“Times of stress and difficulty are reasons of opportunity when the seeds of progress are sown.” -Thomas F. Woodlock

There have been numerous books, studies, and papers written on leadership, and there is no shortage of opinions on what makes a successful leader. But over my 40 year career advising companies and serving in a variety of leadership roles, the one trait I have observed which is common to all successful leaders is the ability to view obstacles as opportunities, as opposed to challenges.

Face it, our mettle is tested when things go wrong. That’s when we leave our comfort zone and our sense of complacency is shattered. Obstacles come in all different sizes and shapes—a cyber-attack brings down our systems, we lose a key team member, a major customer goes elsewhere, a product offering is no longer relevant, etc.

When we experience setbacks, we must immediately change our mindsets and focus on ways we can improve the situation to ensure that we will be better off than before. We should strive to do the following:

  • Understand that life and business aren’t easy. Things happen. Nothing is forever, and sometimes we cannot anticipate the timing.
  • Separate the problem/issue from all the other tasks at hand. We need to singularly focus on this opportunity and not get distracted by other responsibilities. The solution to our problem will not be right in front of us, so it will be easy to kick the can down the road and focus on other tasks. Don’t dwell on the negative impacts the issue might have on your business.
  • Don’t let inertia and others around us limit our thinking. This is a time for the age old concept—there are no bad ideas. We have a clean slate in front of us to think differently.
  • Get excited about the prospect of another way to do things. Let the thoughts of opportunity win out over the concerns of uncertainty.
  • Focus on making investments rather than worrying about costs. Perhaps the solution to the problem at hand is to invest for a long-term return. Have the confidence that if it is well thought out, the investment will make you a better company.

Too often, success gets in the way of improving all around us and we become complacent. It is guaranteed that along our journey we will encounter obstacles where our immediate reaction is dread and uncertainty. When this happens, take thirty minutes to fret about the situation and then remind yourself that there is an opportunity at hand. Effective leaders have this mindset and are energized by challenges. Give it a try next time you encounter a problematic issue.

Stephen W. Christian, CPAStephen W. Christian is a director at Kreischer Miller. Contact him at Email or 215.441.4600. 




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