Why small businesses need resilience, courage, and agility


Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 6, we chat with Brigadier General (Retired) Vincent Buggs from the United States Army Reserve, who is now CEO of Embrace the Power and Power Pony Express Sports LLC.

As a successful small to medium-sized business (SME) owner, combined with his extensive experience as an Army General, General Buggs understands what makes a good and successful leader and shares his knowledge about how you can become one too.

General Buggs speaks about the importance of resilience, agility, and courage for business leaders and outlines practical steps for how everyone can implement key performance enhancers in their lives and businesses.

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Authored by Brigadier General (Retired) Vincent Buggs from the United States Army Reserve and CEO of Embrace the Power and Power Pony Express Sports LLC.

My experience as a Brigadier General in the United States Army Reserve has influenced my everyday business actions, decisions, and thought processes. Resilience, agility, and courage are all traits required to succeed in the Army Reserves and as a leader. They are also what I like to call the three key ingredients for success. The same goes for small to medium-sized businesses. Without these three key ingredients, it will be difficult to succeed. When giving up and quitting are too often the default mechanism of humankind, it takes bravery and strength to continue striving for ambitious business goals.

As a CEO of two small to medium-sized businesses, I understand the difficulties that arise when operating an SME. It takes commitment and confidence to run one successfully. What I’ve learnt is the importance of the team you surround yourself with. Everyone has a strength to give and recognising that you’re not the best at everything is the first step to becoming a resilient, agile, and courageous business leader. During my time owning businesses and working as a high school football coach, I’ve learnt that you need both visionaries and perfectionists on a team. Me? I’m a visionary. I have the ideas and the tenacity to follow through with my plans. But that’s not always the smartest way of creating a business. You need a perfectionist on your side that will help you plan, lay the right foundations, and understand the intricate details. You can’t start a business without a visionary, just as a business can’t survive without a perfectionist. You need to balance your weaknesses with somebody else’s strengths.

Alongside my three key ingredients, I also promote what I like to call “buggisms”. Buggisms are the acronyms that define my life and business practices, and I discovered them through the process of joining the Army Reserves. Before you begin your business, you need to clearly define your MSD, which is your mission, strategy, and destination. Your MSD will allow you to shape and create a business that aligns with your values and ambitions. It will become a clear reflection of who you are and what you represent. When you choose your mission, you then need a strategy, and you need people in your life that can help you, train you, and encourage you to focus on what is important.

With my two businesses, Embrace the Power and Power Pony Express Sport LLC, the mission, strategy and destination, or the MSD, mirror what I believe in. Embrace the Power’s mission is to help people locate and discover their intrinsic ability to navigate life. We work in a variety of different communities with the aim of facilitating personal development and growth. In Power Pony Express Sports LLC, I aim to offer parents, who lack the resources, private training lessons, once again hoping to help their physical and mental health. Both of my businesses operate with human capital at the forefront because I truly believe in the power of helping others prosper.

Another buggism that is important for SMEs to understand is, BPRY, or be politically real with yourself. I learnt this when I was training at the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). When I was completing the program, I actually tried to get out of it twice. But after meeting and talking to a professor of mine, Master Sergeant Whitfield, I realised what I wanted to achieve and understood the importance of being politically real with myself.

BPRY is all about reflecting on yourself and who you are. Everyone must self-reflect. We all must look in the mirror and consider if we are being the best versions of ourselves or if we are simply going through the motions. Ask yourself: Am I changing the world? Do I want to make a difference, or do I want to just get by? Once you critically think about these questions, begin realigning your life and business to reflect the answers. This is the crucial area, while it’s easy to understand who you want to be, the hard part is changing your actions. But you can do it, and once you do, it’s much easier to gain success in any area of your life.

The best part about my buggisms is that they’re universal. They can be applied to any area of your life and your business. By understanding and reflecting on your ambitions and how you want to get there, you will be better equipped to achieve them.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about life and business ownership is that resilience is one of the most important key ingredients you can have. It takes a lot of power to be resilient and it’s not often the default way people react to difficult situations. You must train yourself to become resilient or else it will be hard to achieve your goals. In the Army Reserves, we’re trained to become as resilient as possible, and while I’m not suggesting every SME business owner needs to join the military, I’m demonstrating that resilience is a learned function, not an intrinsic mechanism.

From being an army general to helping mentor other business owners, what I’ve learnt is that people quit too easily. Quitting is the default decision for most people, if not everyone. Do you know why? It’s because quitting is often the easier choice. It’s hard to recognise that your business is failing or that you made the wrong decision and, instead of giving up, decide to continue to put your resources into trying to fix it.

This is simply because resilience is an earned trait. The actions and decisions you make every day can help build your internal resilience. Working out every day or deciding to do the task you were putting off can help lead to stronger resilience and greater SME success. It comes down to your character and who you are. If you want to be a small to medium-sized business owner, it’s critical that you begin training your resilience and become the person you need to be to achieve your goals.

If the COVID-19 pandemic taught me and every business leader anything, it’s that agility is the key ingredient for survival and long-term success. Recognising the problem and finding an alternate solution is how your business will continue to thrive. Ask yourself: what are the modifications that I can make today so that I can be successful tomorrow?

In Louisiana, where I live, businesses of every kind began to adapt to the pandemic immediately. I remember hearing about the new restrictions and the next day a local Chinese restaurant created a plexiglass solution, so no contact could be made between people while still enabling the restaurant owners to serve food. This ingenuity and inventiveness are what it means to be agile.

Innovation and agility go hand-in-hand. If you’re told no, you have to go and find a way to gain a yes. You must think outside of the box sometimes to enable your business to succeed. Just because you’ve done one thing a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t change. Being innovative and agile is all about recognising new opportunities and chasing after them.

Agility requires resilience. You must be able to evolve because those that don’t become extinct. Agility gives you the ability to navigate the forests, the woods, and the jungles of life and business ownership. Agility is what ensures business survival. While it’s easier said than done, at the end of the day, you will find the future is bright if you decide to be adaptive.

To be both resilient and agile, you need to be courageous. It isn’t easy to understand and recognise a problem and then go after finding a solution, especially when you’re a small to medium-sized business owner. Doubts and uncertainty can overwhelm even the most high-level business executives – especially when your business is your passion. It can be difficult to make seemingly risky decisions if it’s difficult to perceive how it’ll help you in the future.

Working as a General in the Army Reserves, I saw courage being performed every day. But sometimes the most courageous act I would see was someone realising there’s a problem, trying to tackle it, and then getting it wrong. They would usually expect me to get mad but really, I was impressed. That’s because they had the tenacity and bravery to try and solve a problem themselves and while it didn’t turn out right, they would always keep trying.

This is something that every SME business leader should understand. Being courageous is about trying something, getting it wrong and then trying again. The worst thing you can do as a leader is to simply give up because you are scared.

While my three key ingredients, resilience, agility, and courage, are critical for business success, I also believe that protecting your energy and looking after yourself is just as important. Being a small to medium-sized business owner can sap your energy and force you to adopt unhealthy habits. But I want to tell you that your health is the most important thing, and you must take care of it.

You have to take quiet time as a business owner. Taking care of your physical and mental health should be a priority just as much as your business ambitions. You can’t have one without the other. Celebrate the small wins and focus on the positives when you can. Sometimes it can be easy to get lost in everything that isn’t quite right or is going wrong, and while these are important to acknowledge, they can also cause unnecessary stress.

When I was in the military there was a saying, “We do more by 9 am than anyone else in the world” – and it was true. Waking up early, exercising and sticking to a regimented routine meant both our success individually and as a unit. I continue to live by these principles today. While I’m not saying everyone should wake up at 4 am and work out as I do, I do believe that everyone gets more done in the morning than they’ll ever do in the evening. Being a successful SME business owner is about recognising where you put your energy and when you’re most energetic. It’s about understanding yourself and aligning your actions with your business goals.

From my experience as a Brigadier General in the United States Army Reserves and as a CEO of two small to medium-sized businesses, I know it’s important to align your lifestyle with your personal and business ambitions. If you acknowledge and create a life around the three key ingredients to business success, resilience, agility, and courage, I know that your business will be set up for long-term success. Each day, you must choose to work hard, be brave, and never default to giving up. Ask yourself this question: What actions can you change, right now, to gain greater success?