Annie, Get Your Gun: 4 Business Lessons From a Sharpshooter

March 23, 2015 Jeffrey Hayzlett

I’ve been thinking a lot about Annie Oakley.

From her humble beginnings to becoming the star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Oakley was a maverick with a gun -- a sharpshooting, show-stopping talented woman. She was brash. A little ballsy. And she never failed to entertain. At 30 paces, she could split a playing card held edge-on; she hit dimes tossed into the air; and she shot cigarettes from her husband’s lips.

How Oakley used her astonishing marksmanship to escape a poor childhood in Ohio and rise to become the first female superstar in what had been a male-dominated profession is a motivating story. And it makes me want to get out on the shooting range for a little target practice.

But more than that, Oakley’s story inspires me on the job. I’m not suggesting you pick up a gun and start shootin’ -- although you won’t find a better way to spend an afternoon in South Dakota during pheasant-hunting season...

If you embody her spirit in the boardroom, you'll go far.

1. You make the rules

In her day, Oakley should never have picked up a gun. That just wasn’t the ladylike thing to do.

 I’m not saying Oakley wasn’t a lady. But she wasn’t afraid to break those traditional barriers -- to do what she needed to do to get things done.

Make the rules, or change the rules. Then get to work. Nobody’s done it before? Even better. Be a pioneer in your field. Don’t be afraid to blaze a few new trails, just like Oakley did.

2. Leave your mark

After a rough childhood, Oakley recognized her talent with a gun and sought to perfect her skills. She truly took the saying, “Anything you can do, I can do better,” to heart.

Her practice paid off. She was able to help support her family the best way she knew how -- by shooting game in the nearby woods and selling it to a local shopkeeper. Her marksmanship paid off the mortgage on her mother’s house.

Don’t wait for opportunity to knock at your door. You make things happen. Make your best skills and assets pay.

3. Reinvent yourself when needed

When things don’t go your way -- as they didn’t for Oakley many times in her life -- don’t wallow in self-pity. Get up, get over it and move on.

If something’s not working, make some changes. If you can’t do that, you’re in for a rough ride, and your prospects for survival -- whether you’re a company or an individual -- aren't goo

d. Something to remember: Failures aren’t fatal. I’ve reinvented myself many, many times. And I’m a better person today because of it.

I’ll be even better tomorrow.

4. Never give up

Oakley wasn’t an overnight success. But she wasn’t going to let anything -- or anyone -- stop her.

“Aim at the high mark, and you will hit it. No, not the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third,” Oakley said. “But keep on aiming, and keep on shooting, for only practice will make you perfect. Finally, you’ll hit the bulls-eye of success.”

The best business leaders have failed over and over again. But the fact that they get up and start over again is what makes them a success. I can’t speak for Annie Oakley, but I think she’d agree: The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. 

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