One time, there was a CEO who came to see us looking for us to invest in his company. He had an idea to build a high-risk marketplace and a handful of participants (mostly his friends). The startup was barely off the ground, yet the CEO was very confident and even brazen. He grilled us on our experience rather than demonstrating his own expertise and passion.

I was hoping to see more that would tell us something about him and his ability to build this company, so I asked the CEO, "What are your biggest challenges?"

"None," he replied. "I don't see any issues until our revenue is north of $1 billion!"  

Wow. That wasn't comforting. Building a business is as hard as catching lightning in a bottle. Challenges and crises--gnarly ones--happen every day. No one, not even the most seasoned and talented entrepreneur escapes this reality.

This is what I've seen over and over again as an investor, former executive and a founder. It's also why I just wrote a book, Dear Founder, which contains around 80 letters that I wrote to help founders navigate the most difficult problems they face--what to do when they are in a fight with their co-worker, when they get bad press, when their board is driving them crazy. I wrote each letter with a founder in mind and hope that it will help other founders when they face similar issues.

The reality, as you probably know, is that starting and scaling a business is never as simple as the marketplace CEO who came to pitch us thought it would be. Most entrepreneurs fail. It's not just statistics that show us this; it's also common sense. It's very hard to turn an idea into reality, and even harder to turn that new reality into something of great significance.

"Founder" is one of the hardest jobs in the world, so you'll face your fair share of knocks. What's important is how you deal with them and what you learn from them. That's what I'm always looking to hear from founders and CEOs. I'm never surprised to hear about problems, and I'm always eager to get to work solving them.

Recently, the CEO of one of my firm's breakout companies got hit with a major body blow. A top executive--whom he had landed after a yearlong search--quit unexpectedly after just six months on the job. Instead of letting that derail him or the company, he immediately got back on his feet and started interviewing great candidates. That was the right approach--and the only approach.

Of course, it can be easier said than done. You always have to pick yourself up, but how? Start with this five-step process:

  1. When you're hit with something painful, it hurts. Embrace how that feels. Acknowledge the pain. Understand that this experience, while difficult in the moment, will ultimately make you stronger. I always think about the biblical verse I first read a long time ago from James: "When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow."
  2. Don't become callous. Some people can deal with anything and lose their humanity after experiencing losses. They become hard or selfish. Take the learnings from the body blows with sensitivity and care. Gain wisdom and understanding, not an edge. Let this setback help you empathize with more people.
  3. Understand this blow cannot keep you from going back. How quickly you can recover is important. You must get back into the ring--you cannot be afraid to be put at risk again. Bad things happen. If you let them derail you, they win.
  4. Rebuild your muscles. Increase your flexibility to handle things differently next time.
  5. Get fired up. You may have been knocked down, but now you must get back up. There's too much good work that needs to be done to let yourself wallow in self-pity.

Resilience is not just about intestinal fortitude and grit. Resilience also encapsulates potential. Every time you get close to your potential, it expands. Everyone--and especially leaders and top executives--needs to possess that kind of resilience.

Without it, you stay in your safe zone. That's not where excellence happens. It's where average and mediocre happens.

Never stop teaching yourself how to handle more and get good at picking yourself up. That's what leadership and growth are all about.