Business owners have a bad habit, one they unknowingly slip into all too often: the habit of getting stuck at extremes. When times are good, it's easy to slide into the belief that conditions will stay that way, that the sky will forever be blue. But hunkering down in the other direction turns out to be just as easy, slogging through tough days as though the clouds won't lift and the sky above will evermore stay dark.
Successful businesses--those that sustain and thrive over the long term--never stay in one extreme or the other. They strike a balance. Leaders, especially in extreme times, must help their teams see both dark and blue.
The best leaders instinctively know that no business can last very long if it only dreams about how to grow, or focuses only on putting out fires and battening down the hatches. This doesn't mean that even good leaders are immune to the siren calls of the extremes.
As an example, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the World Wide Web burst onto the scene and with it, countless new businesses looking to take advantage. These were heady blue-sky days. Many businesses started with barely the outline of a business plan or, for that matter, a clear value proposition and path to profit. But it wasn't just newbie founders dazzled by the blue skies. Wise investors and lenders did too, setting aside their founding principles about what defined a good risk versus a bad. After all, the sky would be permanently blue, right? And then, in 2001, the bubble burst. Living in a perpetually blue-sky world was, as it always is, inevitably a fiction.
Getting stuck occurs at the other end as well, and you don't have to look very far back to see it. In the past decade, and particularly in the past few months with the coronavirus crisis, many businesses are now operating in dark-sky mode. No doubt, there is an ample amount of uncertainty out there for everyone. And, of course, good leaders cannot turn a blind eye to the uncertainty and act as though life right now is business as usual. But to allow your thinking or mode of operating to slide completely into dark-sky mode is just as risky as businesses of the not-so-distant past once believing that a ".com" moniker inoculated them from having to run a fundamentally sound business.
Launching, running, and growing a business always requires a blend of blue- and dark-sky awareness. It's wiser to think of it as a color continuum, with extreme blue and fully black residing at the poles. Reality always takes place somewhere in the middle. The job of a good leader, and indeed their entire team, is to always see the full-color spectrum in any one moment and over time, and then to slide between the poles, gradually and perpetually, as conditions shift.
Great leadership--the kind that spans market cycles and ever-changing market conditions, the kind that builds a culture of leadership rather than feed a false hero image of one person capable of seeing the full spectrum between dark and blue all on their own--means seeing the sky for what it always is: a thoughtful blend.