Resiliency in Business is Like a Bar Fight

Once, when I was preparing for a combat deployment, I had the privilege of working with a trainer named  Tony Blauer.  Tony was able to change my thinking in how to prepare for a fight.  His training improved my resilience exponentially. Now that I have transitioned from the combat world to the corporate world, I adapt what I learned to make it work from my new world – but you can’t take the fight out of a fighter, so…

Even if you have never been in one (though you probably have at least seen one in a movie) think about EVERY single thing that can happen in a bar fight.


You can probably list over 100 things if you really think on it…

      Getting hit with a barstool

      Someone throwing a pool ball at you

      Getting knocked out

      Running away

      Getting fired because your boss hears about it

      Even getting shot or stabbed

There are lots of horrible things that can happen. And if you look at that list long enough, you’re probably going to be more cautious next time you head out for a drink – or maybe you never go into a bar again.


But here’s where it gets interesting. Researchers have actually formulated data on bar fights to figure out what usually happens.

Do you want to know what ACTUALLY happens during a bar fight?

You’re either going to get sucker-punched or you’re going to get tackled. 99% of the time one of those two things will happen.

It’s the same thing with business.

So often in business you attempt to make decisions and do your strategic planning based on the 100 possible scenarios that can happen.

The market could shift or demand could drop. Technology could put us out of business. The suppliers could ship the incorrect products. The list goes on and on.

Instead of thinking about all of the possible scenarios that could happen,

start focusing on the most probable scenarios.

It’s like the bar fight – you’re either going to get sucker-punched or tackled. You can handle that.

Stop focusing on the 100 things that could possibly happen and instead focus on what is most probable. When you focus on all of the things that could possibly happen in your business, you actually unknowingly sabotage resiliency.

So what does the bar fight have to do with actually creating resiliency?

Walking into a bar fight, you can safely bet that you’re either going to get sucker-punched or tackled. You’re not guaranteed of these outcomes, but they’re pretty likely to occur. And you know what?

Again, it’s the same thing with business.

Just like in bar fights, in business there are no guarantees. So often in business, you attempt to make decisions and do your strategic planning based on the hundreds of possible scenarios that could happen.

When you focus on all the things that could possibly happen in your business, you actually unknowingly sabotage resiliency.

Here’s what I mean.

As the leader, your job is to curate an environment for your team to thrive.

The only thing that stops your team from being successful is fear.

So it’s up to you to eliminate fear by building courage. And you build courage by creating resiliency.

But how do you create resiliency?

You create resiliency by celebrating failure.

There’s so much information out there about celebrating failure. Still, most leaders don’t even accept failure, let alone celebrate it.

You have to have a mindset to say, “Wow, you totally jacked that up! But I love that you were trying. Let’s sit down and analyze what went wrong and what went right so we can kick ass next time.”

Do you do that with your team?

My guess is that you actually don’t celebrate failure.

Kenning Associates has collected data from the thousands of leaders with whom we’ve worked, and we have observed an important trend. Leaders may pay lip service to the concept of celebrating failure, but most employees still report that they are scared of making mistakes. That culture doesn’t create resiliency; it sabotages it.

And yet we know that failure is going to happen in our business. We know it.

In Special Operations, we understand this, and we harness failure to make ourselves stronger. It’s reminiscent of the Code of the Samurai—which states that “death is inevitable.” Failure is inevitable, too. And when you learn to accept and harness that, your team will build astounding resiliency.

Why does this work? Because by truly celebrating failure and setting the conditions for people to make decisions and push towards progress without fear, you begin to create hope and trust in your business.

While you work to celebrate failure and build resiliency, you must also understand how well-meaning leaders commonly sabotage and inhibit resiliency, as well. Avoid the following pitfalls.

Creating a fear of failure.

As discussed above, the main way that leaders sabotage resiliency is by creating a fear of failure in their employees. An employee who is afraid to fail is also afraid to try, innovate, adapt, and excel. You need to create a culture where these things are nurtured.

Focusing on Capability over Capacity.

Traditional leadership models focus on Capability – knowledge of required skills and procedures, and the ability to apply them successfully on the job.

The problem? When you focus only on your employees’ performance of a required skillset, you undervalue the ability to adapt and innovate—critical problem solving skills that we select and train for in the special operations world that are equally beneficial in business.

Instead, focus on Capacity.

Capacity is the ability to think critically, collaborate, innovate, and adapt. It empowers people to learn how to solve problems together. What does it look like in practice? Sit down with at least a handful of people whenever you have a problem and think about different angles, ideas, and solutions. Think beyond your leadership team, as people on the ground floor of your company probably know the problem better than any of you do. Celebrate every idea your team offers, because every one of them is getting you closer to the solution.

Building capacity is hard to encourage. In the traditional education system, students are encouraged to work independently, as sometimes collaboration is even viewed as cheating. You’re going to have to work hard to reinforce collaboration as you push your team to creatively solve problems.

Resiliency is a process

Resiliency as a team starts with you as the leader.

You first must start celebrating failure wholeheartedly. You must build capacity instead of capability and strive for collaboration among your team.

It takes time, but when you get your team to the point of true resiliency, you’ll have a courageous team where everyone has hope and trust in each other—and especially in you, as their leader.

~J.C. Glick, LTC, U.S. Army, Retired


JC Glick has been teaching resilience for decades. A Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, JC served as an Infantry Officer for 20 years, primarily serving in Ranger and Special Operations/Missions Units.  He has multiple deployments in support of operations worldwide, with 11 Combat Tours, and has successfully accomplished over 1,000 missions… He says that:

“I’ve never worried about the specifics of the mission… I worry about ‘am I using my people effectively? Am I mentally and physically resourcing them with the trust and hope that they’ll accomplish the missions? I know my team could get it done because I set the conditions for success.”

        He’s now a partner with Kenning Associates where he teaches leaders how to create resilience in their organizations – he’s facilitated these transformative changes from a place of knowledge and experience.  He has led organizations as large as 1,500 Soldiers, and advised Fortune 500 Companies with over 200,000 employees and over $62 billion in revenue, as well as professional sports teams and athletes.

With a history of innovation and unconventional thought on education and leadership, the military focused him on adult leadership development.  Considered a thought leader in adaptive and proactive programs of instruction centered on the development of leadership behaviors and values within a dynamic environment, he was recently spotlighted in Forbes and the Huffington Post, and referenced in Inc. and Entrepreneur regularly.  He is also the co-author of the critically acclaimed book, A Light in the Darkness, Leadership Development for the Unknown, currently being used in both the NFL and Microsoft.