One of the most noble things one can do is start a business and create a job. However, keeping a business alive during economic upheaval is not for the faint of heart. It requires the triage skills of an Army medic on the battlefield. You rely on your training, instincts and the limited data available to you. But through it all, you do your best to maintain your composure and keep the patient alive. It is similar in business.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic created economic carnage on a scale not seen in many decades. Business owners were thrown into the fight of their lives to keep their companies from going under and their employees from losing their jobs. The pace was fast, and the stakes were high. It is in times like these when leaders must step forward and make the tough decisions.
Business owners see the world through a different lens. We immerse ourselves in data and stats that most people in the company don’t see. We are forced to look further down the road in order to anticipate and understand the downstream effects of our current situation. Oftentimes, we shield our employees from these uncertain visions of the future so they can stay focused on their objectives and not get worried.
As I reflect on the last six months, there are a few things that stand out to me when leading an organization through tough times.
1. Your ability to make a decision is what makes you a great leader.
Sometimes it may not even be the right decision, but it is a decision. You often do not have the luxury of facts and research to help you, so must rely on your instincts and your gut. Not making a decision is in itself a big decision. Somebody has to make the call.
2. Your allegiance must be to the business first.
My kids used to think that I do not have a boss. I had to inform them that all business owners have many bosses: customers, employees, shareholders and investors, just to name a few. In tough times, we must remove emotion from the equation and make the tough calls that will sustain the business. Sometimes these decisions come at a heavy price and are painful. You must do whatever it takes to keep the company alive and fighting for another day.
3. Keep your eyes focused on the very basics of business.
At the end of the day, business is binary: You are either making money or you are losing money. When you find yourself on the business battlefield, you do what you must to protect the business because protecting the business means fighting for jobs for your people. Get back to the basics. For the Army medic it is airway, breathing and circulation. For the business owner it is customers, cash and managing expenses. If you do these things you can live to fight again another day.
Tough times eventually end, and the process of rebuilding can begin. If you’ve led well, you come out on the other side and are ready to take your company to the next level, serving your employees and customers well. I’ve been leading companies now for 20 years and have seen both good times and bad.
The key to survival is stepping into your role as a leader and making the tough calls. You won’t always get it right, but most likely you will win more often than you lose as long as you apply the wisdom and knowledge you’ve learned from the past. That’s the nature of business and the key to survival.
Originally Featured in Springfield Business Journal: Tough Times Lead to Tough Decisions