The damage caused by the coronavirus to businesses, employees, owners and entrepreneurs is colossal, and the economic loss will reach unprecedented levels. Every business segment, including travel, retail, technology, service, hospitality, manufacturing, education, real estate, financial and so many others are hurting, and it’s going to get worse. From every indication, it appears that we are at the beginning of a protracted downturn, where things get worse before they get better.
But just as with every calamity that humanity has faced, this too shall pass. Some businesses will emerge from this slump stronger than before, and many will perish. But only the rarest of them will come out of this downturn and morph into exceptional organizations that become the best of the best.
Downturns like the one we are currently facing happen once in a lifetime. While the loss of customers and revenues are immeasurably agonizing, you should use this opportunity to reassess where you are and begin the transformation to become extraordinary. Now is the time for some deep introspection to determine what you want to achieve as you come out of this downturn.
Every business leader today is figuring out how to cope with this sudden tsunami that has brought economic activity around the world to a grinding halt. They know how to limit losses through curtailed spending, reduced and delayed hiring, and taking other precautionary measures to help them weather the storm. But they also need to use this unique opportunity to reflect on who they are and get to the very core of what their business is about and how they can emerge from this downturn, not just bruised, but ready to achieve their full potential.
The first step towards being exceptional is starting in an area where you have a natural ability, or a unique capability. This is something many people overlook. We often strive towards an arbitrarily set goal for ourselves, or we indiscriminately set business goals based on what we think we should achieve without honestly evaluating if the domain we want to excel in is an area that complements our natural skillset.
The most successful businesses, large and small, are the ones that play to their strengths or their “core.” You become the best of the best by doing well at what you were born to do, not by executing on a business plan based on financial opportunity, market position, or competitive landscape. Your unique ability could be around technology, customer service, manufacturing, distribution, price, or something else. Is your entire organization geared towards maximizing the potential of your core?
The moment you stray from your natural strengths, you lose the ability to become exceptional. Take this opportunity to evaluate if you have deviated from your core and, if so, revert to it. Now is the time for you to double down on your strengths and focus on the areas where you know you can be the very best.
Do you believe in your abilities?
To become exceptional, you need to have an unshakeable belief in your ability to be successful. The journey to the top is too hard and virtually impossible to complete without an enduring optimism in your capabilities. It is the confidence you have in your abilities that will allow you to stretch and achieve bigger and bigger goals.
The most exceptional leaders show an enormous amount of belief in their talents. They view the challenges they face as things they can overcome, not something that will detract them. Their confidence in themselves allows them to stay committed to their goals for years and even decades. They believe failure is simply due to a lack of skills that they can develop, not a reason to give up on their dreams.
Check-in with your coworkers and ensure that the sense of confidence is shared and, if not, ignite it. You can strengthen your self-belief by setting short-term goals that are slightly beyond your reach and then achieving and celebrating them with your team. Doing so lets you become successful at increasingly challenging tasks, which leads to you getting better. You can reach a state of perpetual improvement by continually setting and achieving goals that are moderately out of your reach. As you do that, your belief in your abilities will be unshakeable, and the results you realize will be remarkable.
Are you fully committed to your plan?
To become elite in anything requires an unparalleled level of commitment to your goals. Relying on a “Plan B” or something you can do just in case your current direction does not work means you are not fully committed and is one sure way to missing out on achieving your dreams.
Every exceptional organization has stayed true to what it has set out to achieve without swerving to a new direction each time things got a little rough. You need to know what you want, and you need to be determined to get there because it is the total commitment to your cause that will inspire your team to deliver.
Too many people are wishy-washy about what they want and invariably fail. Set your master goal and keep reverting and measuring against it, reminding everyone what the prize is that you are going after.
Do you have an improvement community?
Becoming exceptional is complicated as there is so much more to know now than ever before. It is impossible to achieve alone. The most successful organizations are the ones who have learned to embrace complexity and use it to their advantage. In today’s environment, remarkable performance rarely comes from solo efforts. The best output invariably comes from high-functioning teams.
You achieve excellence by relying on experts with specialized knowledge in areas where you lack expertise and also on people you trust to guide you in the right direction and be honest when you are heading down the wrong path. This group of people you rely on becomes your “improvement community” and can be there to support you and help you achieve your goals. If you haven’t done so already, identify, develop and trust your own “improvement community.”
Are you willing to do what it takes?
Becoming outstanding is not going to happen without an enormous amount of work, effort, dedication, creativity, experimentation and spending countless hours honing your skills and improving your business. The energy you will need to expend is substantial, and there is no short cut. You will have to make the sacrifice. Bill Gates reportedly never took a vacation in his twenties and never believed in the concept of taking weekends off, and in turn, created one of the most exceptional organizations the world has ever seen. Ask yourself if you are willing to put in the hours and do what it takes to become the very best? There is no substitute for hard work, and nothing can replace the volume of effort. Lead by example and ensure that you are willing to put in the hard work that you also expect of your team.
While every organization is unique and every opportunity is different, the five questions above are universal for the attainment of excellence. Now, as many of us remain isolated in our homes, let’s take the time to determine what we want to achieve and use this opportunity to ask yourself these fundamental questions. While your responses to them may not alter your short-term performance, longer-term, they are very likely to change the course of your life and make you exceptional.