Crisis Strength

Identify your crisis strength. Focus on short-term survival and think about long-term opportunities

A crisis, like for many of us exposes our weaknesses. But if we look deep enough we will find that it also exposes our strengths. Sometimes it is that rock bottom that we hit that allows us to build the foundation that we need to make us strong again; for many of us, this pandemic has been that rock bottom.

Throughout history, there have been any crisis’s and these have exposed many weaknesses and have left many broken and, in its wake, has left a different world; a new world.

A world filled with new threats but importantly new opportunities. Opportunities don’t just emerge as an independent phenomenon, but it is the result of changes already taking place. And it is during these times of changes that we need to find our strength; the one thing that makes us different to others, the one thing that we can leverage and grow and it is this strength that can become our crisis strength that allows to emerge victorious from the pandemic.

In 1918 the Spanish flu infected close to 500 million people, about a third of the world’s population at that time, according to the centre for disease prevention, and while the numbers differ it took the lives of close to 100 million people, and this was taking place while an even bigger crisis was happening and that was world war one and yet the world survived. Finding our crisis strength allows us to not only survive, but to also thrive.

Some of the aspects that we should be thinking about is our agility, our speed and our adaptability. This can be a great strength for us to be able to shift quickly into new ways of servicing the needs and wants of our customers.

Could it be that we are able to feed a product or service into a space where our competitors are weak or are not that well positioned? Or do we have the resources to do things that others may not? Here’s the thing, sometimes we find ourselves thinking that we need large amounts of capital to get things done, but yet it is the resources we have available, right in front of us, that can provide the most benefit in a time of crisis. Remember, capital is only one aspect of resources, and every single one of us has limited resources, the trick is how we make use of and leverage these resources.

So, what has my crisis strength being? Well for me it was to use my knowledge and leverage on my core purpose which is to help people and this led me to start doing a small webinar series talking about Strategic Thinking and introducing simple and easily implementable tools that any business could use to develop a plan of action for post lockdown and a post pandemic world.

Were these webinars perfect? Heck no, and if you look at the very first one, you’ll pick up on how nervous and stressed out I was. But I didn’t let that stop me, as I knew I had committed to doing a four-part series and in this way, I managed to learn from my mistakes and improve on how I did things going forward.

For me this crisis has not only allowed me to hone in on one of my strengths but also to expose one of my weaknesses which I can now work on and develop into a strength.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and as Ralph Nader once wrote, “Your best teacher is your last mistake”, and make sure that you learn from it.

Here’s a little story of great company that you all know, that started during one of the greatest crisis the USA experienced at that time, the great depression. Walt Disney, Yes, Walt Disney, started and flourished during a crisis. In 1928, the brothers Walt and Roy Disney introduced the world to Mickey Mouse, remember, that wonderful character, that till today touches the hearts of many of us and still puts a smile on our faces. No matter how tough the situation was, the brothers knew that people needed a smile then more than ever and they were able to navigate the challenges they faced by the great depression by using their crisis strength, which as we all know, was to put a smile on the faces of people. This allowed them to grow their business to the point where they could begin work on their dream, through a full-length animated feature. And what was that feature, another smile positivity breeding animation we all love, Snow white and the seven Dwarves.

Last year, in 2019, it was reported that Walt Disney revenue was something crazy like $70 Billion.

We all have our crisis strength that we can take advantage of. So, I ask you, what is your crisis strength, what is it that you know, what is it that you can do better than anyone else?

Social entrepreneurs are not impervious to hardship. In fact, adversity is key to achieving lasting success.

What’s one thing people shy away from or avoid altogether — but that has become a common theme around successful social entrepreneurs who build big businesses?


Successful social entrepreneurs have all overcome adversity in some shape or form, and have used it to build the platform that skyrocketed their success. There is a real argument that what they’ve had to go through gave them personal growth, skills, and the mental strength they then took with them into their business.

So, what benefits can we actually get from experiencing some kind of hardship?

You Condition Yourself to Negativity

As you go through adversity, you build up a certain level of grit and determination that you only get by getting to the other side of pain. Some might call it a defense mechanism or a “wall” that you put up against the world, but this objectivity allows you to take more hits from the entrepreneurial world, which allows you to go much further than you otherwise would.

Almost like going to the gym to strengthen your body, you can strengthen your mind by going through some mental, emotional, and spiritual adversity, too.

Create a Way Through It

Sometimes, hoping or finding a way out isn’t an option. Oftentimes, you have to actually create your own way — learn skills, do things you wouldn’t normally do, and do whatever it takes with whatever you have or can eventually have. It becomes a game of how resourceful you are versus what resources you have.

You may have to learn something new; you may have to just grit your teeth, bear it, and accept that you’ll be stronger when it’s over. You see, the experience alone is not enough to strengthen you; you have to learn about yourself, learn something new, and make a way through what you’re going through. The benefits down the road become way more than the moment of pain.

Let the Adversity Happen

When I first encountered diversity, I fought it the whole time. I didn’t like the feeling so I fought against it, judged myself for feeling bad even when it was a bad situation. Then, “feeling bad for feeling bad” kicked in, which took me weeks to get over, long after the fight stopped and I made it to the other side.

But the second time around and every time after that, I let it happen. I’d have my bad moments, get angry, and get frustrated at the world. In the letting go of the process — letting go of the fight — you’ll be surprised at how much faster you can go from your downward spiral to back to normal again, and carrying on on your business journey.

Your ability to move from failure to failure without losing motivation is also a common theme around successful purpose-driven business owners. Your ability to let the adversity happen is one of the keys to speeding up the process and getting to the other side so you can keep going. It used to take me weeks to get over a bad spell while on my entrepreneurial journey. Now, it’s lucky to last a couple of hours (and that’s including losing friends and family members along with failed businesses).

Learn From Your Adversity

Every time I have a bout of depression or I have to recover from a failure or a loss, I learn something about what triggered it or what I can do next time to help prevent it. Sometimes, I actually realize what the adversity was trying to teach me. When you’re deep in your struggle, it’s too late to hate yourself for the thing you said or did, because you’re experiencing the result of what’s happening.

It’s too late now, so the best you can do is not beat yourself up, not feel bad for feeling bad, and work very hard to take something — anything — away from your experience that you can learn from and put it to work in your life so you’re less likely to spiral again.

Each and every time I go through this process, it speeds up, and I actually find myself stretching further, doing more, pushing myself further in business than I ever thought I could go.

Gradually, you will get better and it will get easier, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never struggle again. The best you can do is prepare as best as you can, and make sure you keep improving how you respond to the adversity you face.



Every entrepreneur knows what it’s like to face adversity. It comes with the territory, and includes cash-flow challenges, fickle customers, belligerent investors and unpredictable economic downturns. The best entrepreneurs tackle these one at a time without losing their stride or their passion and many secretly get their highest satisfaction from overcoming an impossible problem.

For example, you probably didn’t know that the world’s richest entrepreneur, Bill Gates, found that his first venture, Traf-O-Data, failed to make money because he couldn’t solve the technical problems quickly enough and selling to municipalities was a nightmare. Instead of making excuses, he credited his later success with Microsoft to the lessons he learned with Traf-O-Data.

Also, most people don’t realize that Richard Branson has dyslexia, which made him a poor student, so he faced adversity well before his first startup effort. Yet he was able to use his dynamic and powerful personality to drive him to success. Today, Branson is known for over 400 companies, many very technologically advanced and he is the fourth richest person in the United Kingdom.

I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that adversity energizes some people, almost to the super-human level, while others are driven to despair. I suspect it starts with a strong survivor instinct, rather than reverting to a victim mentality. Beyond this, I have extracted from my own work with entrepreneurs a set of principles that I recommend for every founder in the face of adversity:

Maintain a positive attitude, learning from failure.

Thomas Edison called every failure an experiment (now it would be a pivot). He made no excuses for 10,000 light filament failures. Challenged by his contemporaries, Edison soberly responded: “I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He then succeeded.

Build relationships with others, communicate.

An isolated position is hard to defend in the face of adversity. Successful entrepreneurs are not afraid to reach out and ask for help from peers and advisors. They communicate their goals, fears, and challenges, without excuses and actively listen to feedback and guidance.

Surround yourself smarter people.

The best entrepreneurs get past the need to control every aspect of their business, and make every decision. They actively solicit people who are strong, have more expertise in a specific area and trust them to make decisions there. Adversity will melt away.

Prioritize your health and activities balance.

In the natural world of survival, unhealthy and unbalanced people most easily succumb to adversity. Smart entrepreneurs always find time for rest, outside physical activities or even meditation. Working 20 hours a day, seven days a week does not solve all problems.

Accept adversity as a norm rather than an exception.

Some adversity in inevitable in every business, so it must be treated as any other unknown, rather than a crisis or the end of the world. Many entrepreneurs thrive in adversity and get satisfaction from the solving challenges, compared to the relative boredom of business-as-usual.

Practice resilience by refocusing on your strengths.

Researchers have concluded that human beings are born with an innate self-righting ability or resilience, which can be helped or hindered. Obsessing about problems and weaknesses hinders resilience, while identifying and building on individual strengths increases resilience and leads to success.

One of the biggest myths that aspiring entrepreneurs tend to believe is that they can be successful doing only fun things. In reality, experienced leaders and entrepreneurs will tell you that it’s how you anticipate and handle the inevitable tough challenges that determines long-term happiness. If you try to avoid any risk and competition, you won’t be happy with the outcome.

I don’t recommend the entrepreneur lifestyle to those who can’t deal with risk and adversity. If you are ready to give it a shot, or are already committed, I do recommend the principles outlined here for solidifying your natural strengths. We can all benefit from the experiences of others. The best entrepreneurs don’t succeed by dodging challenges, but because of how they handle them.



Hard times happen. Getting past them is a mental game you can win.

We all face adversity from time to time, but some of us are able to flourish when things get difficult, while others seem to struggle getting out of bed in the morning. Successful people have found a way to jump hurdles and navigate around roadblocks that would stop others completely.

How is it that some people can bounce back and find a way to overcome misfortune and defeat? For one, they don’t allow themselves to become overwhelmed with negative emotions or thoughts. They take time to process what they’ve been through, then they resume moving forward. Their mental fortitude lifts them up to seek opportunities instead of dwelling in despair.

If you want to find a way to continue to grow and achieve a following in the hardest of times, read on. Here are 10 ways successful people push through adversity and bolster themselves, even when facing disaster.

1. Find your sense of humor.

They say laughter is the best medicine. It’s your body’s way of coping with stress, releasing tension and resetting your brain to be more positive. A good chuckle will release endorphins and dopamine, nature’s feel-good chemical.

It might seem unthinkable to find anything funny when you’re struggling from one of life’s blows. But sometimes just stepping back and seeing the humor of the situation can help lighten your mood and allow you to move forward. You may not be chuckling in the midst of a major setback, but give yourself some time. Finding your sense of humor when facing adversity is a healthy way to build resilience, no matter how bad your situation.

2. Be mentally prepared.

“I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.” More than 185 years after these words were written by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, they still inspire. Being prepared means thinking though the worst-case scenarios and considering how you would react.

What would your plan of action would be if a crisis hit? Running through potential disasters on a regular basis builds mental strength and flexibility to overcome mishaps or catastrophes in real life. It doesn’t mean you should dwell on negative possibilities. But if the worst happens, having thought through how you’d react will keep you from panicking and help you stay calm and rational. It won’t feel so frightening because you won’t be caught completely off guard.

3. Take stock of all you’ve been through already.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The hardships and misfortunes you’ve been through can give you confidence that you’re capable of handling whatever comes your way. You’ve been in tough times before. How did you overcome adversity that time? What got your through? Your past experiences can help you find your inner strength and resilience.

Author Maya Angelou said during an interview, “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are. So that we can see, oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose. I didn’t run away — I rose right where I’d been knocked down. And then that’s how you get to know yourself.”

4. Adversity offers valuable insights.

Adversity is a great teacher. This is your chance to gain valuable insights; to truly learn from your mistakes so you’ll have a better chance of success next time. However, you will have to engage in some self-reflection. Where and how did things go wrong?

Take a hard look at your planning. Did you miss something key? Consider your preparations. Were you ready for the challenges ahead? Look at your execution. Did you put in consistent effort? Focus on areas that are within your control and ask yourself what more can you do next time. As entrepreneur Mark Cuban has said, “With every effort, I learned a lot. With every mistake and failure, not only mine, but of those around me, I learned what not to do.”

5. Make peace with the situation.

Now is not the time to blame others for what happened. Moping around and feeling sorry for yourself will do you no good, and can actually sabotage your ability to come up with solutions and next steps forward. It’s important that you consider what mistakes or missteps you might have made.

Spend time processing what you could have done differently and take responsibility for your actions. Make peace with what happened. Accept the situation for what it is, and then move on. As Steve Jobs said, “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It’s best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.”

6. Embrace adversity as a chance for opportunity.

Life is full of adversity and struggle. It’s through difficult times that we learn the most important lessons in life and build resilience. Adversity often presents opportunities we might otherwise miss. Now is your chance to dig deep and face this obstacle head on.

Hard times present you with the chance to change course, reinvent yourself or find an undiscovered bridge that will get you over this hurdle. Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, framed it this way: “Every adversity has the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.” The true secret to success is the ability to embrace adversity as a chance to change ourselves and our situation.

7. Refuse to give up.

To overcome a crisis, you need to fully commit to finding a way forward. You must approach the problem determined and motivated. This will create a mindset where you look at adversity as something to be overcome and solved, not passively accepted. Sometimes dilemmas and obstacles are a chance to create alternative paths, to dream bigger, to push forward and take even larger leaps.

But whatever you do, you can’t give up. Michael Jordan has famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” If you refuse to give up, you will always go further than you expected.

8. Have a purpose.

When life gets tough, it helps to have a crystal-clear idea of why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you have purpose and passion for your goals, you’ll be motivated to keep pushing through until you’re successful. Sometimes things happen beyond your control, and that can knock the wind out of your sails. But if you’re working on something meaningful to you, you’ll always find a way back to it.

When something is important to you, you’ll be driven to continue pursuing your dreams. Oprah Winfrey is a great example of this. She has overcome great adversity and became a multi-billionaire doing what she loved. As she puts it: “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

9. Keep a positive mindset.

A healthy dose of optimism goes a long way when you’re faced with a bad situation. It may seem cliché, but sometimes the darkest storm clouds really do have silver linings. It turns out that a developing a positive mindset is an important coping skill when dealing with adversity.

It’s true you need to be realistic and see a situation clearly, but if you constantly frame everything in a negative way, you’ll only see the bad. Try cultivating positivity and refuse to let pessimistic voices and naysayers invade your mind.

10. Believe in your capabilities.

People who rebound from adversity begin by believing they are capable of finding a way forward. If you feel hopeless and powerless, it’s unlikely you’ll find a way to be successful.

You have to have self-confidence and a strong belief in your capabilities to overcome difficult times. You have to be open minded and willing to leverage your talent, know-how and ingenuity to overcome adversity. If you need more inspiration, consider the story of Walt Disney, who was fired from his first job for not being creative enough.

However, Disney never stopped believing in himself and in his dreams. He went on to found what is now the Walt Disney Company, a multinational mass media conglomerate. He once said, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”



If there is no adversity, there is no growth.

Adversity is one of the most powerful forces in life. It can bring out your best or your worst. Ultimately, it is up to you.

How will you handle obstacles? Will they be roadblocks or springboards? Will adversity turn your focus from getter better to getting bitter? Or will you see adversity-laced setbacks as true gifts and growth accelerators that provide the opportunity to believe in yourself, revitalize your commitment to what you want to achieve, and reassess what you are willing to sacrifice to make it happen?

I have seen the approach to adversity play out in all walks of life and unfortunately the most common response to adversity is to try and make it go away. The reality is that when you take away adversity you also take away one of the most important ingredients to greatness.

Nowhere is the effect of trying to eliminate adversity more telling that in youth sports. Well-intentioned parents often try to level the field for their children so they get a fair shake, get their chance, or even worse, see the athletic success of their children connected to their success as a parent.

In the worst of cases, the attitude develops that the world is an unfair place that they can’t do much about which allows adversity and adversity-rich experiences to lead to a victim mentality. When adversity is avoided or kept from us, it prevents the rich roots of character, learning, resilience, creativity and conviction to germinate.

Adversity plays a vital role in growth and greatness. In simple terms: no adversity, no growth. Instead of avoiding adversity, we need to hug it! It is the fuel for greatness.

You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to enjoy it. But, you do have to believe in it and the role it plays in turning a storm of energy into a true source of strength. It is the learning that comes from the adversity that creates the opportunity for growth.

Here are 7 key ways to reframe adversity as a close friend rather than a fierce enemy.

  1. Build Character—Overcoming adversity is character building. It shapes us into who we are and who we will become. It creates the confidence to overcome and the learning mechanisms to deal with the things that don’t go our way.
  2. Create Resilience—Learning to deal with and address adversity is what creates resilience. Every challenge we face and navigate strengthens our will, confidence, and our ability to conquer future obstacles.
  3. Learn from Discomfort—Regardless how sharp, clever or talented we are, we will encounter struggles, challenges, difficulties, and at times, heart-wrenching moments. Is this to be avoided? adversity resounding, NO!. In times of adversity, we learn the most from the discomfort and rethink what’s required to be successful.
  4. Draw Out Our True Strengths—Adversity has the effect of drawing out our strengths and qualities that would have laid dormant without it.
  5. Accept It—Accept that adversity is inevitable …it is a part of life. To avoid it or resist it will only make it come back in bigger ways. Better yet see it and embrace it as a true gift on the road to getting better.
  6. Build External Resources….Adversity helps us find a buddy. You will be surprised how often someone will have had a similar experience and can help guide you through a difficult time.
  7. We Succeed Because of It—Make no mistake. We don’t succeed in spite of our challenges, we succeed because of them!

There is something powerful about adversity that has the ability to imprint in our memory, shaping our character, and molding our behavior for the future.

Once you can get your head around why adversity can be a force for good, you will be better able to embrace challenges and grow from overcoming them. The impact on your people and your organization can be enormous, so start that mindset shift today!

In the words of Henry Ford—“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it”.



Starting and running a business can be extremely challenging. Most entrepreneurs and managers find new obstacles to remove and towering barriers to scale every day of the week. We often encounter disruptive situations in our personal and professional lives such as a divorce, the death of a loved one, illness, the loss of a favorite customer, the departure of a valued employee, a shortage of funds, or even a lawsuit.

Successful business leaders – or people in general – don’t give up when adversity strikes. They find the ways and means to carry on. What can we learn from those who have faced catastrophe and won?

  1. They remember the overarching goal they hope to achieve. It’s the magnet that propels them forward. They recognize that the benefits of accomplishing the objective dramatically outweigh whatever negative situations they encounter.
  2. They seek assistance from others. Wise entrepreneurs know they can’t win the battle alone. When times are tough, they reach out to friends and associates who can provide assistance and guidance; people who are genuine and highly supportive.
  3. They maintain a positive attitude. They keep their chins up. They choose not to let negative thoughts rule the day. They view the future with optimism and hope.
  4. They keep their composure. They don’t panic. They take a deep breath and remain calm. They know that night will be followed by day; a new day of opportunity.
  5. They try again and again. They get right back on the horse that threw them. They don’t quit. They consider the lessons learned and make the necessary improvements to ride one more time.

I recently spoke with a young business executive who survived an Iron Man competition in Florida to learn how he overcame the unexpected adversity of his amazing race – a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 miles marathon.

“ Along with more than 3,000 competitors of all ages and experience, I began the first leg of the race swimming in very strong ocean swells and a left-to-right current. Within a few moments, I was inadvertently kicked and punched as we fought for a favorable position. In the first 500 meters, my lower lip took a blow and began to swell, followed by a kick to my face with seawater filling my right goggle.”

“I left the ocean after a grueling hour-long swim.”

“After 18 miles on my composite bike with 94 miles to go, my front tire went flat. Terror is the only way to describe what I felt. I race on tubular wheels, meaning there is no way to change a flat. You either fill it up or your race is over.”

“I tried filling the tire with a CO2 cartridge, but the nozzle broke on the inflator. What to do? I jumped back on the bike and rode 4 miles with a flat tire followed by running with my bike in hand for 1/4 mile to an aid station to find a pump. Fortunately, there was enough slime in my tire to keep the tire inflated for the rest of the race. However, I lost 25 minutes of valuable time.”

“To catch up, and with 20 more miles to go, I pushed myself way too hard. It was the biggest mistake of the day. Having overdone it, I was unable to eat and my stomach was in knots. I didn’t eat at all through the rest of the race (46 miles with no food).

“With 16 miles from the bike finish line, my bike seat broke and became fixed at a 70 degree angle. Biking into the worst headwinds of the day and unable to go into aero position, I was extremely uncomfortable and feeling enormous stress. Despite all this adversity, I finished the ride at 5:38:48, a half hour behind my goal.”

“I paid dearly while getting through the bike competition; my stomach issues were so bad at the start of the run, I could only speedwalk the first three miles of the marathon. In time, I would run for 1/4 to 1/2 mile at a time.”

“At every aid station, I poured water over my head, ice down my shirt and drank a mix of Coke and water. I did the first half of the marathon in 2 hours and 30 minutes, way behind schedule.”

“I continued to run/walk through mile 17, but decided to fight through the pain and pick up the pace with 9 miles to go. I ran/jogged, holding my side the entire time. There were a lot of miserable folks out there with me so I decided to be a positive and affirmative guy to everyone I passed.”

“At mile 25 I decided I had to finish in style. I gave everything I had left, running a 7 minute mile to finish the race. I could hear people on the sideline shouting, ‘Go, Ironman!’ I finished the marathon in 4:50, an hour over my desired goal.”

“As I crossed the finish line, I jumped and slapped the finish arch. The announcer called out my name and declared me an Ironman. I must admit that at that moment, it was all worthwhile. It’s still an emotional and amazing feeling. I finished the total event in 11:47:59 (a full hour above my race goal, but it didn’t seem to matter at all). I had achieved my goal by overcoming every challenge I faced.”

“I am grateful to my wife and family for their unstinting support and encouragement. I thank the Ironman organizing team and the phenomenal support of the volunteers who assisted me and others along the way. I would not have survived or finished the race without their invaluable help.”

Whether it be an Ironman competition, personal challenges or the obstacles we experience in business, all winners must have the will and determination to move forward. I salute the entrepreneurs of America who never give up.



Most people who set out on the entrepreneurial path realize that they will face challenges as they start and grow a new business. But many successful entrepreneurs already have overcome adversity in order to arrive where they are. Surmounting difficulties in life encourages us to build character and resilience, understand our weaknesses, grow our strengths, and become more self-reliant and adaptable. Here, five successful entrepreneurs share how their businesses grew out of their personal struggles, helping them to become the purpose-driven leaders they are today.

Inger Ellen Nicolaisen, Founder of Nikita Hair

Nicolaisen came from humble beginnings before establishing herself as a self-made multi-millionaire. Raised in a small Norwegian town by an alcoholic father, she became a mother at the age of 15. She struggled with homelessness with her daughter and worked hard to make ends meet. While sweeping floors at a hair salon, she decided to open her own, and quickly grew Nikita Hair into a chain with over 150 locations, with more than 1,000 employees in Europe, and is now establishing the Nikita Hair Franchise in the U.S.

With a passion for helping the disadvantaged, Nicolaisen launched an organization called A Hand to Children, which empowers orphaned and disadvantaged children to live a better life. In addition to giving birth to three children of her own, she also has 11 from a children’s home in Eastern Europe.

“Struggling with homelessness drove me to develop the skills required to succeed in the business world,” Nicolaisen says. “Facing adversity taught me to take responsibility, stay organized, and not to take No for an answer. My experience dealing with adversity helped me grow – personally and professionally. I look at negative situations with a positive attitude. Additionally, I am not afraid to make mistakes. These lessons have helped me grow Nikita Hair into a leading international hair salon and franchise.”

Scott Leune, CEO and Co-founder of Dental Whale and Breakaway Practice

After graduating from UT Health Science Center School of Dentistry and starting a practice in 2005, Dr. Scott Leune suffered an accident that resulted in a broken back. The injury left him unable to complete the day-to-day duties of dentistry. He was forced to take a step back and look for an undiscovered path within the field.

Leune decided to hone in on the business side of dentistry and examine the industry challenges. He quickly recognized that a recurring pain point among dentists is a lack of business skills. Leune founded and became CEO of Breakaway Practice, a seminar company that offers education to dentists, and Dental Whale, which outsources dentistry business needs and practice management solutions.

“The adversity I faced – physical debilitation, financial pressures, broken emotions, weakness in leadership – taught me the humbling lessons of entrepreneurship: It takes strong passion, enduring grit, harsh self-reflection, and an unbending optimism to navigate the choppy waters of building companies, ” Leune says. “Failures are beautiful things… they focus our lenses so that better paths become visible. The step we take right after failure is a step toward success.”

Failure has taught Leune a key to business success: scheduling and consistently performing simple daily habits. “Quality audits, customer service measurements, team meetings, KPI measurements, scheduled strategic planning – these deliberate, consistent actions can create a mountain of success.”

Ken Petersen, Founder of Apricot Lane

Ken Petersen always had a dream of being a firefighter, and he also loved the thrill of finding collectables like Beanie Babies. While he worked as a firefighter in Vacaville, California in the 70’s, he opened a retail store that specialized in collectables, a consumer craze at the time. Then he suffered a back injury midway through his career, and was no longer able to fight fires. Not only that, but collectables were losing their hype.

Rather than throw in the towel, Petersen adapted to the changing retail landscape. He adjusted his product line to offer fashion accessories. Then, seeing a market opportunity for a fashion boutique franchise, he launched Apricot Lane, which now has more than 75 stores nationwide.

Facing adversity taught Petersen that he is not in control. “I had my career all planned out. I was going to be fire chief and one day, the city manager. But I was abruptly pulled off the fire engine one Saturday morning, never to return. I knew then I was not in control and trust allowed me to move on.”

As an entrepreneur, Petersen says early struggles helped him “to be laser focused on doing a couple things really well instead of a bunch of things not so well. Every business goes through a cycle and if you don’t re-invent yourself occasionally, it is hard to stay relevant. Pivoting can be great for your business.”

Amy Freeman, CEO of The Spice & Tea Exchange

At age 16, Amy Freeman was homeless, not attending school, and living completely on her own. Her parents had divorced when she was 12, and she had no stable home life, so she had left and lived off of rice, beans, and canned soup. Lying her way into various restaurant and country club jobs in order to make ends meet, she quickly developed a fierce sense of non-complacency that she credits with making her the leader she is today.

By her early 30s, Freeman was a corporate sales manager for Sheridan Hotels. Then, in 2005, she stumbled upon a small specialty spice retailer and realized she could take the concept to new heights through franchising. Less than ten years later, Freeman is the CEO of a national retail chain with over 50 stores.

“Facing adversity early on taught me that while it’s okay to get mad or feel hurt, you need to resolve and move on before negativity and isolation take hold,” Freeman says. “Influencing people and building trust will never happen in that state of mind. I persevere and practice reflection to ensure I keep a steady course, stay authentic, and never forget that being a leader is a gift and not a title.”

Eric Roudi, CEO of OpenWorks

OpenWorks is a national facility service company with nearly 1500 customers including one of the nation’s largest railroad companies, a multinational package delivery/logistics company and major retail distribution centers. It always has had a franchise model. But one day in the early 2000s, CEO Eric Roudi was offered a national contract with a major e-commerce site. The e-commerce giant gave them one stipulation: no franchisees were allowed to do the cleaning. He took the bait of a record contract and started a “self-perform” division, completely altering the way the company did business.

But when the three-year contract expired, the company moved on to a competitor. The loss accounted for a third of OpenWork’s business and forced Roudi to shut down the self-perform division. He vowed then never to let a big contract deter him from the OpenWorks tried and true franchise business model.

Adversity has taught Roudi to value collective wisdom. “My initial thoughts on something might not be the best. I have learned from my mistakes to listen to others and incorporate their thoughts in my decision making,” he says. “A high level of employee engagement is the biggest weapon we have. We have an open book management style; we’re transparent with our financials and the performance of the company. The more internal stakeholders know about where we are and where we are going, the more they understand the part they play in the success of the organization.”



The ability to adapt and react is crucial to managing change for leaders who want to succeed when the going gets tough.

As CEO of Irish Management Institute (IMI), Simon Boucher is well aware of the challenges facing organisation leaders through the Covid-19 crisis. Partnered with UCC, IMI has been empowering world-class executives for over 60 years, and it is ranked in the global top 50 for executive education, running courses that span from 2-3 days up to a 24-month MSc.

“As an organisation we had to pivot very quickly,” he says. “We went from a Monday where everyone was in the office delivering face-to-face in classrooms and by the following Monday our team were entirely working remotely, and every single programme that we were delivering is now continuing to be delivered online, with a new portfolio of courses starting in May.”

The ability to react and adapt to unexpected changes is just one of the key qualities needed for a leader, especially in times of crisis. “We are obviously in a very different world now than we were five or six weeks ago,” he says. “From a leadership perspective, there’s a change in emphasis in how you need to invest your time during a crisis, because essentially the people you’re trying to motivate, engage, and support are looking for different kinds of things from you at different times. It is about having a crisis mindset, as opposed to having a crisis plan in place.”

At the core of a conducive mindset is a focus on communication and the quality of relationships, suggests Boucher. “Never was there a time where strength of relationships are more important, because if they are solid now then you are starting a period of crisis from a position of strength. You’re looking to connect with your people, and understand them far more as human beings. The kind of research that we’ve done at IMI very much focuses around the leader’s mindset, and specifically from a perspective of communication. You need to go from being the day-to-day business leader to becoming like a communications officer and chief,” he says.

New ways of managing

“When people are going through a crisis, they have a high degree of uncertainty, and they have a sense of loss of control, and people suffer in that environment,” Boucher stresses. “So the role of the leader becomes about trying to fill that space and help people make sense of what is happening around them. If people can start to feel in a greater sense of control and have more certainty over what they’re facing, they’re more likely to be able to be effective and focused on their work.”

For many leaders, the communication challenge has been exacerbated by the lack of in-person interactions in the workplace, with teams struggling to replicate the normal flow of communication remotely. “I think you only realise when you’re all working remotely just how much day-to-day management and leadership is done on a face-to-face level, in a very intuitive and implicit way,” says Boucher.

“There’s an old phrase that describes ‘management by walking around’, because so much of leadership is based on unconscious social cues. While you are having small interactions at the coffee machine and around the office, you are picking up the mood of the business. That is still really important and it is incumbent upon the leader to now find other ways to pick up those cues when working remotely. It is much harder in a digital context, and it really requires a careful use of your time, so you’re not just going through the standing items in your agenda, but you are far more consciously touching base with key people on a one-to-one level on a regular basis.”

The reality of working from home brings its own set of problems to navigate, and more people are feeling the drain of a seemingly endless schedule of Zoom meetings. In this environment it can prove harder to set out a workload that allows space for downtime.

“Leaders often work long hours and put other people’s needs first, and I think it is essential that leaders now pay attention to their own wellbeing,” says Boucher. “There was some research done at Harvard Medical School where they surveyed senior executives and found that 96 per cent of the leaders who responded said they felt somewhat burnt out, and 33 per cent described it as extreme. And that was before we had the greatest health crisis in living memory, and the economic crisis that is on the way. The one thing that leaders could do most is to be patient and forgiving with themselves, and be particularly patient and forgiving with their own senior management teams. I think taking the time to reflect, and managing their diary carefully so they actually get some thinking time, as opposed to the non-stop sense of having to do, is important.”

Workplace wellness

A focus on individual wellness can have a vital positive impact on the entire organisation, suggests Boucher. “If the leader is being emotionally intelligent and managing their own emotional reserves carefully, they should be very explicit about that with the people around them because that creates an implicit permission structure for other senior managers, and that follows down through the organisation. The organisation is going to be resilient, manage its energy, and it is going to manage its own emotional reserves well.”

Meanwhile a real effort should be made to promote workplace wellness in terms of agenda and financing throughout the crisis. “The truth is that for many organisations, ‘wellness’ might have looked like a discretionary line in an HR budget, but now it needs to be seen as an absolutely crucial organisational investment,” says Boucher. “Wellness needs to be on the daily crisis management team agenda for the senior management team. Certainly for the duration of the health crisis, organisations need to double down their focus on wellness.”

While the months ahead contain much uncertainty for leaders across different sectors, there are some universals that apply around planning and decision making. “Leaders need to be very careful around decision making when we’re in crisis,” says Boucher. “This is the time for scenario planning, and to really connect with your networks and see what conventional wisdom is forming in your industry. When you do decide to respond, the keyword is resolve – that you really express it with decisiveness and confidence.”

“The two most important words for any leader are ‘thank you’,” Boucher says. “We are all so busy right now and we are all working crazy hours, when we look back over our careers, we will never forget this period. I think it’s really important for a leader to recognise the sacrifices that everyone around them are making, and to remember that we are all in this together, and to really honour that by saying ‘thank you’.”


Credit: Irish Times

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