i’m a scrawny person. even adding a few pounds in my old age of nearly 29, i am not physically stout. as a kid growing up, i was even skinnier. it made growing up in south philly especially difficult because being a skinny introvert made you easy prey for the bigger, tougher kids on the playground.

there was a bully in high school my freshman year who consistently pestered me. he sat behind me in homeroom (because kids need to be in neat, single-file rows of desks sorted alphabetically), and his locker was adjacent to mine (because kids also need to be in neat, single-lines of lockers sorted alphabetically). this kids did some extremely vulgar things to me—this wasn’t your garden variety bullying—and one day, i had had enough. i’d like to say that i stood up for myself that day, but the truth is it’d be more appropriate to say that i snapped. thankfully (for the bully) my friend was there to break up the altercation. he never did mess with me from that day forward, he just moved on to another kid in class.

also in high school, a common after school activity or weekend event was to play pick-up games of tackle football. yes, we played pick-up tackle football with no protective equipment because south philly is a tough place to be and we weren’t quite bright. one week, some kids from franklin street challenged my friends and i to a game. when they showed up to the field, it was apparent that they weren’t interested in a friendly competition, but we still accepted because the last thing you want in south philly is to be seen as weak. we were playing for pride; to take our beating as men. there were no volunteers to play o-line, so i did, but the bad news was the kid lining up across from me was particularly aggressive—at one point in particular barking at me. literally. as if he were a dog. that first play, we hiked the ball and i immediately chop blocked this kid running full-speed at me who was thinking he would run me over (just for fun) before getting a clean hit on the quarterback. instead, he went flying and after he stood up immediately looked at me and smiled. in one moment i had won his respect, but also made him more cautious on the pass rush. he knew he couldn’t bull-rush me anymore, so he changed strategies.

these stories are not for self aggrandizement, and they’re not about sticking up for yourself. frankly, in both cases i made really stupid decisions. i tell these stories because the point is bad things will happen in business—that much is certain. a strategy may completely miss the mark. a new product (an old product, even) may not meet sales expectations. a team may make mistakes or under-perform. but what you’re responsible for is finding out why those things happened and what you do afterwards to correct it.

when the small organization in your marketplace starts making noise and stealing your clients away, how do you respond? what do you do as an organization when your product or service falls flat on its face? do you look inside and see what you need to change? did you lose clients because competitors had a more compelling value proposition than you? did your new strategy not pay off because the time, place, or situation was wrong?

or was it because your organization is just not doing the right thing?

you can either either keep doing what you’re doing and look for someone else to bully, or you can look at the situation and say to yourself, “i need to do that differently.”

don’t be a bully.