Whether you are running a Fortune 500 company, a company of 500 people or a startup of five people in your basement, you will experience both highs and lows, wins and losses. Often the margin between good times and bad times can be thin. One day you can be on top; the next day you could find yourself falling behind.
The reality is sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail. In either situation there are ways for you to manage the outcomes. If you are successful, how do you keep your edge? If you are not performing at your best, how do you turn the corner?
Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, here are five things to remember.
1. Remain patient.
When things are going well it can be tempting to accelerate your business. If you are doing one thing really well, why not try and do two things really well (or three!)? But when you make a choice to maximize your opportunities, you run the risk of minimizing your effectiveness and overall ability to execute.
One of my favorite business books is How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins. In this book Collins outlines five stages that can lead to the downfall of a successful business. I have always been keen on stage two: The Undisciplined Pursuit of More. Collins states:
Hubris from Stage 1 ["We're so great, we can do anything!"] leads right to Stage 2, the Undisciplined Pursuit of More—more scale, more growth, more acclaim, more of whatever those in power see as "success." Companies in Stage 2 stray from the disciplined creativity that led them to greatness in the first place, making undisciplined leaps into areas where they cannot be great or growing faster than they can achieve with excellence—or both. When an organization grows beyond its ability to fill its key seats with the right people, it has set itself up for a fall.
The lesson here is to never let success go to your head and never expect too much too soon. Make sure you continue to have the right people in the right roles at the right time. Make sure you are measuring the right things and are listening to the needs of your customers. If you take an approach where patience leads over unflinching ambition, you will find that your focus remains sharp and you are able to execute effectively.
At the same time when things are not going well you need to give yourself the patience to shift and adapt in a meaningful way. It may seem like a bit of an oxymoron to stay patient when things are not going well but action in place of a significant and meaningful alternative only creates more chaos and churn. When this happens you will find yourself in a dangerous spot: You will begin to sacrifice long-term wins for short-term gains. Don't overreact (and don't do things just to do things).
2. Maintain your perspective.
When things are going well it can feel like the good times will never end. The wins start to pile up, and you start to feel like you can do nothing wrong. The world of business is stacked with companies, products and technologies that once stood at the top of their respective mountains. At the same time, there are countless stories of businesses that rose from depths to reach unimaginable heights.
The conclusion here: Nothing lasts forever. When things are going well, stay humble and focused. Don't lose sight of what got you there. When things are not going well, keep your eyes on the goal and be brave. If you have gotten this far, chances are you have what it takes to keep pressing on. Don't let the bad times define you.
3. Perseverance works both ways.
When things are going well you can't let complacency slip in. It can be easy to rest on your laurels. Chances are you were persistent in getting to the top: Don't lose your edge. In particular, what else can you be learning? If something is going well in one area of the business, where could you be deficient? Where else could your business use some perseverance? If you are able to develop and deliver this value at the highest levels, it can become contagious and those around you will consistently be looking for ways to solve problems before they arise.
When things are not going well, don't give up. You may never know how close you are to finding a solution. I like to refer to this as "chopping wood". As kid I used to chop wood for our wood burning stove. Some times it felt like I would never stop swinging the ax, and the tree would never fall. Eventually, sometimes when I least expected it, I would swing the ax and that strike would be the one to drop the tree. When things are not going well, that is when you need perseverance more than ever.
4. Keep Going.
When things are going well you may not want to disrupt the operation. You may find yourself in a period where people are risk adverse, afraid to change or don't want to do anything that will disrupt the turning of the wheels. This can be dangerous. The reality is that when things are going well there is no better time to ask yourself questions like: What could go wrong? How will we adapt to changing market conditions? What will we do if X or Y goes wrong? Keep your head on a swivel and use your foundation of success to plan for the road ahead.
At the same time when things are not going well, you need to keep an open mind as the solutions could be all around you. Don't allow tunnel vision to creep in. If you are the leader, don't feel like you are the only one who can solve things. Bring in other perspectives and look for people who can help you crack the code. By keeping an open mind, you give yourself the flexibility to find solutions in places you might overlook.
5. Keep it real.
When things are going well people love to tell you how well you are doing. Those closest to you will enjoy being along for the ride. Don't believe the hype. If you surround yourself with the right people, they will make sure your success doesn't get the best of you.
They will challenge you and ensure the same principles and traits that got you to a position of success don't get compromised. At the same time, when things are not going well don't let that define you. Be open and honest about what it not working well. That could come in many forms. You could have an operational challenge, a leadership challenge or a personnel challenge.
Keep it real and don't let any issues, no matter how small they might be manifest any further. Know that making decisions sometimes means making the tough decisions.
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