I’m a longtime fan of the music of Ry Cooder. In 1979 he released a record entitled, Bop ‘Til You Drop. One of the great songs on that record is, “Trouble, You Can’t Fool Me.”
Here’s the first lyrics of that song…
Trouble you can’t fool me I see you behind that tree
Trouble you can’t fool me trying to get the ups on me
Trouble you can’t fool me I see you behind that tree
You want to jump on me
Every owner experiences trouble. Sometimes it’s our own fault. We made a poor decision. Or we failed to execute very well. Or circumstances changed for us to foil our chances for success. It happens.
Sometimes it’s got nothing to do with us, but it’s the market or somebody else with an agenda that may not be aligned with ours. Trouble happens. It tries really hard to fool us. It’s our job to make sure trouble doesn’t fool us or wreck us.
It’s impossible to tell you to do this, not that when trouble hits. Trouble just takes on too many forms to help with unknown specifics. However, there are a few things skilled business owners have figured out that can help every business owner during whatever problems crash into your day.
Let me start by acknowledging that wisdom in dealing with trouble hinges on two fundamental things: your personality (that includes your communication style, how you’re wired, etc.) and your ability to exercise self-control. The good news is that to effectively handle trouble won’t require you to be somebody else. Be yourself. But prepare to be the best version of yourself. Trouble is no time to toss aside self-discipline and restraint. It’s THE time when you most need to deploy those.
I realize some business owners enjoy going off on people and situations. I’ve seen owners who regularly “went off” on people for the slightest things. If that’s you, you’re not likely listening to a guy like me. But if you happen to stumble across this podcast or website, then I’ll encourage you (although I’m certain you won’t do it), to seek some help in dealing with the rage. Rage is never a good response to trouble. That’s right, I used that absolute term, NEVER. Rage doesn’t help you think clearly. It doesn’t bring out the best in others. It only fuels negative results, but in the short-term, it may make you feel better. That ROI isn’t large enough.
What to do when trouble hits is simple, but often very difficult. However, as the owner – the number ONE – you have to be the leader.
Step One – Control Your Thinking
Let’s say you’re negotiating a lease renewal. The landlord wants a substantial increase. The increase is a deal-breaker. You just can’t possibly go that high, but the area has blossomed. Rent rates in the area have increased dramatically since you last negotiated, five years ago. But your business model simply won’t support the kind of increase.
You can immediately let your blood pressure soar, growing increasingly more angry at the landlord. You can throw up your hands and declare surrender. “Well, we’ll just move!” There is any number of responses you can have at the moment you find out the landlord’s demands. It’s crunch time. Time for you to tap the brakes and control what you think.
There are some more micro things you can do to help control your thinking. Exercise empathy for the adversary by not immediately considering them the adversary. If you were the landlord, would you be doing the same thing? It’s possible, if not likely. The landlord wants to increase his revenues and profits just like you do.
Empathy can drive us to consider things that will help us control our thoughts, which will also contribute to help us control our emotions. Remember, our goal is clear thinking. We’re chasing insight…so it’s urgent we give ourselves every advantage at the moment. Well, that’s actually important for every moment though, right? I mean, is there a time when you don’t want an advantage?
A frequent culprit when trouble hits – especially when there’s another person on the other side of the table – is taking it personally. Rage hits. Emotions boil over. We take it personally. This person is treating us unfairly. They’re conspiring to hurt us and our business. Rarely is that true. Mostly, they’re doing for their business what we’re doing for ours.
It may be that you and your current landlord will have to part company, but at the moment you can’t necessarily know that. Nor should you assume it.
Another micro thing you should do is add optimism to your empathy. Control your thinking to avoid going to the most negative outcome. Instead, choose (that’s right, you get to choose what you think) to be optimistic that whatever happens will be good for your business. It’s a free country. You can move your business if that ends up being the best alternative. You can negotiate with your current landlord if that ends up being the best alternative. Whatever happens…you’ve got choices. Commit yourself to make the best decision possible. Empathy and optimism are your allies in this battle against trouble.
Step Two – Surround Yourself With Known Clear Thinkers
There are certain members of your team who are known, clear thinkers. These people are unafraid to tell you what they think or to ask you hard questions. Maybe there’s one. Maybe more. If you have nobody on your team who fits this bill, then you’ve got work to do. But that’s another topic for another day.
The temptation is to surround yourself with people who will listen to you rant and complain about this new demand by your landlord. Complaining makes us feel better, but it won’t last. And it’s not helpful for making better decisions. Besides, it creates a victim mindset you don’t want. Every moment is a leadership moment for you, but when trouble hits it’s a big opportunity for you to show your entire organization how to think, decide and behave. Don’t blow it!
Find people capable of helping you see what you may not be seeing. You’ve got a lot going on. It’s not possible for you to see everything. You need other eyes and ears on the trouble. This example of trouble involves a specific area – commercial real estate leasing. Lean on your commercial real estate expert. If you don’t have one, find one. Or find a few.
Think through the trouble with the clear thinkers who surround you. Weigh options. Consider as many of the outcomes as you can. Be open to the ones you may have yet to identify. That leads to my next suggestion…
Step Three – Consider All The Possibilities
It’s likely you had an expectation prior to getting the new proposed lease rate. Don’t box yourself into whatever you were thinking. Expand it now. Consider what you currently know, but look for figure out what you don’t yet know.
For example, find out what alternative locations may be available and what their cost may be. Consider and ask the best questions you can (yet another reason to be surrounded by clear thinkers who can best help you do this). Trouble is like any other business decision — the better our intel, the more data, the deeper our insight, the better our decision. Right now, that’s who you must be. The General marshaling the resources you need so the very best decision can be made.
Don’t be quick to discount ideas when trouble hits. Now is the time to slow down your thoughts in order to prevent going to the worst-case-scenario thinking at the cost of considering a more positive outcome. The one idea you quickly dismiss could turn out to be your best option. But if in the moment of trouble hitting, your rage blinded you to its value, then you’ve let down your business. Don’t do it.
Part of this step is to foster dialogue and debate. Let the group surrounding you debate the possible fixes. Don’t shut down the conflict. Just keep it respectful. And don’t horn in constantly. When trouble hits teams need time to think through things, vet possible solutions and bring their viewpoints to the table. Remember, all eyes are on you. They’re watching you for cues. Give them permission to speak up, speak out and defend their ideas. Hint: If you want the best possible solution, then avoid publicly falling in love too quickly with one over the other. The moment the team realizes where you’re leaning, they’ll react to be on the winning side of your choice. It’ll rob you of what’s possible.
Step Four – Give Your Team Power
This is congruent with step 3, but it’s deeper. You can be King and just make the decision. Or, a better option is to be the final decision maker after the team has been thoroughly engaged and part of the process. This doesn’t mean you have to do what others suggest. You own the joint. You can make whatever decision you want to make.
Do you want your team to be better at facing the next trouble when it hits? Then give them the power to own this problem and be part of the solution. They know you’re the owner. Unless there is 100% consensus on what to do (which may indicate problems you should address – is there no conflict or debate?), then people are going to realize your choice may be different than their suggestion. This isn’t about making everybody happy. It’s about making the best decision. It’s also about helping your team grow and become better at handling trouble.
Thank them for the debate. Show your appreciation for counter viewpoints, especially when people respectfully offer you counter viewpoints to YOU. Encourage them to not take your decision – whatever it may be – as a sign that you didn’t appreciate what they brought to the table. Reinforce the truth that alternative viewpoints help us clarify the view we opt to take.
Your team must be part of the solution for trouble.
There are many specifics that are impossible to address, but years of experience and countless hours of coaching business leaders have shown me the value of these four steps. Incorporate these into the process and you’re sure to improve solving the troubles that arrive. Be well. Do better. Grow great!
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