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When the Worst Happens 

The line between an elite athlete and high-performing athlete is incredibly thin. Both take hard work commitment and sacrifice all without any guarantee of long-term success. Both dedicate years of their lives training, working to get better, competing to reach the highest level. Some get the breaks giving them the opportunity to shine, but it’s not enough to make an athlete’s career sustainable.

Athletes know the risks of injury as part of the game and many take the “it won’t happen to me” approach. When it happens it can be devastating – fear, anxiety, anger and depression – especially for those whose identity as an athlete is above all else. Suddenly, what made them who they are is compromised forcing them to reflect and evaluate their current position and potential future.

What they do next is what separates the good from the great.

Survive mode: hypersensitive to threats focused on problem-solving. They get stuck in the fear of not being able to perform at the previous level again creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those athletes typically don’t achieve their same peak performance. Some refuse to acknowledge the severity of the injury, which limits the rehabilitation process and greatly increases the likelihood of reinjury.

Thrive mode: they fine tune their greatest strengths on and off the field, seek out opportunities, collaborate and innovate. They use this period to challenge themselves, to learn critical lessons, to rethink new ways or behave differently in the future. They begin to broaden their sense of identity and begin to think more creatively about how successful their future can become.

In Business and in Life, It Takes a Setback to Have a Comeback

Setbacks in business are very similar. It takes a setback to have a comeback. Whether it’s a significant financial downturn, the loss of a key product, global pandemic or an unforeseen controversy, organizations are forced to reflect and re-evaluate just as the athlete must. Employees are often left wondering if it’s possible for the company to come back and, if it can, what their role will be and how it will be different. How the organization responds will inevitably dictate its future viability.

When “the worst” happens, many people within the organization are likely in Survive – as they should be at the beginning. Staying in Survive won’t help the organization recover, however.  Senior leaders must acknowledge and help others understand the situation. They must lead, over communicate and empathize with everyone. They must move forward personally and professionally focused on actions to accountability and fine-tune the systems at play. They’re called to lead and demonstrate commitment to finding a path forward building on the core values and beliefs of the business – those that inspire employees to come to work every day – while also embracing a spirit of rediscovery and innovation.

Leaders in the midst of recovering from a significant setback know to leverage this moment in time to consider the type of organization they want to become.

  • They inspire confidence by ensuring everyone at all levels learns the right lessons,

  • They ground themselves in the organization’s core values,

  • They explore how they can innovate to bring unique value in the current market, and

  • They determine what they need to stop doing to protect against the same setbacks in the future.

Doing so will help ensure an organization can thrive again – and perhaps even exceed pre-injury performance levels. Leadership teams play a vital role in this dynamic. Most of the time, a leader’s value is tied to their ability to plan for and lead through the unanticipated.

Is It Art or Science Now?

What we have faced over the pasts 13 weeks is this initial dilema – there’s no MBA case study on emerging from a global pandemic. We can run multiple scenarios of similar parallels we’ve all lived through, faced and overcome, but that’s where any similarities end. Today demonstrates how much art there is in leading. There is no systematic logic or process expertise in this virgin emergence. No one on Earth has an aggregation of such experience.

Many will align themselves to discussion of Survive or Thrive (just as we did with his article). We’ve certainly demonstrated our capacity and capability for adaptation and successful to changing circumstances. I hold dearly to the simple fact that many global leaders expose their true success or failure to some degree under stressful circumstances. Who we truly are as leaders can be examined when we are predisposed to making decisions which may not be the best ones under these circumstances. Which brings us to our second dilemma, fear.

Fear, in turn, is exacerbated by three factors: lack of predictability; lack of control; and lack of an end in sight. Knowing these primary drivers of fear, and in turn of our Survive response, post-recession winners know they need to take immediate action to shift all three of these dimensions.

From our experience, those winners who emerge from this pandemic-driven downturn better than before will be those who not only understand their businesses and their value chains, but who have a deeeper understanding of how our brains work. Because unless you operate in an entirely automated environment with no people involved, your performance will depend on how you are able to effectively harness the potential of your workforce – the single biggest differentiator for success.

If you’re looking for an impartial sounding board or an advocate to come alongside you during the next stage emerging through this virgin experience, then having a conversation makes logical sense for all of us. Simply click here to schedule a no obligation, no pitch conversation to see if potentially working together makes sense for either of us. If you’d like to know more about us and research who we’ve helped and their results, simply ask and I’ll give you names and numbers to speak with.

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