Lessons From the Tank
by Joe Altieri
November 2nd, 2020

“Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge” – Patches O’Houlihan

“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball,” Patches O’Houlihan told an unwitting group of misfits, as he hurled wrenches at them as part of their unconventional training. He may be just a silly, fictional character in the even more ridiculous 2004 film, “Dodgeball,” but I believe Patches was onto something.

If you own or run a business or have any type of leadership role, you’ve probably learned a thing or two about scrambling to save yourself from unexpected, potentially painful situations. And if you’re going to play the game, you better be light on your feet, keenly aware of your surroundings, and ready to move because someone on the other side will always be looking to fire a kill shot at you or throw a wrench. 

Here are a few strategies that have helped me to dodge, duck, dip, dive (and dodge again) to avoid some of the perils of business ownership and leadership, while keeping myself in the game.

Be Un-Offendable
Separate the hate from the criticism. It seems as though some people make their living trolling successful products and businesses. They jump at every chance to point out a potential flaw or error as publicly as possible and with as much malice as possible.

In dodgeball, they’re called “Snipers” because they hang in the back, waiting for someone to become vulnerable. In business, we sometimes refer to them as “haters.”

Ignore the rhetoric, but pay attention to the underlying complaint. Too often, we throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to the haters. Most of the time, they have something to say; they just say it in a way that makes us not want to listen. Exercise the maturity and wisdom that it takes to rise above the messenger and learn from the message.

We had a chance to put this into practice recently when we published a video that went viral with over a million views on Instagram and Facebook. This clip featured a segment from my Shark Tank appearance where I was pounding our window screen frame with a rubber mallet (the tool recommended by the producers) to show its resilience. When our summer interns put the ad together, they added the words “even a hammer can’t break it” over that clip. We’ve done many tests with actual hammers and metal mallets, and it was truly an honest oversight. But that’s not how thousands of people saw it.

The comments started flooding in about the fact that a rubber mallet does not equal a hammer. A few kept it funny and light, but the majority reacted as though we had just insulted their mother and kicked their dog. They called us liars in the most expressive, angry and expletive-filled ways.

We thought about just taking the post down, but our integrity was on the line, so we decided to face the firing squad. Our communications director spent an extraordinary amount of time responding to every hateful comment that appeared on that post. She did it with grace, humor and a bit of cheekiness, but made it clear each time that we made a mistake, we learned from it and it wouldn’t happen again. To bolster our credibility further, she also linked them to previously posted videos where I had used a real hammer. 

As a result, we started receiving messages about earning people’s respect for our transparency and how much they were enjoying reading our responses. We turned that potentially painful face shot into a dead ball by taking responsibility instead of offense and moved forward with an even better reputation.

Be Flexible (See what we did there?)
Be willing to change yourself, your business, your product, your mind—all of it. Sales not meeting your expectations? Reevaluate your product or service in light of today’s landscape, and then be willing to part ways with the tried and true methods of the past. Teams not performing? Before pointing any fingers, remember that attitude reflects leadership. Have you left your teams to fend for themselves while you’re running from fire to fire? Not meeting your own goals and expectations? Then it’s time for a life evaluation. Are your goals still relevant? The willingness to be honest with yourself and make meaningful changes will not guarantee complete safety from direct hits, but it will give you the ability to take a hit and keep moving.

For example, when I started my business, marketing to the B2C sector wasn’t the plan. But the “slow yes” from established window manufacturers and dealers was an incoming wrench that I hadn’t anticipated. It prompted me to pivot, rethink and expand my strategy, eventually adding an e-commerce website and social media marketing directly to homeowners. This ended up being the move that landed me on Shark Tank (and got the attention of some of the largest window dealers in the country), and it would have never happened if I had insisted on waiting it out and sticking to my guns.

Be Above Reproach
The single most effective way to dodge incoming fire is not to be where it’s happening. Don’t put yourself in compromising positions by taking unethical shortcuts or dealing in shady personal or professional practices. Surround yourself with trusted accountability partners and let them indeed hold you accountable. What you’ve most likely worked your whole life for is worth the long and high road. You can (almost) always recover business losses, but the loss of your integrity and reputation will live in infamy—especially in today’s digital, stored-forever world.

No matter how hard you try to protect yourself, potentially dangerous situations will always be a part of your leadership landscape. Like our fictional movie character, Patches O’Houlihan, learn to “dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge” like a pro. Because when you’re un-offendable, flexible, accountable and focused, those snipers on the other side are simply a temporary distraction anyway. And a moving target is always harder to hit.

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