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Tony Collins of Aileron: “Resilient people know they can shift their thoughts in a way that will actually allow them to get more of what they want”

Resilient people are aware of their thoughts, first and foremost. They are people who know they can shift their thoughts in a way that will actually allow them to get more of what they want. I think resilient people operate at a higher level of consciousness — they aren’t frozen by fear or challenges or […]

Resilient people are aware of their thoughts, first and foremost. They are people who know they can shift their thoughts in a way that will actually allow them to get more of what they want. I think resilient people operate at a higher level of consciousness — they aren’t frozen by fear or challenges or roadblocks, they are able to overcome this by changing their thoughts to create action. While I don’t think there’s a clear-cut definition, I think resilient people are people who look at the world around them and think “what is the world asking me to do?” Each of us are given a unique skill set and have special qualities that make us who we are — and resilient people tend to ask how they can go about using those skill sets and qualities and then taking the steps to make that a reality even when obstacles arise.


In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Collins.

Tony is a business advisor and facilitator at Aileron. Throughout his career, Tony has started, turned around or helped grow over five different small to medium sized businesses in a variety of industries. Tony is often called upon by business leaders for advice and input how and where to strategically grow their business. Tony received his BS in Marketing from WSU, and an MBA in Finance from the University of Dayton. Tony serves or has served on several non-profit and for-profit boards in his community.


Thank you so much for joining us Tony! Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Over the last 35 years, I’ve had a really rewarding career, being able to start, turn-around, and help grow a number of businesses across different sectors. From internet startups to energy companies, I’m naturally a strategically oriented person and I love being able to help people turn their business around or just get going. I transitioned into strategy consulting work and developed a series of small business strategy workshops and presentations that I’ve delivered around the US, which lead me to Aileron where I now serve as a Business Advisor and Facilitator.

What makes Aileron stand out as a company?

What makes Aileron stand out is it’s vision to raise the quality of life for business owners, their families, communities and the entire nation by helping private businesses thrive by becoming professionally managed. This vision, which we know is a big one — is at the core of everything we do here at Aileron.

This vision tends to attract some very special business owners who believe what we believe — that thriving is more than just making money — but also about helping employees thrive, helping families thrive, and helping communities thrive.

Is there a particular story that stands out in your career (whether at Aileron or prior) where you grasped key takeaways that have helped shape who you are and how you lead today?

The 2008 recession was a defining moment for many, myself included. It taught me that leadership begins with yourself — implementing this into everyday practices and assessing situations with this mindset.

Before the recession when I was running my consulting firm, I really didn’t have to market my company. I had a handful of long-term clients before the recession hit. My initial reaction to the recession, like so many others, was to be fearful of what was going to happen to my business and this fear pushed me to take risks that could help me navigate a changing space. The stress and fear that the 2008 economic downturn brought on me also brought a creative process of risk taking. I began holding workshops, speaking at conferences and these things lead me to my position at Aileron. This season of my life taught me that sometimes, what we fear the most is often times what we need to be listening to. That fear is usually a signal to pay attention to that thing. Since then, I’ve made a commitment to lean into fear and discomfort, because I always find something great on the other side.

Aileron has since taught great lessons in leadership and thought management — it’s helped me gain the tools to know when a thought or feeling is getting in my way of doing something worthwhile. Once I know a thought is getting in my way, I can create a plan to change my thoughts and create action.

Is there a particular person you’re grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? How did they help you?

As cliché as it might sound, I’m grateful for my parents and their never-ending support of my siblings and me. My mother was especially keen on my siblings and me never setting limits for ourselves. We used to have a rule that we could never say the words “I can’t.” My mother used to say, “the word can’tdied when they were a little pup,” meaning, can’t isn’t in our vocabulary so don’t say that. I think this really helped me become resilient and never set limits on what I could accomplish. I look back now and I’m grateful for that lesson because I have done and currently do work at Aileron that I never thought I’d be able to do, and yet I do this work because I never put a limit on myself.

How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilient people are aware of their thoughts, first and foremost. They are people who know they can shift their thoughts in a way that will actually allow them to get more of what they want. I think resilient people operate at a higher level of consciousness — they aren’t frozen by fear or challenges or roadblocks, they are able to overcome this by changing their thoughts to create action. While I don’t think there’s a clear-cut definition, I think resilient people are people who look at the world around them and think “what is the world asking me to do?” Each of us are given a unique skill set and have special qualities that make us who we are — and resilient people tend to ask how they can go about using those skill sets and qualities and then taking the steps to make that a reality even when obstacles arise.

When you think of resilience, is there a particular person or group of people that come to mind? Why?

I think of Netflix when I think of resilient company. In the beginning, Netflix was simply a DVD rental service that was similar to Blockbuster at the time. As Blockbuster hit hard times, Netflix saw opportunity instead of a roadblock — a chance to think about the entertainment industry of the future, one that didn’t involve DVD rentals. Netflix adapted brilliantly by introducing their streaming platform, which we know today as a staple in entertainment. I think Netflix really defines resilience because they took a dying product like DVD rentals and thought about the bigger picture, the future, and the broader opportunity to expand and adapt.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? & Describe a time in your life where you had a major setback but bounced back from it stronger than ever (if applicable — can talk about helping a client too)

I’ll go back to my story about the 2008 market crash. I was well into my time running my own consulting firm and was comfortable and happy. When the crash occurred, my clients began to dry up since many companies were just trying to stay afloat and were not buying consulting services to grow their profit or expand their reach. I had to think about what I was going to do next because pretty soon I had only one client. I had to make a decision between staying the same and seeing no growth in tough times or adapting and changing. I began a small business strategy workshop that lead me to speaking in front of an Aileron advisor where they quickly asked me to come onboard to help other small business owners succeed. It was these risks that I took during an extremely challenging time that have allowed me to continue to grow and learn as a professional.

Did you have any experiences growing up that contributed to building resiliency?

I’m fortunate enough to have had a great childhood — and one thing that stands out to me from my childhood relating to building resiliency is growing up we played outside constantly, without much supervision which meant when we made our own trouble we had to also get out of it. There isn’t one specific memory I’m thinking of but I generally come back to my childhood and learning how to fix the messes I made for myself or my friends in the neighborhood — being about to shift a negative situation into a positive from a young age has helped me to become more resilient.

Later in life, a client of mine who was a psychologist and executive coach taught me a lot about building resiliency. He asked me and other executives that he coached, “what is the world calling for you to do right now?” That question always helped me when I felt stuck because it allowed me to take myself above all the day-to-day things and really ask myself what is important right now.

In your opinion, what are the 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient?

  1. Understand that you have thoughts, they don’t have you
  • Changing thoughts becomes changing actions

2. Meditate

  • Learn this skill to develop a more elastic way of thinking

3. Journal — everyday if you can

  • Writing down your thoughts helps you to take a flow of thoughts and organize them into useful thoughts that could become goals or new ideas

4. Train to spot fear in yourself — which is your brain telling you that something is going on that you need to pay attention to

  • Raise your consciousness so that you can take action over a thought

5. Separate your business or your ideas from yourself. Ego can do more to keep us from learning and growing than anything I know — which is the essence of resiliency.

  • I am not my business, I am not my ideas — when my idea is critiqued that is not a critique of me personally — taking these personally prevents growth

Is there a person you’d love to have breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I’d love to have breakfast with Warren Buffett not because of his wealth or success but because every time I hear him speak he gives the best, most concise advice of anyone I’ve heard. He breaks things down so simply and it’s so refreshing considering that much of today’s business advice seems overly complex. For example, he explains the “busy” is a choice. You control your time and you need time to think. He says “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

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