“Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control”. – Tom Landry. True capacity to lead is tested in times of crisis. While pressure shows the faults in some people’s abilities, some others keep calm and even take the offensive, seizing the opportunities that come with the situation. Entrepreneurs face obstacles everyday, whether they’re trying to pacify investors or struggling to keep ahead of the competition. Oftentimes a team takes its cues from the leader – whether they’re to keep their cool in the face of adversity or panic when they run into difficult times. Not everyone is cut out for leadership – especially in times of crisis – but some people stand out and show themselves particularly well-suited to turn crisis into opportunity.
These are the traits successful entrepreneurs exhibit in times of crisis that help them turn challenges into great victories for their companies. They are methods every entrepreneur should display when facing challenges.
- Focus on what you’re passionate about: “When I focus on why I want to achieve a goal, it’s easier to keep a level head”. – Richard Branson. One inevitable attribute of every entrepreneurial journey is that everything will not go as planned. Acknowledge that challenges will come, and when they do, be sure to focus on what drives you to get you through. The reason why you got into the entrepreneurial journey in the first place will serve as a much-needed reminder of what you want to achieve and will be your drive when prospects are bleak. This is one of the main reasons why it’s not advisable to become an entrepreneur or found a startup with the sole aim of getting rich. While everyone wants to found the next unicorn, money alone is not sufficient drive to see you through challenging phases and turn crisis into opportunity if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing.
- Keep a cool head: Panicking everytime you face a crisis will only keep you from making proper decisions and make your team lose faith in your leadership abilities. Like John D. Rockefeller during the panic of the first worldwide financial crisis in 1857, look at every challenge as an opportunity to learn and turn such crisis into opportunity. Entrepreneurs today live in uncertain times like Rockefeller did, but they must learn to keep a cool head under pressure and look for ways turn misfortunes to their advantage. 20 years after the panic of 1857, Rockefeller owned some 90% of US refineries and pipelines!
- Anticipate challenges and prepare accordingly: In addition to keeping a cool head and looking for ways to turn crisis to your advantage, you could employ premeditation to foresee obstacles that could arise in the future and prepare for them. This is one way you can be proactive and reap the benefits in the future. Your competition who didn’t foresee the crisis ahead would flounder, looking for a way out, while you already have a solution lined up. This technique is credited to the ancient Stoics who called it premeditatio malorum or premeditation of evils.
- Look past misfortune: When Steve Jobs was fired from his own company Apple, he was undaunted by the failure and went on to found NeXT, which was eventually acquired by Apple. Once back at Apple, Jobs proved his capacity for greatness by reinventing the company’s image and taking the Apple brand to new heights. Young entrepreneurs can follow Jobs’ example when they encounter crises like the loss of an investor or a key employee. Instead of being paralyzed by the failure or giving up when challenges seem insurmountable, we can choose to accept it and move on one way or another. Anger and despair gain us nothing, but when we refuse to lose sight of what we want to achieve, we keep moving on despite the odds and find ways to turn crisis into opportunity.
- Be accountable for both your victories and defeats: Owning up to when you make mistakes proves to those who are following you that you’re not too proud to admit your mistakes. Passing the buck and only taking credit when things go the right way reduces the respect your team has for you, and a team that is not solidly behind its leader will jump ship at the first sign of trouble. Accountability increases your chances of keeping the talent in your team faithful to you even when things are not rosy.
- Get outside your comfort zone: “Over the course of my career, I’ve faced crises time and time again, I’ve been arrested; I’ve come close to losing million-dollar business over night; and I’ve gone head-to-head with giants in legal battles, just to name a few of the obstacles that have come up”. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin group has learnt to embrace pressure and even thrive under it. His recipe for pushing forward through it all and turning crisis into opportunity? He recommends introducing unconventional situations: “Perhaps there are new types of potential customers they should meet and get to know; maybe some of your employees should try using your competitors’ product for a couple of weeks, or try going without the product entirely and see what alternative solutions they come up with; or maybe it’s time to redesign your offering and company from scratch.” The point, he says, is to move people outside their comfort zones, “and all of you will find that this is where innovation begins”. By implementing this kind of culture, where people regularly work outside their comfort zone, Richard says that when real moments of crisis arrive, the panic and urgency will not be new and you will be able to control your alarm.