“I am a drop of seawater about to enter the submarine. Explain how I turn the light on over your bed when you’re done with your work and want to read a book.”
Out of context this makes no sense. But, it was one of the questions asked of me by a Navy Captain in order to earn my gold dolphins (the equivalent to earning a pilot’s wings) and the right to drive his submarine. At the age of 25, I was a lieutenant for the US Navy and I had the honor and responsibility of driving the USS James Madison – a 425-foot nuclear-powered steel submarine.
In order to do this, I needed to earn and achieve the title of Officer of the Deck, which meant I was qualified to be in charge of the entire ship and its crew. It was hard work – but it was one of the greatest honors of my life to be one of just a handful of men charged with carrying out the captain’s orders as he slept, thus ensuring the other 14 officers and 132 crewmen a good night’s sleep as well.
I earned this piece by piece, through training, testing, and more training and testing. At each point in the US Navy’s regimented process I was vying for the gold dolphins pin on my uniform, reflecting not just completion or credentialing, but excellence.
I frequently reference this experience when it comes to business and being an entrepreneur. There are two questions I often think of:
1. If I couldn’t stand watch on a nuclear submarine without undergoing the necessary discipline to become qualified, certified, and ready . . . then what on earth made me think I could establish, build, and successfully lead a company to maturity just because I wanted to?
2. What if entrepreneurial and fast-growth businesses required of their leaders a submarine-like set of qualifications? Indeed, what if entrepreneurial CEOs like me had to clear the requirements of a US Navy-like “Qual Card” to earn the equivalent of a gold dolphin at each level of growth and responsibility?
Oftentimes, entrepreneurs and CEOs feel they have a better handle on things than they really do; in reality, they are ill-equipped to take on the tasks needed to really succeed. How realistic is it to be an expert at each facet of your business, from production, finance and marketing to distribution and sales? It’s not – and that’s ok.
The fact is, entrepreneurs should take the Small Business Administration’s figures on business failure seriously: 50 percent of new companies are gone 5 years out, and 70 percent are history at 10 years.
In every scenario there’s no doubt a number of contributing factors for these failures. However, it ultimately comes down to the decision makers of the business (CEO, top management) to make choices that help the business thrive, not die. Making smart choices requires knowledge and experience.
So ask yourself, are you qualified, “certified,” and prepared to take your business to the next level? Are you aware of the requirements needed to be successful? And if you are, do you have the right people in place to achieve that success?