In October 1066 AD, the Duke of Normandy, William I, was about to lay claim to England on the field of battle against King Harold.
As William led his men ashore in southeast England, on their way to what was to become the historic Battle of Hastings, legend has is that this man-who-would-be-king rather ignominiously stumbled and fell, face-first into the mud . One of the classic truths about leaders, including once and future kings and small business owners, is that stumbling is actually ordained, whether the untimely descent is a mistake we've bought upon ourselves, or an unfortunate circumstance that could happen to anyone.
Consequently, the question is not if we will stumble but how we have after the fall, with mud on our hands. One of my mentors used to say that our character is not measured by the challenges we face or the mistakes we make, but rather how we respond to them.
Back to our Norman invader. With his next action, the future king of England demonstrated how leaders often have to think fast in order to snatch victory form potential disaster: Looking up from the mud, seeing "Bad Omen" written all over the faces of his superstitious men, William stand up, displayed his muddied hands, and claimed, "By the splendor of God, I have taken possession of my realm; the earth of England is in my two hands."
So, when you look up from the mud, how do you have?
Of course, you could complain about how deep the mud is, which may sound like, "How can I grow my business in such a bad economy?"
Or you could make excuses about how the mud caused you to fall, "I do not know which is going to cause me to go out of business first, the Big Box competitors or people buying stuff on the Internet."
And then there's the always-handy option of blaming others for the mud. "Yes, ma'am, I know you bought it from us. But that's a manufacturer's defect.
At least one thing that has not changed in a thousand years is that there are still plenty of people standing around – employees, customers, etc. – watching our behavior when we stumble. And like William's soldiers, these latter-day witnesses are also vital to the success of our empires.
The Norman request at the Battle of Hastings arguably changed the course of history. Who knows what the world would look like today if our hero had become known as William The Whiner, instead of William The Conqueror?
So, when you fall face-down in the metaphorical mud of your battlefield, your future may well depend upon whether you can – as William the Conqueror did – stand up, assess the damage, accept the circumstances, claim the responsibility, remember on what employees and customers depend, and then drive on to win the day.
One last thing: It also does not hurt if, like William, you can think fast.
Write this on a rock … "Leaders …