"The truth is you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed." - Eminem
So profound! But don’t you find it true – personal disruption can come out of nowhere: an illness in the family, change affecting your business, new challenges in your job, etc.
Then what happens first: Shock? Anger? Maybe fear? Our first reactions tend to be negative and getting past them takes effort. But why not set yourself up to take control? Reduce the time it takes. Minimize the negatives. Find opportunities.
Much like a first-time sailor - you can experience the joy of the sail as well as scary situations (extreme weather), uncomfortable situations (cold and drenched for days), and the unexpected (ripping the only spinnaker sail), forcing the crew to react on the fly.
And just like the sailor - you can approach new leadership roles or business challenges the same way. This successful approach can easily be applied to personal disruptions by focusing on 4 key areas you can control: Your Preparation, Your Reaction, Your Presence, and Your Perspective.
We so seldom do this, reasoning that we can’t prepare for every eventuality. True! But you can prepare for the fact that it’s almost guaranteed there will be some sort of disruption. (Marshall Goldsmith talks about the “high probability that a low probability event will take place”. It’s actually easy to think of a number of fairly high-level scenarios – if you’re a sailor these will include: bad weather; breakage on the boat; and illness of a crew member. Sailors plan for these by plotting their course based on the weather; keeping spare parts on the boat, and having someone trained in first aid.
You can do something similar for your work situation. You may be promoted to a role you’ve little experience in (even promotions are disruptions); you may need to deal with an ill team member’s workload, or your company could get acquired. Think through your plan for these. Build your network and the mentors you can rely on for insights and perspectives on a range of changes you will experience in your career; develop your team to have skills and processes to support each other; think about how you will lead and communicate with your people through the uncertainly of an M&A situation, which could also be applied to a reorganization or new strategy.
It follows that the more prepared you are the more likely your reaction will be constructive. But it goes further than that – it's about personal control. While you may not control what happens, you can control how you feel about it and your response. Once you stop thinking about what happened and focus on what you can do about it you will start believing you can manage the situation and regain control. In addition, the sooner you take action the quicker you will feel in control. The sailor can’t change the weather but they can adjust their sails and equipment when they see bad weather ahead. (That’s where the saying “battening down the hatches” comes from.)
When a team member is ill, allocate work quickly so it doesn’t pile up and put a project at risk; be proactive and ask for guidance through your role change instead of waiting until you’re struggling, and use your previously established communications processes to engage your team quickly in an M&A situation.
This point is often overlooked. We tend to focus on handling (or avoiding) the situation and not on how are we are feeling, behaving, or how others view our response. This is a great opportunity to learn about ourselves and grow personally, identify what we can do better and what we already do well. The saying “what does not kill me will make me stronger” is only true if you take the time to reflect and learn from it.
Also, you don’t need to wait until the disruption is over to do this – you will get even more out of it if you reflect while it’s happening and make adjustments to your approach based on what you discover. My most significant personal development has come from the unexpected challenges and high-pressure situations, not the days of “smooth sailing.”
Disruptive situations are seldom as bad as they first appear. They are actually often opportunities. In many cases, we can get help with a situation or at least be supported. Time is not only an amazing healer but just as it’s inevitable that there will be disruptions to the smooth times there will also be an end to the disruptions (we get through the bad weather). We may be in a different place literally or figuratively but by taking personal learning from the experience we become even more resilient for future disruptions in our lives.
Don’t be a passenger in disruption – take control. Plan for it today; allow yourself to adjust, adapt and learn through it. Soon that storm too will pass.