Achieving peak performance is something every founder dreams about. But the reality is, such moments are the result of ongoing, long-term investment in fundamentals. As Brad Stulberg, human performance researcher and author of the book Peak Performance, says: "It isn't about being consistently great; it's about being great at being consistent."
The stress of uncertain times can make you inconsistent and cause you to lose perspective. You see the daily fires burning and focus all your attention on putting them out. Then, at the end of another day of firefighting, you're not just spent, you are far from your peak.
What can you do? Get back to fundamentals. More importantly, plant them anew in everything you do. It's not about ignored the daily fires, it's about improving the way you fight the daily battle with uncertainty. Here are three steps to do it, and relieve the stress along the way.
It's human nature to do one of two things with bad news: ignore it or amplify it. Neither reflects reality. As a leader, you have to take a breath before you rush into the flames, and use that moment to bring everyone together. In stress-filled instances it's easy to fall into ready-fire-aim mode. Don't do it. Pause first and take note of your greater purpose, why you do what you do, and put those fires in context. Flames look less threatening even at a modest distance.
Be honest with others too: fellow leaders, employees, partners, customers, and anyone who makes the engine of your business run. I know it's hard. You may falsely think you have to appear invincible--or you may take on the false burden of believing you alone must come up with all the answers. Not so. Acknowledging the bad, and sharing the load along with the truth, is one of the most powerful things you can do. Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson gave a brilliant example of this recently. Follow his lead, but continue to be honest by being you, rather than trying to be him.
Make tough decisions in context.
One of the worst things you can do in dealing with uncertainty is to make knee-jerk decisions. Yet ironically, this is what many leaders do under stress, and they make those decisions around some of the most vital aspects of their businesses. Laying people off, cutting communications and marketing budgets wholesale--these are just a few of the tough, but also too often misguided, decisions small-business owners make. When you focus completely on the bottom line while ignoring your team and customers, you are failing to take note of the larger context, one defined by those fundamentals that guide your business.
The people you lay off are the very people you'll want to rehire when things turn towards the positive. Think about that before you let them go. At the very least it might reshape how you let them go, when, and why. And communications and marketing? Sure, those can feel like non-core expenditures right now. But they're also your connection to the very customers you want to keep--and others you want to attract. Before you cut, ask yourself: Can you instead communicate a different message? Can you rise to help your audience, and yourself in the process--perhaps with a message of understanding or hope, or a mutually beneficial offer that helps you both?
Return to your core.
In the beginning, when your venture started or when you assumed the role of leader, you had a purpose. From that, you built a foundation of ethics and assets needed to fulfill that purpose. You hired based on it, and ideally rewarded the same.
Stress causes us to lose sight of these things at our core. These are vital touchstones in any time, but especially in uncertain times. Check in with them. Do it collectively. Be honest about what's working and what needs adjustment. Then make the tough decisions in that greater context. You'll find the next peak is closer than you thought.