Firing an employee. Confronting a customer. Delivering bad news to an investor. Conducting an interview with a hostile reporter.

When the going gets tough--really tough--how do you push yourself to do what you don’t want to do? Perhaps you’re scared, tired, insecure or caught off guard. If time is on your side, you can step back and develop a step-by-step, organized plan for tackling the problem. But when it’s all hitting the fan and you’ve got to act fast, what can you do to step up to the challenge? Here’s what works for me:

Phone a Friend. Confide in a trusted colleague or friend and ask them to kick you in the pants. I count on several good friends who don’t know all the nuances of my company, and when I’m faced with a tough day or a crummy situation, their objectivity helps boost my confidence and gain perspective. This also creates accountability because someone you respect will ask what happened. “I was too chicken to deal with it,” is just not an acceptable answer.

Dress for Success. Don your suit of armor. Wearing a new suit or sky-high pumps can make you feel more powerful and in control. Rich colors and bold patterns can make a statement before you utter a word. Wear what gives you confidence. Use your clothing, accessories -- even hair and makeup -- to give you more game.  

Pump Up the Volume. High-performing athletes use music to psych themselves up before a big event. Put on your headphones and crank up your favorite, adrenaline-churning jams. Maybe classical or new age music centers you and improves focus. Use whatever works to get into your zone.

Reward Yourself. I tell my kids, “Do the crummy stuff first so you can have fun later.” Usually, that refers to household chores before social activities, but it works for me as well. If I’m struggling or procrastinating, little incentives help me stay on track and get things done. Just like a lollipop after a doctor’s shot, that piece of Swiss chocolate, that glass of Pinot or a promised hour of window shopping helps me push past the pain to get to the pleasure.

Get Moving. Exercise is known as a great stress reliever, but it also helps clear your mind so you can focus on the tough stuff. When I’m up against a task I just don’t want to tackle, 30 minutes of yoga or even a brisk walk gives me time to think and clears the cobwebs so I can attack my problem.

Just Do It.  Don’t overthink it. Don’t give yourself time to procrastinate. Sometimes you just need to jump. I call this “ripping the Band-Aid off.” Leaders often need to make decisions and act quickly. You won’t always have the luxury of planning and preparing before facing an uncomfortable situation. This is when you need to trust your instincts and experience, and act.

Consider the alternatives. What is the cost of your inaction? Not firing an underperforming employee is bad enough for productivity, but it also spreads poor morale for your other employees. Angry customers get angrier over time.

Very few problems solve themselves. Act now before your simple problem evolves into a full-blown nightmare.

Published on: Jan 21, 2013
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