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Bold Leadership In Uncertain Times

Hey Hey, there bold leaders. Welcome to a very special bonus episode of the Bold Leadership Revolution Podcast. We are going to be talking today all about bold leadership for uncertain times. 

If you are new to this podcast, I’m Tara Newman, business and leadership coach for small business owners who want to financially profit and emotionally prosper. I am all about holding that strategic and emotional container, looking at the facts and the feelings, which I think is so important right now in what we are facing. It is my hope that this podcast episode for you is grounding and calming because that is my greatest intention right now to help soothe, calm, and ground any of those anxious thoughts or those panicky feelings. I have run businesses during times of economic socio and political uncertainty. And I really want to jump in here and share with you what I have learned along the way.

And even though I have some pretty serious things that have been an outcropping of these financially stressful times, they’ve all had a positive impact on my life. So this is going to be a very optimistic podcast episode. I don’t want anybody to feel like they’re going to be here and they’re going to feel really agitated. That is absolutely not my intention. 

I also want to acknowledge that right now you are left without a blueprint. There is no playbook for this and I’m sure that leaves most of us feeling uncertain, like we’re not clear on what our next steps should be. We might not be feeling as empowered to take those steps. And really what I want to share with everybody and have everybody takeaway is that it’s okay and we can still move forward. 

In 2010 my husband and I declared bankruptcy. Some of you might have heard this story before. After being in a financial street fight of our lives, trying to keep our first business afloat during the great recession. We learned a lot. We survived. We’ve gone on to successfully run the businesses we have today. Building this business very strategically and methodically since late 2014, scaling through multiple six figures with the seven figure mark close insight. And John, my husband, runs a multiple seven figure manufacturing business that is local to us here in New York. We both take a stand for creating growth that is consistent, sustainable and built to last for the long haul. 

On our CEO debrief in The BRAVE Society on Friday I opened the call to the group and I said, what did they need to talk about the most right now? It was unanimous. They needed to talk about calming their nervous system. So we did, because while panic and fear are contagious, so is calm. And from my work in performance psychology, I can tell you that calm can be trained. And this is a reason why we want to be training ourselves during everyday life so that when moments like this happen, we can fall back on that training.

It makes it easier to access those habits when times are uncertain and chaotic. The purpose of this information is to help you calm your nervous system and give you practical steps that you can action on right now. 

First, this will pass. This will pass and that’s not an underreaction to the situation. This will pass, but things will most likely change and evolve. Things will stabilize, but we will have insights and learnings from this experience and it will change how we lead, work, and think about our businesses in the future. All of this is very natural and it’s incredibly positive. I’ve been on back to back calls for a few days now supporting and talking to small business owners and the perspectives and the insights that this has opened up for them is allowing them to make tiny shifts in how they’re operating right now. Just like I learned things from the great recession and my life changed dramatically, it has also changed for the better. I truly believe we are in a time of both adversity and opportunity. 

In the leadership development space, thought leaders, coaches and consultants have been using the term VUCA for some time to define the business landscape we all navigate. VUCA is a really ugly sounding word, but it stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. This term originates back to the Army War college in Pennsylvania and while words like volatile and uncertain might make you apprehensive, I think it’s important to know that when you have the skills to navigate these terms, your leadership in business grows exponentially. For example, when you execute critical and independent thinking, you can really withstand the ups and downs way more easily. Now that you know these terms, you can better understand the skill set that needs to be cultivated over time. You can ask better questions like what skills do I need to lead in my business given the fact that our market is more global than ever before, lending itself to more disruption or volatility.

As we’ve seen over recent years, things like Brexit, the 2016 US political election and the COVID-19 virus have been having a far reaching impact. In all this uncertainty, there is one thing that I feel is certain, and that’s me. I will always bet on me with high levels of certainty, but other than that, the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. 

IN THIS EPISODE… 

  • I’m going to cover what an adaptive leadership response is and give you examples. 
  • We are going to help you create an SOP to refer back to in future times of uncertainty and crisis. 
  • We’re going to share with you how to thrive during times of ambiguity. Even if you’re freaking out about money. 
  • We’re going to share the four key skills every leader needs, especially right now. 
  • And some things you can start to think about financially if you haven’t already done that. 

Like I said in the beginning, my hope is that this is calming to your nervous system, allowing you to plan and focus with greater confidence and clarity so that if you’re not sure what the next step is, you will find it here in this episode.

So let’s dive in.

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I was on a call doing a training with Doctor David Rock from the NeuroLeadership Institute. He’s all about brain based coaching, and he shared three different responses that we are seeing during this moment of global crisis. He shared the spectrum of reaction from under reaction saying nothing, minimizing impact, don’t be an alarmist, underplaying the situation, but what I’m also seeing in this category of under reaction is judgment, a lack of compassion and empathy. Even for those we know who are overreacting, because the truth is we don’t know why they’re overreacting. This could be triggering past trauma and really making them feel uncertain and unsafe. 

So on one side of the spectrum is under reaction and on the other side of the spectrum is overreaction, creating panic, constant obsessing, but also what I’m seeing here is sharing unreliable news or social media posts. Good old stirring the social media pot would be on that overreaction spectrum, but he also shared what’s happening in the middle of the spectrum, which is where I want to aim our focus and it’s called an adaptive response. And the reason why I want to share what an adaptive response looks like is because I want you to understand that most likely you are actually having an adaptive response, that you are doing it right, that in this moment you’re second guessing how you’re showing up and I want you to not second guess yourself anymore and that is why we are sharing what adaptive responses look like. 

SO ADAPTIVE RESPONSES ARE EMPATHY AND LABELING THE EMOTIONS WE HAVE RIGHT NOW AND HELPING OTHERS DO THIS AS WELL. 

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, I’m keenly focused on this right now. Labeling helps us have language for things that might be hard to grasp. One of the reasons I share stories and take you behind the scenes of my monthly debrief is also to help you have the language for your own leadership in business strategies.

Naming things helps us find solutions and identify what is within our control and what isn’t. Preparing for the worst is an adaptive response. Once you solved the worst case scenarios, your nervous system will calm down. I say all the time that adventurers wouldn’t go out and climb Mount Everest or Kilimanjaro without solving for the worst case scenario and having some contingency plans. Communicating often and well with your 360, meaning your family, your employees, your customers, your clients. 

That is an adaptive leadership response. Making things explicitly clear. People are distracted. They’re having a hard time focusing. Their anxious minds are running a gazillion miles a minute. If there was ever a time to make things explicitly clear, now’s the time. Operationalize things that are implicit that maybe there’s an assumption made that somebody can make the connection between point A and point B. Make them concrete. Give examples. As Brene Brown says, “Paint it done.” 

Focus on shared goals. That is another adaptive leadership response. Focus you and your team on their work. This is not compartmentalization. For many of us, our work brings meaning and purpose to our lives. Our work brings a natural rhythm and a structure to our day and we need that right now. Working right now is a good thing. Adaptive responses are also great hygiene. Wash your hands. Maintaining or building our immune system, making sure you’re getting enough sleep right now. Staying appropriately informed and making sure you have critical supplies on hand. 

In terms of organizational and responses an under reaction is do nothing and an overreaction, as of last week we’re starting to get more guidelines now, but an overreaction last week that I was seeing was shutting everything down, right? We’re not sure yet. Some things can remain open, some things we’ll need to close, but really putting some critical thinking into do you need to shut everything down or can you be moving forward with your business and are there different things you could be focusing on to move your business forward that you can be doing remotely?

Adaptive responses are to use the CDC guidelines. They have a very clear chart on what you can do, such as cut travel and in person events. You can also make virtual work possible, help people focus, disseminate high quality information resources. So I’d like you to ask yourself right now, how are you being adaptive? 

Write it all down because the next thing I want you to do is document this in your journal or preferably a Google doc or maybe a Loom communication to your team because this is a great SOP to have in your business called adaptive responses in times of crisis and uncertainty so that when something like this happens again, because it will, you will have something to go and fall back on to give you a starting point and how to navigate that moment. 

NEXT UP, I WANT TO GIVE YOU AN EASY TO IMPLEMENT BUT CRITICAL TOOL TO HAVE IN YOUR TOOLBOX AS A BUSINESS OWNER. I CALL IT THE THRIVE LIST.

As a matter of fact, this is so essential that we had an article about it published in Money Magazine and Yahoo Finance. In May of 2015, 10 years after starting our first business and five years after declaring bankruptcy, I was in the early stages of this business now. I was about to leave my corporate job and my cushy six figure salary. I used to say it was a cushy and safe six figure salary, but since I left that company, they have had layoffs every year, mergers and they leveraged out the CEO. And I think that’s really important for some of you who are small business owners to know right now because maybe you are saying yourself, “Well it’s safer to have employment, a nine to five,” and listen, sometimes that’s necessary. Sometimes that’s necessary to step out of business ownership. I talk about this a lot and step into a regular job working for somebody else, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any safer.

You are safe now. Since this would be our third business that we started up, we knew the financial drain in the early stages of business and when I told my husband that I’d be giving notice sooner than I thought. We had to act quickly to build up a savings account. John, my husband, he’s an engineer. He immediately said, we have to go into austerity and cut everything out. Even the $3.99 video rental from HBO if the kids wanted to rent a movie or from Amazon. Let me tell you, I was still having post traumatic stress from our leanest years and ultimately our bankruptcy. The word austerity shot through my body like a knife and created so much dissonance. It made me feel unsafe and it didn’t feel good. I immediately stopped the conversation and let him know I would have to get back to him. I was and still am unavailable for survival mode thinking and if that is not a mantra for you right now, maybe you want to adopt it. I am unavailable for survival mode thinking.

I’m here to thrive and that’s when I decided to get clear and concrete on what exactly I needed to thrive. In my journal, I wrote at the top of the page, what do you need to thrive? I gave myself as much space and pages as I needed. I reminded myself that thriving is about truly living and not settling for basic needs. Everybody always asks me, “Well, how many things should go on my thrive list?” As many as you need there to be. There are no rules. Take up the space on the page. This is what I want you to spend time writing about, your thrive list. Think about key areas in your life, your time, your energy, your money, your family, your physical environment, your career. What do you need to thrive in these areas? As I created my list, I wrote down time to read and write, space in my day to slow down and be present with my family, intimate time with my husband. Having a family that communicates well and everyone knows their role, so things don’t always fall on me.

As an introvert in a highly sensitive person, I love cozy big blankets and a quality couch. I like to go from massages to help me calm my nervous system. Energetically I need tidy and clean and uncluttered space. Financially I need independence. I went more than enough to support my family through the ups and downs of business ownership. Saving well brings me so much joy. I’m energized by serving powerfully and leading with generosity. I’m at my best when I have good quality food, the right care for my chronic illness, and the ability to see specialists to help me maintain a calm state. I love a good manicure. My favorite thing in the world is high-quality clothing and items that last for years. I don’t need that many of them. I like to be minimal, but I like high-quality clothing. When I originally created my list, I had a car with cloth interior and it was getting so trashed from having two little kids.

I remember thinking how I wanted leather seats. I also noted though that I didn’t care what kind of car I got. I’m not a car person. If it were used or not the highest luxury brand, I just really needed the leather seats. Coffee is my ritual, so anything to enhance my coffee experience is where I like to thrive and spend some money. It’s more enjoyable for me to make my own coffee and make a ritual out of it than buy coffee out. Since we are introverts, we don’t go out a ton and we don’t go to the movies that much. So we happily have Netflix, Amazon Prime, and will purchase seasons of shows without any guilt because we know we aren’t spending money on going out to the movies that often. We now go to the spa on a quarterly basis to get away from life and restore. We take ourselves on these quarterly retreats. I don’t consider this something I need to thrive. It’s important, but what I need to thrive is to make every day feel spa-like.

Things like soft lighting, theta wave music in my home, great skincare products. What was most fascinating about my list is that there were few things on there that really cost money. Most of the things on my list didn’t cost money and if an emergency comes, I can cut out some of the things that do cost money and still feel like I’m thriving. This is a great way to feel and celebrate abundance even in leaner times. The thrive list has become a fluid document that my husband and I work from to determine how we spend our money and how we spend our time. As a business owner, having a smaller personal financial footprint allows me to have so much more peace of mind in my business. Identifying what you need to thrive and setting your finances around this list ensures that you don’t feel scarcity. It gives you a clear place to start when deciding what your revenue and profitability needs to look like in your business.

I hope you choose to do this exercise. There is really no better time. Break out a sheet of paper. Ask yourself what you need to thrive and then go check your bank account. Is this how you’re spending money right now? Check your calendar. Is this how you’re spending your time right now? If you’re feeling brave or having a hard time determining what should go on your list, try a no spend month. We’re actually at a really good time to do a no spend month since restaurant’s in a lot of areas are closed, kids’ activities are closed. Try a no spend month where you don’t spend money on any nonessential items, so you’re cutting out any nonessential items. I promise you tremendous growth in this experience if you give it a shot. 

NEXT UP, LET’S TALK ABOUT FOUR CORE SKILLS REQUIRED FOR EVERY CAREER AND THE ONES YOU WANT TO BE DOING WHEN DOUBLING DOWN ON RIGHT NOW TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS. 

Based on a decade worth of research, the Center of Creative Leadership names four core skills for every career. And I think they translate very well to the small business ownership space. Here are the skills and how the CCL defines each one briefly. 

Self-awareness, understanding your behaviors have an impact on your business outcomes. I want to say that one again. Self-awareness, understanding that your behavior impacts your business outcomes because I think that people get so distracted with the shiny object and looking outside themselves for the answer and the next tactic, but what they often avoid looking at is their own behaviors. 

Communication, effectively communicate goals and inspire trust. I’ll add communicate transparently on your vision, direction, goals as well as vulnerably share your thought process. Influence, it’s another competency. This speaks to being comfortable persuading, promoting, and delegating. However, I want to add that a person of influence is honest, direct, transparent, and uses their influence to be a force for good in the world.

Now this last competency that I’m going to share with you is in my opinion, the most critical competency. These are all critical competencies, but this one, this one is one that some of us are not understanding and that is learning agility. Know when to change course and help others do the same. That is learning agility and what I see happening today is the blueprint and template culture that’s out there is actually robbing us of our learning agility. That will not help you right now. There is no playbook for this. There are no right answers. We need to be adapting on the fly. I’m going to add that now is the time for vulnerability. To admit you don’t know. To admit you don’t know what you think you should know. To admit you don’t have all the answers. To admit you’re scared or you’re in a state of freeze. A lot of people right now are talking about fight or flight, but what I’m seeing more of is freeze.

We forget that there is a third one. Fight, flight and freeze. Now is the time for radical amounts of trust that everything always works out in your favor. Trust that the best possible outcome is here for you now. I’m going to ask you a question. Which one of these skills do you want to double down on right now? You don’t have to pick all four. You could pick one. Where do you need to focus some attention and I want you to come share them with me on Instagram. Tag me in a post. I’m @TheTaraNewman or DM me. I am manning my DMs right now to support whoever wants a lifeline. Plus, introduce yourself to me. There are so many of you here that never take me up on that offer to come by and say, “Hey, hey.” 

NOW LET’S TALK MONEY BECAUSE YOU NEED TO KNOW. 

The Coronavirus will come and go. That’s for certain. People will distance themselves and be distracted and then come out of hiding. However, this is a great time to start looking at your financial habits and behaviors. The economy may stumble or become recessive, but what I need small business owners to know is this is a time of tremendous opportunity. In almost every article you read about economic recessions, society looks to the small business owners to adapt, move quickly and restore prosperity. 

And if you’re a woman or someone who identifies as female, now is our time ladies. In a report put out by the AAUW called Barriers and Bias: The Status in Women’s Leadership, they state. Now this was put out in 2016. They state for workers, women’s leadership may offer another benefit. A study of businesses operating during the great recession found that female CEOs were less likely than their male peers to lay off staff. The difference was significant. Workforce reductions were more than twice as frequent at male owned firms than at female owned firms. 14% versus 6% and more workers were affected. Retaining staff can lead to lower short term profits, but it also preserves employee morale and reduces future hiring and training costs.

They go on to say that women are drivers of the economy. When women lose out on the financial benefits that come with leadership, the repercussions are felt not only by women and their families, but also in philanthropy, politics, venture capitalism, and a host of other unexpected places. So listen up. I know it feels uncertain right now and we’re not sure how to proceed forward. That doesn’t mean don’t sell. That means be agile in your marketing and your sales initiatives. Go back to the beginning of this podcast and go through those adaptive leadership responses and start working them into your marketing. We will have a bonus podcast episode next week that takes you behind the scenes how we are navigating this. You’ll hear more from all of the members of my team as we put agile practices to the test. 

Now I’m going to take you back to my first business for a bit so you can learn from some of our greatest mistakes. Part of our problem back in 2005 when we started our first business is that we didn’t think about,  we just didn’t think about our capitalization so when the recession hit we were under capitalized and out of savings. 

The first thing I want to get you on board with is your mindset. If you have done mindset work before, now is the time to up the ante. If you have never looked at your thoughts and learned how to screen your thoughts for, “is this true,” and what is the reframe of your current perspective? How can you look at things from a more optimistic perspective? Now is the time because like calm optimism can be trained. Trust me, I’ve been negative, depressed, anxious, ruled by fear and shifting your attention to our more positive thoughts will calm your nervous system even if you don’t quite believe that thought just yet, keep practicing. Developing new neural pathways takes time. Here’s a question around a belief.

Do you believe you create your own economy? Is that a belief that you hold right now, that you create your own economy? I do. I’m not stopping my sales activity because I know without a doubt that small business owners need my services right now. Now more than ever before, and the same is true for health practitioners and stylists and interior designers. Like I’m thinking, I’m sitting here with all this time on my hands. I’m thinking about redoing my office since I’ll be home and need to entertain myself, right? People are still spending money. We’re ordering in and I’ve been going out to restaurants at select times. I still went and got my hair done. I’m going out of my way to find places to spend my money responsibly. Believe it or not, this is where your thrive list gets operationalized. Also, what do you need to thrive in your business? If it’s not on your business, thrive list, delete it. Let’s get lean. Let’s look at operational efficiency. So what do you need to thrive in your business?

If you use the thrive list and do an inventory of your home, how many items do you have that don’t align with your thrive list? Can you sell them to repurpose the money for other things? This is basically how we survived the last recession. I repurposed everything I could. You can even do this without selling things. You can find places to spend your money and repurpose the savings someplace else. For example, we did a no spend month in January and found that we didn’t miss eating out at all. As a matter of fact, we have more joy from not eating out, so we took the money that we used to spend on dining out and we repurposed it to our quarterly spa trips. Now is a great time to get your personal finances handled and scaled to only things that bring you joy. That way you have a better understanding of what your revenue can dip to if you start to see leaner financial times. Once you understand the worst case scenario, you will have clarity on how you want to move forward in your business. You can easily switch back to optimism because you aren’t wasting energy on worrying. 

LET’S TALK ABOUT PRACTICALITY. 

It’s time to do an assessment of emergency funds. Do you have enough emergency funds in your home, in your personal finances and in your business finances? Now, if you are anything like the majority of my clients, the answer is probably no. And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with you. We’re living in expensive times. We don’t think about emergency funds. Some of us do, some of us don’t. However, we need to do an assessment of where you can be pulling money from in the case of an emergency. So do you have a business line of credit, a home equity line of credit, a 401k that you can borrow from if necessary? What are the contract and payment details and options? Let’s get all our facts together. If you owe money on credit cards or a line of credit, don’t forget to call and ask for reduction in payment or more favorable terms if possible.

It never hurts to ask. Right now, the great part of where we are in this economy is that banks are doing okay. If you remember in 2008 and 2009 the banks were not okay, so right now I’m seeing a lot of banks offering assistance. Go check it out, go talk to somebody. Just get some details and facts together so that if you’d need to take action, you have everything you need. In lots of ways, nothing has changed. Cashflow is still king. Now is also a time to practice good communication skills around money and scary things with those you need to like your business partner or your spouse, right? Really having those vulnerable conversations. This was another area where we didn’t do a great job with this. And when I say we, I’m speaking for my husband too, and I probably shouldn’t, but I was so scared to talk about how we were failing, what we did or didn’t have in terms of money for critical bills or even sometimes groceries that I would lay in bed at night and want to talk about it, but realize that we were falling asleep and that wasn’t the right time.

But I was fighting being vulnerable and the dark seemed like an easier place to have those conversations that for me were so mired in shame. Trust me, practice talking about the things you hold inside and are too embarrassed to tell people. Tell your friends, tell your spouse, tell your coach, tell your therapist. Start talking. Now is not the time to isolate. Now is not the time to hide your feelings. Now is not the time to be downplaying your emotions. And if you are a business owner, do not stop your proactive sales measures. Now is a great time to build and further solidify your relationships. This doesn’t even require you to be on social media, so if social media right now is just freaking you out, cool. You don’t have to be there. Some ways I’m doing this is increasing time on my calendar for connection calls, texting colleagues and former clients to genuinely see how they’re doing, asking good questions and listening to what people are saying, supporting small business owners by leaving iTunes or social media reviews, engaging more on social media posts, commenting, not just liking or hearting or anything like that, but actually commenting on people’s social media posts, connecting people to other people.

We are bumping up our podcast episodes to support our community and you the listeners, even though it means potentially taking us off schedule later in the year. I’m offering to do free guest expert spots to support other people’s communities, which I very rarely do because I believe we should be paying women for their expertise. Now is most definitely the time to be moving forward with bold confidence that your work brings meaning and value to the world. People are looking for leaders to direct them in their decision making and provide them with clear next steps. As you charge forward on your mission remember to rest, leaders need the endurance to make an impact. 

If you enjoy the conversations we have on this show, then join us inside The BRAVE Society. BRAVE brings women from a range of industries and fields into one room for pure learning, impactful hosted training, support, and an incredible community. We do things differently in The BRAVE Society.

The conversations in the group are powerful, transformative, and incredibly valuable for business growth as well as your own leadership development. And those trainings I mentioned, some are led by me and others are peer led. The peer led trainings are paid trainings by us. It’s our way of reinvesting into the community. None of this free guest expert stuff. We support women paying women. 

Inside of The BRAVE Society you will have three live calls per month. One is training and discussion focused and the other two are CEO debriefs with me in which we share our wins and insights so we can all learn from each woman in the room. Research shows that support groups are critical for the success of female leaders. The unique challenges we face as women require us to be able to hold an emotional and strategic container that allows us to foster the resiliency needed to lead in your business and your life.

When you are surrounded by a diverse group of peers, your network intelligence grows exponentially. Now, the main objection I hear from women like you is, am I good enough to take a seat at the table with these women? And let me tell you what I’ve learned over the last two years running The BRAVE Society. You are good enough. 

So join us and find out for yourself. 

If you found this podcast valuable, help us develop more bold leaders in the world by sharing this episode with your friends, colleagues, and other bold leaders. Also, if you haven’t done so already, please leave a review. I consider reviews like podcasts currency and it’s the one thing you can do to help us out here at The Bold Leadership Revolution HQ. We would be so grateful for it. Special thanks goes to Stacey Harris from Uncommonly More, who is the producer and editor of this podcast. Go check them out for all your digital marketing and content creation needs. Be sure to tune into the next episode to help you embrace your ambition and leave the grind behind.

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