If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
— Rudyard Kipling “IF”
So begins Kipling’s four, 8-line stanzas of advice given to his son in 1909. The poem is a common source of inspiration to entrepreneurs, like myself. It conjures up images of a “stiff upper lip,” and a calm head in a crisis. Behind the motivation for the poem is a story of a man cheated and betrayed, but who refused to bow to public pressure to restore his reputation at the expense of his government’s. In Kipling’s autobiography, Something Of Myself, he acknowledges the inspiration for If in a single reference: ‘Among the verses in Rewards was one set called If – they were drawn from Jameson’s character, and contained counsels of perfection most easy to give.
Every day of a small business is unpredictable, and very quickly the entrepreneurial leader learns that nothing is what they expected. How someone handles constantly changing conditions depends on their mentality. So, depending on your mentality the challenge of leading a business will either be filled with crises or adventures. The different mentalities produce opposing results. I have worked for people whose habitual reaction is to panic, and others who enter a sort of denial stage preferring to ignore the problem as if by doing so it will magically disappear.
The world of small business is one mainly of analysis and problem solving by logic and group think. Very rarely do we receive additional “crisis training.” There is no blueprint for the unexpected. Intuition is rarely prized and in most cases certainly not trusted. In my businesses, however, every big decision I have made has been intuitive, which often times meant going against the advice of my investors, peers, and contractors. That kind of stubbornness (a term often tossed at me by one investor in particular) is not borne from belligerence, but from time spent developing a more finely tuned connection to my intuition.
The best mentality is outlined in the first stanza of If, but the questions is how to get there. Follow the Three Simple Steps in the order outlined. It will take a matter of months until you can credit your intuition above your analytical mind.
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Step One: Reclaim Your Mentality. That means being able to step back from the noise around you whether it’s the TV that is telling you the stock market has crashed or customers yelling at your representatives about misplaced orders. By taking control of your mentality you learn to pause, to take a deep breath, and to choose a better reaction. Positive thinking is great but you can’t help what you think because thoughts happen instantaneously. What you can do, however, is then take a deep breath and choose a calm, considered reaction. Positive reaction is the key.
Step Two: Stop Judging Events Around You As Good, Bad Or Indifferent. We live in a world of judgment, and how we habitually react determines how we handle what we perceive as a crisis. There is no such thing as a crisis. What makes us judge it that way is our mentality, and that then determines how we react. Mostly people do not react well when they perceive a crisis, because simply seeing it that way causes a cascade of stress chemicals to the brain, and that sends you into panic mode.
Step Three: Understand That You Have All The Answers Inside You Already. Many entrepreneurs panic because they don’t feel qualified or experienced to handle something. Typically, if they get over the problem, and look retrospectively at what went wrong and how they handled it they are surprised to discover that in effect it was not difficult to handle once they got into a calm reaction oriented place.
I often found myself in unfamiliar places and roles, and faced with complicated data for which I had no training or experience. I realized that once the curtain is pulled back, most jobs have the same principles at their core. Each position requires a similar set of skills.
As a district sales manager, I worked with a handful of sales people. As a regional sales manager, I managed a few district sales managers. As national sales director, seven regional managers reported into me. As vice president, my team consisted of six directors. As CEO, I had an executive team of seven. The people changed, but my responsibility for handling a group of people remained the same. I didn’t learn some insider secret along the way that magically transformed me into a CEO. I just did the same thing over and over, but with a bigger budget and a fancier title. This allowed me to remain unflappable in any situation.
If you feel overwhelmed right now, keep in mind that life will not place you in a situation that can cause you harm. It is impossible to connect the dots when projecting into the future, but it is a blast when you connect them behind you. Keep a calm head and all will be revealed.