Business can be absolutely exhilarating. The early days of a start-up bring positivity, enthusiasm and never-ending opportunities. But as everything in life, business is never linear; it never “just keeps going up”. This begs the question, how do we manage through these tough times, maintaining high performance while keeping spirits up? Yes – these concepts are linked!
Throughout our career, James and I have encountered our fair share of hard times. From running a business that was in such a financial bind that that we’d often pay our team’s wages out of James’ full-time corporate role. Things dialed up even more when we found out we owed a exorbitant amount of money to the Ministry of Education – which had been paid out to our customers – through a spreadsheet error. These things can all be worked through with a degree of rationality and patience. But – nothing will ever prepare you for the loss of one of your people. In our time at Au Pair Link, one of our Au Pairs died tragically in a car accident, and in both My Food Bag and Au Pair Link, we’ve lost members of our own team. These aren’t the things you think about when you start a business, and nothing will prepare you for it.
So, through the emotional mire, how do we – as leaders – maintain business performance through hard times?
- Get your head out of the sand. Recognise and accept the issues and problems that you’re experiencing. If there are tangible problems inside the business, dig deeper. Ensure you get to the root of each issue and that you have complete confidence that any issues have been resolved – permanently.
- Lead from the front. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” is a saying that’s often heard and is incredibly true of great leaders. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to respond to these situations – it’s not acceptable to cower or hope someone else might instil the right message in the team.
- Be human. Dealing with difficult and stressful times is never easy. After all we’re not robots, and we shouldn’t expect to operate as such – it’s impossible. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a leader showing signs of emotion and being real about their feelings. I’m reminded of our Prime Minister after the tragedy in Christchurch – yes, there can be strength in vulnerability. However, there is very rarely strength in letting your emotions go – you’ll need to find the balance.
Lastly, it’s often easy to keep beating yourself up and focusing what could, should or might have been. These are things we, as humans, will always grapple with – but never surmount. Life just doesn’t work that way. Whether a leader or team member, we need to remember our most important role is to lift ourselves and others up and focus on the road ahead.