born I came to know Christ and decided to make Christ the driver of all of my business decisions. The business associate called my wife Mary and said that I was making a huge mistake by tying my faith to my business career. I did tie my faith to my business dealings and shortly thereafter the friendship ended. While I believe the bible includes an enormous amount of teachings about finances, I learned that most people didn’t appreciate me tying my religious beliefs to my business dealings. At times this clash in beliefs impacted my mental state and forced me to make tough decisions as a well-known business leader.
From the Abyss to the Sweet Spot
Mentally I’d really been to the edge of the abyss by suffering from serious depression over losing millions of dollars more than once. Flowing in gutsy leadership I kind of felt that the depression was always way behind me. I never intended to try to impose my faith on anyone, but it was clear to me that my Maker had reasons for allowing me to experience each bout of depression. He was bringing me closer to my leadership sweet spot and it’s the only way I’d slow down and listen. When I realized that and started accepting the reality of being a highly visible leader who suffered from severe depression I learned how not to be ashamed of it. That’s when I started to talk about the depression during my business conferences.
Of course at business conferences leaders who attend don’t jump up and admit before the crowd that they struggle with clinical depression. I can’t count how many people stand on line to speak to me at the end of my talks, or they’ll email me to say they’re grateful because my transparency helped them deal with their own depression. For someone who was once a legend in his own mind and took the Ten Commandments and made them “The Ten Suggestions” I now know that I’m not in charge of my ability to manage depression and continue succeeding in business. My faith and seeking the appropriate medical help assisted me in finding my God-inspired leadership moments and my business sweet spot.
Fight Off Your Personal Demons So You Can Soar
My first adult depression was in the late 1990s but up until then I was what’s called a C&E Catholic because I considered myself a Christian only on Christmas and Easter. After the first depression episode I got involved with a man named Bill Wegner, who wrote the foreword in my book. Bill is one of the few full-time Catholic lay evangelists in the country who spends each year traveling around to minister, and he became a foundation and solace to me. He talked straight with me and helped me identify my own personal demons, then he helped me fight them off. Again, I was a legend in my own mind so I did arrogant things like spend thousands of dollars to take out ads in the Sunday Asbury Park Press so that my competitors could see the ads and get upset. I was insecure about myself so I’d do things that made me think that I looked more successful than other people who might have had more education and training than I have.
Because I didn’t finish high school I suffered greatly from a lack of formal education in my early years. While many of my competitors had degrees from prestigious universities, my degree was from Hard Knocks University. That prevented some people from dealing with me as a credible source to be giving financial advice. Having no formal education also meant that my grammatical and English skills have always been poor, which I’m sure to some of my competitors represented another reason to mock my credibility as a reliable business advisor. At this point, I get help from literary experts before I publish anything and I find that I learn from their honest feedback. In my business dealings I try to use that same level of honesty when I deal with clients and associates, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
Leading Based on Personal Convictions is Not Always Easy
I learned in my business that there are basically two types of advisors – those who say what they think and those who say what they think people want to hear. My world is filled with the latter.
After only a few years in the business I forecasted a stock market crash back in 1987 but the firm that I worked for wanted me to retract the forecast or resign from the company. I refused to do either and within two months the market crashed. I always wonder whether my life would be where it is had I succumbed to them and changed my statement. I stood by my decision but it’s difficult to do when you find yourself being the exception and not the rule. I asked myself whether I was willing to be outspoken even if it would be perceived as me not being politically correct in an extremely politically correct industry.
Being outspoken and not hedging comes easy to me but it sometimes comes attached to trouble. I believe it’s not beneficial to anyone for a leader to give someone advice and at the end of the day have the person ask, ‘What exactly did the leader tell us to do?’ Gutsy leaders are ones who give advice about sound decisions they’ve made without really knowing if their decision will be the right one in the long run.
Make Sound Decisions
People tend to believe that we have some type of crystal ball we use to make one hundred percent correct calls about every business matter. Leaders don’t always know whether their decisions are the right ones or wrong ones, but gutsy leaders act on instinct despite the unknown.
I was thirty-one years old when I forecasted the stock market crash and I had been in the business for less than three years. That was when the market was 2,700 whereas now it’s about 18,000. I started carefully observing the overall mood on Wall Street and the way everyone was acting and I knew in my gut that something was wrong with the market. At the time, I told myself that if the market crashed I would be a hero and if it didn’t no one would really care about my forecast.
An interesting thing that I put in my book is that the day after I made the forecast, the chairman of the company I was working for called me up to New York to meet with him. I traveled there with the branch manager, who was the guy who’d previously asked me to retract my forecast or resign from the company. He said, ‘Let me explain why this won’t work for you. Ninety percent of the people will never sell everything like you’re recommending. If your forecast is wrong, which we think it is, you’ll be the laughing stock in the business world and no one will ever believe anything you say again. Let’s say you’re right and ninety percent of the investors don’t follow your advice because they’ll be so badly hurt financially that they won’t be in any shape to listen to you. The ten percent who do listen to you will have about half who will be too afraid to act when you tell them to. The bottom line is that only five percent of our clients would benefit from your financial advice. Peter, you can’t stay on Wall Street with only five percent.’ From a sales point of view my associate made absolute sense. My gut told me otherwise even though I was probably afraid about what might happen to my future in business if I turned out to be wrong.
Fear Can Be a Reaction For Leaders
Perhaps to this day fear is still a battle of mine when it comes to some business decisions. I don’t believe a person can suffer from severe depression without fear being a major component. My personal belief is that fear is as an evil that robs me of my faith. There are now times at two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning when fearful thoughts wake me up and I allow anxiety to slip in for a few minutes.
One person who helped me learn how to deal with fear as a leader is my business partner, former New York Giant, Lee Rouson. One day he said to me, ‘Peter, fear is an unnatural act and is not something created for this earth. It doesn’t matter whether you believe the Christian story or not. If you study the earth’s creation and all the things that were put here, they were mostly put here for good and beauty. Fear is not good and it’s not beautiful, therefore, it’s not a natural act so don’t allow an unnatural act to overcome you.’ I’ve learned that fear is a potential reaction of mine so as a leader I remind myself that even though it’s a potential reaction it’s not a natural reaction. That helps me keep my game face on so that people following me don’t give in to their own fears.
Keep Your Leadership Game Face On
Leaders have to do their best to keep fear under control because I believe one of the worst things that can happen is for a leader to look lost and afraid. I’ve never been in battle or war but I would want the person who’s about to lead me into battle to avoid suddenly getting the shakes because that would make me just a little nervous about following the person. I also believe it’s important that leaders understand some of the followers will be afraid and the leader should show some level of compassion as he or she helps someone overcome fear.
Lead With Compassion and Humility
In my early days I didn’t understand the role of compassion in helping people overcome their fears. Twenty years ago I might have looked down on someone who was experiencing a rough time and then ask myself and others why the person let him or herself get that way. Now I wonder about what might have contributed to the person getting to a low point.
It was probably self-pride that limited me from showing empathy toward people during my early leadership days. I remember being extremely prideful and buying a house because it had a three hundred foot driveway and I wanted everybody to be impressed as they walked up the driveway.
Self-pride is arguably one of the first things leaders might need to deal with. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be proud of our accomplishments, but pride that’s self-serving is really a form of arrogance that can easily get in the way of a leader’s potential for success. Leaders might need to self-reflect to determine whether self-pride is hindering their leadership progress.
Identify What You Need to Personally Improve
I reflect a lot about what I do and how I do it and my biggest challenge right now is not wanting to use notes for presentations and interviews because I like to just speak.
The problem is I have to try to recall the specific reason I’m brought in to speak and not to go off on tangents that have nothing to do with the business topic. For instance, I recently spoke in Canada and there was a particular topic I was to cover. Somebody asked a question and I went off on a tangent and started talking about my faith. Later on one of the event coordinators said, ‘Peter, we like what you do but you lost sight of what you were here for.’ After that experience I started developing notes, which is a struggle for me. The real issue here is preparedness, which is something I don’t believe I’m very good at and choose not to do whenever possible. I like to wing things but winging it in certain business venues is not the best thing to do.
I think if I were going around and giving my testimony in churches it might be fine for me to speak without notes and just tell my story. In business environments where people are looking for specifics and a leader has been brought in under those specifics, an audience can become disconnected if the leader tries to speak from the cuff.
As leaders it’s important for us to remember the purpose of a gathering and give different audiences what they need. I had to learn that I can and should base my work on biblical principles but I can’t preach to an audience if that’s not what people are there for even if that’s my preference.