Consider this scenario, which I hope you never experience.
You are in the Armed Forces engaging in a combat zone, defending a position. The defensive position you have created must be solid, because your life depends on it. You have spent hours digging a hole about five feet deep and eight or nine feet in diameter. You filled sand bags or created other fortifications which you have stacked and arrayed in and around the hole, which act as a buffer against enemy rounds and shrapnel.
You share this fighting hole, or “foxhole” as it is commonly known, with someone. As your life depends on the solidity of the foxhole you prepared, it is even more dependent upon the person in the foxhole with you.
When you are attacked, what will you do? How will you conduct yourself? How about the person in the foxhole with you? How about the others in adjacent foxholes?
War and Peace and Business Culture
“Being part of such a unit means that you put others before yourself, and they do the same for you. Everybody draws strength from each other. These ethics are not normally shared in business culture, hence the Foxhole Test.”The strongest of us can crumble sometimes. Fear or pain can cause people to make choices that haunt them for the rest of lives; regretting what they should have done, but failed to do. Some may cower; others may drop their weapons and flee to safety, leaving you alone to fight in the foxhole. Another may even throw up a white flag of surrender, leaving your fate to chance or the mercy of the enemy.
But there are those that will keep a cool head and have your back, fighting bravely, smartly, and with a contagious aggressive spirit. That does not mean there is an absence of fear; it just means they act in spite of the fear. True warriors use fear as a counselor, not a jailer.
Professional soldiers, or Marines, spend a great deal of time learning to fight as a unit. They do this by training hard and sharing hardship and deprivation together. As the saying goes: the more you sweat in peacetime, the less you bleed in war.
Being part of such a unit means that you put others before yourself, and they do the same for you. Everybody draws strength from each other. These ethics are not normally shared in business culture, hence the Foxhole Test.
Can Your Business Withstand the Foxhole Test?
The foxhole test is a very high standard.
How does a co-founder, investor, employee, mentor, supplier, etc. handle adversity? Quite simply, “Could I trust this person in the foxhole with me?” Application of this principal is a matter of gut instinct and individual preference, but here are five swift guidelines to measure those around you:
Is this person on board with your goals and committed to achieving them with you? What are they willing to do for you to accomplish them? Are they strong and unchanging in their support, or fickle? Of course, commitment changes as causes do, but if you always know where you stand with a person, that is a good sign.
How is the speed and quality of decision making? Contemplation is good, but sooner or later, a decision has to be made. A strong leader is not afraid to decide one way or the other and will not leave you hanging.
Everyone must deliver bad news or rejection from time to time. How is this task handled? It is fine to do it in a subtle way when called for, but too subtle is a sign of weakness and can be frustrating. When you follow through with someone, do they respond, or hide behind voicemail, e-mail or an assistant? Do they duck and hide from you, hoping that you will just “get it” and go away? Slow-walking something to death requires no courage. Does they do this? Or do they provide clear and strong, but gracious finality?
The world is not fair, but someone who is fair can be refreshing. These type of people apply the same standards to themselves as they do to those around them. They will account for your interests as well as their own.
Communication about others
How a person talks about others behind their back is an indicator of how they will talk about you behind yours. Do you feel the presence of hostility that you cannot identify? Or, does his environment feel clean and safe?
Nobody gets it right at all times. Everybody has moments of weakness and we all fall short of each others hopes and expectations from time to time. When a weak person does this, they feel no responsibility and blame others. On the other hand, a strong person learns from it, profits from it, and will act to repair the damage.
The foxhole test is your personal measure of character, and should be applied equally regardless of gender, race, culture, or background. It is a way to check to see if your mind and instincts are in agreement.
If someone falls too short too often, keep your distance. You are in for much heartache and trouble if you place your confidence in the wrong people. If you apply it to yourself and come up short, improve. We all must do that sometimes.
Protect yourself in business and in life by applying the foxhole test.
James Chittenden owns and operates Triumph Business Services, which offers incorporation and consulting services to entrepreneurs, and Triumph Business Communications, a public relations firm. He spent many years as a business banker and financial advisor. While serving as a Marine Corps public affairs officer, he published the base newspaper at Parris Island, SC.
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