The Adversity-Beating Entrepreneur

An airplane wing gains lift by taking off into the wind. This then causes the airplane to defy gravity and fly . . . an entrepreneurial metaphor if ever there was one. Interestingly, in my pilot days I once experimented with a downwind takeoff (on a very long runway) and could barely get off the ground. I quickly put the plane back on the runway and ended the experiment!

To build a muscle we exercise it regularly adding more weight and repetitions. Members of the military become elite Seals, Green Berets, Delta Force and Rangers by undergoing rigorous training involving obstacles that severely test the physical and psychological strength of a human being. In Kenya, long distance runners often wear no shoes as they traverse inhospitable terrain, toughening the soles of their feet in the process. I think you can probably see the lessons here.

Adversity can be an entrepreneur’s best friend if we allow it to be. If success comes without challenge, it’s easy to become complacent. We’re also robbed of growth opportunities that result from what we learn as we work through various hardships on the road to achievement. No one says we must like adversity. But avoiding it and fighting it does not work. I’ve found that the most constructive approach is to actually embrace it. For me this means relaxing and easing into adversity. It means establishing a positive mindset and expecting that much good will comes from the experience. We’ve all heard the term “silver linings” and used it many times. Often, we look back on what has transpired and almost as a consolation prize we identify the silver linings. Looking for them in advance can give us the lift that we need to fly through the clouds.

In addition to the tangible benefits that come from overcoming adversity in specific situations, there are numerous more global wins that can occur. Think about the last time you had a tough puzzle to solve. Perhaps one of the outcomes was that of heightened creativity and innovation. When faced with the prospects of failure our creative instincts kick in and the results can be amazing. We also find that collaboration and teamwork increases reinforcing the notion that two heads are better than one. While I thrive on making sense of complexity and solving tough problems, I find that doing it with others is more productive and builds a stronger organization.

Suppose a professional basketball team plays a game against the best high school team in the country. There’s no doubt about which team would win. Now, imagine that the same NBA team plays against the reigning world champion NBA team and beats them. Which win do you suppose offers a greater sense of accomplishment? We need to feel like we are doing something really worthwhile which can be difficult when we prevail without any struggle whatsoever.

Adversity helps us to identify weaknesses within our company as well as with our strategy. When we aren’t tested and succeed anyway, we don’t really know what could happen if our feet were held to the fire. Challenges and obstacles also allow us to develop resilience and perseverance – both individually and organizationally. I truly hated those first few months of my career when I was an apartment manager. I was kicked in the teeth, the rear and every other part of my body – I was totally miserable. But something finally clicked, and I figured it out. Quitting wasn’t an option for many reasons – thank goodness! Now I look back and understand how valuable the tough times were in teaching me how to get off the ground and back on the horse.

When we embrace adversity, we can make it work for us like an airplane uses the wind to take off. Then it can become a powerful tool in the entrepreneur’s toolbox.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Personal Acronym

Almost every entrepreneur has heard about the acronym, SWOT. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Typically the SWOT analysis is used as a corporate assessment. We gauge each of these areas relative to our own businesses and then create strategies to respond accordingly. But there is another application of the SWOT analysis that I’ve rarely (maybe never) heard utilized. And that is to perform a personal SWOT analysis. As the entrepreneur, it is a good practice to self-perform the SWOT. But it would also be enlightening to have a peer or trusted colleague do the same to gain an additional perspective.

We start this process by analyzing our personal Strengths. Are we strong leaders – if so, how is this demonstrated? Are we persevering? Do we have exemplary resilience in the face of adversity? Perhaps we have a strong innovative flair. Could we safely say that we are calm, patient, kind or generous? We should identify and assess the strengths that matter most.

Seeing our Weaknesses may not be so easy especially if we aren’t an introspective type. This may require help from that trusted colleague or a peer who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. Do we have a temper? Does our ego ever get in the way? Do we always treat others with respect? Are we perceived to be of high integrity? Do we give up too easily? Maybe we have a tendency to lose focus.

Analyzing our Opportunities is an exercise in determining whether our glass is half empty or half full. Think about what we personally have the potential to do. Could we become more philanthropic? Is there a mentoring or coaching opportunity in our future? Do we begin speaking at industry conferences? Perhaps we could develop a new product or service. Ultimately this is about how we can become more fulfilled as human beings as well as becoming even more valuable to our enterprise.

Finally we must look at our Threats. Could our lifestyle be a threat to our health? Is there a lurking situation that could degrade our financial security? Does our mindset work for or against us? When we evaluate Threats in a corporate sense we generally are contemplating external pressures that we may think are beyond our control. As we consider Threats from a personal standpoint we find that most will be of an internal nature. We can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

Once we complete an honest and realistic personal SWOT assessment, we need to take the next step of creating strategies that bolster our Strengths; resolve our Weaknesses; take full advantage of our Opportunities, and eliminate our Threats. The ensuing plan can become the centerpiece for leading a balanced work and personal life. And revisiting it often will ensure its implementation.

A personal SWOT analysis can be an invigorating and exhilarating process. When done in concert with a SWOT for a company, the results can be a powerful catalyst for positive change in both the entrepreneur and his or her enterprise.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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