EVERY leadership journey has it’s valley of despair. These are the times when, however hard you work, everything seem to go wrong. Your product fails, your key customer cancels the contract (and doesn’t pay up), you investor withholds the next tranche of funding, the trade press rubbish your business. These times can feel horrible and unforgiving.
At these times, EVERY leader considers giving up. We are only human and sometimes it feels like too much to bear. Our emotions are then supported by the sneaky brain which will try to rationalise this. “Maybe our vision is impossible” – “Maybe the product doesn’t work” – “Our team are just not good enough” – “Why cling on to something when all the evidence says it’s not going to work”. This is when the going gets really tough.
Having supported real leaders through some stupidly tough moments, I’ve realised that the best way to handle tough times is to start preparing today. Here are eight practical steps you can take to prepare for and overcome the hardest challenges:
- Take care of yourself – invest time in your health and wellbeing, however counter-intuitive that might seem.
Get clear on what you need to have a healthy mind and body and make a commitment to getting that. It will take 2 to 3 months of resistance and hard work to develop good habits around eating, sleep and exercise – and they will last you a life time. They’ll give you the routine and energy you need to push on.
2. Be present – stop ruminating on the bad things that have happened, and anticipating future horrors yet to come.
Developing a mindfulness practice enable you to live in the current moment and handle what is immediately in front of you. This practice will help you to detach from the negative emotions you feel and the sneaky thoughts that try to derail you. Use a good app like Insight Timer or Buddhify and aim to start with 10 minutes a day.
3. Take one small step at a time – focus on the next small step
The easiest way to keep going is to put one foot in front of the other and keep trudging forward. Start practicing asking “what is the next small step I can take to move forward?” and then achieving that. Then repeat. Tick off each successful action and that will build a sense of self-efficacy which is very powerful in tough times.
4. Learn from the past – apply lessons to the current situation
Spending time reflecting on previous tough experiences you’ve faced can be very powerful Think through challenges and tough patches from your life, what you did to navigate them, what strengths you used to get through, the outcome and the learning you got. This will help to contextualise the point you’re at on your journey and remind you that you have the capability to survive and thrive through challenge.
5. Create a support group – build a group of people who believe in you and your business, even when you might not
No great venture is completed alone. Start building your team of supporters today. Think about who you can put around you to bring inspiration, energy and belief when yours is waning. Start scheduling time with them regularly and give some of that encouragement back to them and their ventures. The energy from this can be contagious.
6. Do something different – make sure you invest time and energy into something else in your life that you enjoy, to bring some balance
If your whole life is work, work, work, there is no escape. This can be amazing when the going is good. However when the chips are down it can feel like a prison. As a leader it is important to have some other aspects of your life where you can be a totally different person and find success. Whether it’s your family, your hobbies, your learning – make sure you embrace multiple dimensions in your life.
7. Get out more – make sure you keep your social life on track and see people outside of work
I always spend a little time at the start of each month setting up my social calendar. I’m blessed to have some great people who couldn’t give a monkeys about my business and work. They do provide me with a good laugh and a pressure relief valve though. Having this kind of outlet can change my whole outlook.
These are all practical steps you can start taking today. They work just as well in good times as bad. You can work to become a multidimensional leader with a better sense of perspective – ready to keep keep going in the toughest of spots.
Please let me know what you do to navigate tough times below.