3 Leadership Hacks Entrepreneurs Need to Steal from World Religion

Posted on September 3, 2014

Wouldn’t it be nice if your employees, investors, and customers were willing to follow you to the ends of the Earth? Impossible you may say. Well guess what, there are actually a handful of startups that have done just that. AND they emerged out of much more dire circumstances than you.  Furthermore, these organizations have grown to serve billions of customers off of referrals. I’d say it’s worth taking note of the viral growth and its source.

If you couldn’t tell by the title, I’m referring to world religion. Specifically within Christianity, the world’s largest religion, there are 3 tools its founder used to rally his early “team,” which every entrepreneur should apply as well. Don’t worry, this is a metaphoric analysis and won’t be bible thumping in any way. In fact, I’m writing this because I drew the connection while using these parallels within my own business, and it had a phenomenal outcome.

Vision

As the leader, your vision for the company must be crystal clear and something worth rallying behind. This is nothing new if you’ve been in the startup world for long. Though, what leaders often neglect is communicating where each individual employee’s future resides within the vision, and why it’s significant. This is especially true if you’re trying to convince talented engineers, with job offers abounding, to pass up the big bucks and work for financial peanuts (what I had to do). In Christianity, followers had to face persecution and even death – that vision must have been pretty enticing…

“Follow me [Jesus], and you’ll have eternal life”

Pretty nice offer, huh? Let’s deep dive into the elements of this strong and effective vision: First, it’s simple and straight forward, so it’s easy to understand. More importantly it touches upon basic HUMAN needs. This is essential – your vision shouldn’t include “profits, revenue, efficiency, etc.” While these aspects are necessary to a successful business, it’s not what people will devote their lives to. I know we don’t always like to admit it, but we’re emotional beings, and we need a vision that stirs those emotions. More specifically, Tony Robins outlines the needs of human personality in his epic TED talk. Consider these needs while crafting your vision. Also, write them down because these will be the arrows in your quiver when team members get cold feet and are thinking of bailing at the exact worst time.

  1. Certainty of avoiding pain:
    • Christian: There is no physical or emotional pain after death.
    • GlobalPetals: Employees will come away with a unique skillset/resume that no one else will have. It’ll at least help them stand out in the candidate pool if we go belly up.
    • Your company: Consider certain takeaways your employees will gain regardless of the success of your business – sell that if you’re in the very early stages.
  2. Uncertainty & Variety
    • Christianity: Followers never knew if they’d view a healing one day, exorcism the next, or be personally persecuted.
    • GlobalPetals: You won’t be working in corporate America, doing meticulous, repetitive tasks every day. You’ll be doing international and domestic sales, marketing, experimentation, coding, and everything under the sun…
    • Your Company: Brainstorm interesting problems your team will be solving. Give them a challenge that’s just frightful enough to get their blood pumping.
  3. Significance
    • Christianity: The disciples were the “chosen ones.” They were specifically picked to spread the most important message of all time (from their perspective).
    • GlobalPetals: All of our founders saw significance in doing something completely new for our industry that no one else could. Originality was key.
    • Your company: What is important to your employees? Money, social impact, public recognition? Emphasize how great the impact of your business will be in these arenas depending on what’s important to each individual.
  4. Connection & Love
    • Christianity: Jesus loved unconditionally and made every follower feel accepted regardless of his or her flaws.
    • GlobalPetals: We loved building personal connections with our customers and seeing them succeed because of our products. Our blogging community members started showing massive appreciation for our original and helpful content. Their feedback is what kept us energized.
    • Your Company: Where will your employees feel a connection to the business? When everything is dumpy, this will be the currency that they are paid in. Is it customer feedback, management praise, their family’s pride in the individual for following his or her dream?
  5. Growth
    • Christianity: Followers were once “lost,” and after being a Christian, they’re “found.”
    • GlobalPetals: See “proof” in the section below. My team also experienced personal growth both in professional maturity and in skill sets.
    • Your Company: Constantly reflect on personal growth with those you need to motivate. Point out how far they’ve come personally and professionally since the journey began and how much is to come. 
  6. Contribution Beyond Ourselves
    • Christianity: Followers often leave behind riches and security to bring help others find the light and transform the world.
    • GlobalPetals: Our floral design customers are so good at artistic design, but they often are under-resourced in necessary products, infrastructure, and business skills. We help them continue to a spark joy in people’s eyes with flowers while being financially successful.
    • Your Company: This is often the grandiose “WHY” you do what you do question. What’s your big impact? How is it giving back to society?

Proof

There’s not much to say here except do what you say, finish what you start, and say please and thank you. In Christianity, Jesus said he’d heal the sick – he did that. He said he’d be betrayed – he was. He said he’d rise from the dead – he did.

If your team doesn’t see you’re making progress based on your goals, it’s inevitable they will start losing faith. Here’s some tips on showing the proof is in the pudding:

  • Data: This is the #1 encouragement. If you’re making traction, everyone is encouraged. Make the numbers transparent with regular reports. When numbers are bad, you can implement a plan to correct it. A plan can turn a dim outlook into a hopeful goal.
  • Testimonials: Any positive customer review (especially in the beginning!), forward to everyone involved. Personal connections and kind words from customers can work motivational miracles.
  • Press: I’m not all for the fluff press personally, but if moral is down, it can help. If a known news source prints a positive story about your business, your team’s family and friends will compliment them saying they’re proud. When you can leverage family and friend encouragement, you will be fighting with an army behind you rather than as a lonely sole.

Sacrifice

Sacrifice is probably the least touched upon aspect of leadership, but it is surely the strongest. Within Christianity, Jesus gave his life to forgive the sins of the world. That’s a pretty big sacrifice, and that’s the reason why Christianity is where it’s at today. It’s why millions of people fall in love with the religion’s vision; the proof is in the pudding through the sacrifice.

On a lot lesser magnitude, my cofounders saw me not only sacrifice my personal savings, social life, and countless job offers that no sane person would turn down, for faith in the vision. This led to them turning down equally attractive job offers and devoting additional long hours without getting paid at the time.

For your business, consider how you can show you’re willing to go farther than any of your team members to signal to them your vision is the REAL deal? It’s not easy and it’s called sacrifice for a reason. It will hurt. That being said though, when your team respects you because you’re putting everything you’ve got into making your customers, investors, and most importantly, other employees successful, they’ll follow you to the ends of the Earth.

Here are some sacrifices you may have to make. Be sure not to shove it in their face because they’ll see it as a ploy. They should simply see through your unspoken example with only an occasionally word pointing it out.

  • Be the first person in and last one out of the office.
  • Turn down other employment opportunities when times are tough (this is something you’d want to humbly share)
  • Take the heat personally from investors when the team fails… and it will at some point.
  • Go above and beyond to land deals that no one else even knew were in the mix (yes, this will require much more time and effort on your part, but it pays off).

Conclusion

Getting your startup off the ground is incredibly hard. The more unclear success will be, the more you’ll have to use emotional leadership to hold the team together. By communicating a simple yet strong vision, arming yourself with behavioral tools, showing proof and self-sacrifice, you’ll be able to guide your company through the rocks.

What other techniques have you used to lead your team through rough times?