When I was 20 years old, I was living the dream — or so I thought. I was playing college football and dating my hometown sweetheart. Life was good until she dropped a bombshell on me one day during a phone call. “I’m pregnant,” she said.
For a second, it felt like my life was over and time had just stopped. After taking a deep breath to process this life-changing news, I returned the phone to my ear and responded: “Don’t worry about it. Whatever it takes, we are going to make this great.”
I spent much of my 20s trying to make things right with my in-laws. I worked day and night to give my wife the lifestyle she deserved, and it was not all fun and games. The bank foreclosed on two of our homes. I had to park my truck over at a nearby Piggly Wiggly so the repo guy could not take my ride. Through all the adversity, I did whatever it took to take care of my family.
A “whatever it takes” mindset revolves around two foundational principles: ego and character. Character is the basis of your personality, helping you discern right from wrong. People of strong character are consistent and persistent. And while many see ego as a negative thing, a normal amount of self-confidence is incredibly healthy. Problems arise when either your ego or your character is out of whack, which leads people to a life of unscrupulous or inconsistent behavior.
Provided you can keep your ego and character in balance, you can fuel amazing personal growth. The same is true in the workplace, where business leaders can guide their companies to success by embracing a “whatever it takes” mindset.
The Value of Hard Work
Doing whatever it takes does not mean lying, cheating, or stealing your way to success. It involves doing everything possible within your character, your beliefs, and your value system to make your goals a reality. You should show up to work every day and be willing to do something nobody else in your industry would consider.
Countless self-help books and business experts encourage people to “work smarter, not harder,” but I would say the opposite is true. When you roll up your sleeves and outwork your competition on a daily basis, you begin to learn from your mistakes and identify the best course of action in any given situation.
I desperately wanted to be a professional football player when I was a freshman in high school, but I was only 5 feet tall. I might have been undersized, but I was willing to work harder than everyone else. I stayed at practice longer, and I hit much harder. By the time I was a senior, I had grown to 6 feet. Suddenly, the game felt like it moved at a much slower pace. I had the same knowledge and experience, but my larger frame made things so much easier on the field.
When you bear down and work hard every day, you learn and retain valuable insight. You can overcome shortcomings in life and on the job with hustle, grit, and perseverance.
Leading by Example
It’s one thing to do whatever it takes in your personal and professional life, but it is another matter entirely to inspire your colleagues to embrace a similar mindset. Here are four strategies to help you create a “whatever it takes” culture at your workplace:
#1. Recognize A-Players
When recruiting new hires, focus on finding employees who have talent and potential for additional growth. This strategy will help you create a culture of excellence. You look at candidates who have proven themselves in other industries and invite them to use their skills with your organization. When we hire, we tell our recruits they will be successful as long as they match our effort.
I am also a huge proponent of regular training. Many employers avoid needlessly and excessively training their employees because they worry those employees will turn around and get a job elsewhere. But what happens when you provide no training to your team members and they decide to stay with your company? Your business stagnates.
#2. Set the Standard
When I started my first business, I wore every hat imaginable. I swept the floors, signed the paychecks, and did everything I could to learn. I sought out people who were smarter than me and willing to match my effort. I recognized areas where I lacked knowledge and hired employees who had complementary skills.
The speed of the pack is determined by the speed of the leader. My employees know it will be difficult to outwork me. We put our employees on track to be successful, but they must match the effort of our leadership team. As long as they put in the hard work, they will achieve great things.
#3. Flip the Script
Do whatever it takes to upset the status quo. Think outside the box, and truly lean into whatever you do. If your competitors cringe at your business model, you are probably on the right path.
Think about the last time you walked into a dry cleaner. It was probably hot, stuffy, and uncomfortable inside. Most dry cleaners plaster their walls with signs about how they are “not responsible for lost items.” It is not exactly the most customer-friendly place.
When we opened a dry-cleaning business five years ago, we turned the tables on the traditional model. We offered free water, coffee, donut holes, and buttons (for when they happened to fall off an article of clothing). We lit scented candles and made the place feel more like an oasis than an industrial warehouse. Competitors said we would go out of business, but we became the top dry cleaner in the city.
Think like a Texan: Wreck or win, we talk about our adventures. When we achieve incredible success, we talk about it. When we fall flat on our faces, we talk about it. Failure is not the end of the journey; it is simply an opportunity to educate and grow.
#4. Push for Balance
When we interview potential employees, we ask them to imagine a bicycle wheel with seven spokes: mental, spiritual, physical, financial, personal, family, and career. We have them rate themselves on each element using a 10-point scale. We then connect those measurements to form a wheel. If someone is living a balanced, full, and successful life, he will have a smooth wheel of straight 10s.
Most of the time, the wheels are bumpy. People might have a high score mentally and a low score physically. This exercise helps people identify areas of their life where they might be struggling. Asking employees to evaluate themselves like this is a great way to inspire people to take charge of their lives and show your support.
A “whatever it takes” approach to life — and to business — can make your biggest dreams possible through sheer grit and determination. Remember, however, to always live with integrity and purpose. “Whatever it takes” does not mean you should abandon your honesty, selflessness, and decency.
Leading your employees along the path of success by any means necessary might seem daunting, but your company can make it happen by hiring and inspiring talented workers, upsetting the status quo, and pushing for work-life balance.
How do you inspire your employees to win on the job and in life? I’d like to hear about your approach to leadership and doing “whatever it takes.”