Weathering worst-case scenarios – When Bad Things Happen to Good Companies

FDR was wrong. Business owners have plenty to fear besides fear itself. At any moment, the unexpected can splinter your operations, rupture your strategic plans, and jeopardize your survival. I’ve spent many anxious days and sleepless nights worrying about nightmare scenarios. After fumbling a few pressure-packed incidents, I developed a crisis drill:

Ease physical tension

Jerked into panic mode, your muscles tighten and breathing grows shallow and fast. Take slow, deep breaths for a few minutes. Continue to breathe deeply while massaging your neck and shoulders.

Get a grip

“Worst-case” is a relative term. No matter how stressful and expensive a business challenge is, it’s not in the same league as serious illness or a death in the family. Pull yourself into positive territory by looking for hidden opportunities and appreciating what you’ve got—family and friends, dedicated employees, a great product, and loyal customers.

Create and execute action steps

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start writing a bulleted survival strategy. Paralyzing anxiety dissipates the more you organize your thoughts and begin mapping your way out of the rubble. Then, start working on the plan—every step moves you closer to regaining control. Here’s a spur-of-the-moment action plan I wrote when a key employee resigned.

■ Place an ad in the paper.

■ Network with professional contacts.

■ Consult a list of potential candidates.

■ Interview and consider promoting Cathy and compressing her development schedule.

Worst-case scenarios drop from the sky, sometimes right into your lap. Take the April day I opened a letter from my executive committee. “Dear Tom,” it began, “we want to inform you that we, your entire management team, are resigning to form a competitive tire company. Hopefully, we’ll be friendly competitors. Thanks for everything and we wish you well.” It was signed by everyone who reported to me. For a moment I panicked—a mass exodus was my greatest fear—until I spotted the postscript at the bottom: “PS, April fools!” I looked up to catch everyone marching into my office and enjoying a big laugh.

Last word

Worst-case scenarios don’t have to end up with worst-case results. Handled correctly, they can turn out to be blessings in disguise. When your feet are to the fire and you come out on top, you’re stronger and more confident about the experience. One thing’s for sure—you find out what you’re made of. You also deepen your business knowledge, which makes you a better leader in the long run. The stories that follow can prepare you to turn worst-case scenarios into catalysts for growth.

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