As a business owner in this age of rapid technological change, with the surge of worldwide competitors, setbacks and adversity are virtually guaranteed. Based on my years of experience mentoring and advising entrepreneurs, you need to attack problems and challenges with a mindset of success, or it is unlikely that you or your business will survive.
I found that view confirmed for a wide range of leadership situations in a classic book, “The Mindset of Success,” by Jo Owen. He is a serial entrepreneur and founder of several successful startups, as well as a consultant to some of the world’s largest organizations. I like his outline of eight steps every leader should take in dealing with setbacks, which I have expanded here for entrepreneurs:
- Take control of the situation, rather than play victim. When you can’t control everything, control what you can, and move forward in offense rather than backward in defense. In business, when growth eludes you, it may seem like you have no choice but to cut prices and people, when you could be finding better customer fits and more value.
- Suppress you own emotions and feelings. If you get angry or upset, and adopt a victim’s mindset, your little cloud of gloom will spread like a major depression across the rest of the office. Separate the event from your reaction, and be accountable for your own feelings. At minimum, you must learn to wear the mask of leadership—cool, calm control.
- Stay positive and believe in yourself. The best business leaders convince themselves that they can find a way through any adversity. They see challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than an opportunity to fail. They see others ahead of them as role models, not as competitors. They focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses.
- Step back and broaden your perspective. When you are faced with the daily dose of problems and challenges, it pays to step back and contemplate your successes along the way, reflect on the fact that others are in more dire straits, and imagine the best possible outcome. Then you can focus on what is needed to make this happen and get on with it.
- Draw on your experience and input from others. Drawing on experience helps to build perspective, but it also should give you some hints about what will work and what will not work in your current situation. Don’t try to be the lone hero—it pays to listen to other members of your team, who may be closer to the customer, and have better insights.
- Find a way to laugh in the face of misfortune. Humor is a good way to keep perspective as well. Laughter helps you stay mentally healthy, and makes you feel good, even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through remembering fantastic recoveries, marketplace surprises, and failed competitors.
- Remember the end goal, but be adaptable on how to get there. The best leaders know that you can’t sail straight into the wind; you have to tack and jibe to make any progress. In the business sense, adaptability means being open to new product innovations and marketing concepts, and agile when conditions abruptly change.
- Don’t be afraid or too egotistical to seek help. Don’t wait for help to come to you, or be convinced that only you can solve the problem. Business is not rocket science—others have been there before you and learned from it, and every business leader I know is more than willing to share their experience on what works, and what doesn’t work.
I’m convinced that building a successful business from a new idea is a marathon, not a sprint. Success requires deep reserves of stamina and patience to overcome setbacks. In my days as an angel investor, if I heard an entrepreneur claim to have never failed, I would conclude that he was not innovative, or he was lying. Every good entrepreneur I know has pivoted at least once.
The more directly you face adversity in business, the better you become at dealing with it. Thus adversity is not be avoided; it is to be embraced. It is your chance to change the world as an entrepreneur, and leave a lasting legacy like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. How often have you stepped up out of your comfort zone in business when someone else stepped back?