Seeing The Big Picture vs. Too High and Too Low

My revenue dropped 28% from one year to the next. And instead of rebounding the next year, it dropped another 29%. So two years on, my revenue dropped by about one-half. That image above tells the story of 2001-2003.

It built back up, slowly, and then a few years later dropped by 33%. That was 2008.

Then in March of '20, while we were all hoarding masks and wiping off packages from the front porch, I sat around for six weeks wondering if my business was done for. Before the pandemic, I was in some different city every week, often crossing in and out of three countries in the space of a single month. My entire business depended on travel, and travel wasn't happening.

There are times—if you don't lift your head up and see beyond the "now"—that you'll lose your perspective and do stupid sh!t. You'll make panicked decisions, borrow money you shouldn't, abandon your principles, or even quit.

It really is okay to quit, and I wish there was less stigma with the concept, but real leaders like you do two things:

  1. Fully embrace reality without papering it over. You cannot lie to yourself in any way.
  2. Don't overreact to that reality. You are optimistic, not at the expense of reality, but in spite of it.

And when you do this second thing (optimism), the people around you will claim that you're not doing the first thing (honesty). And sometimes they are right, no?

It's so flippin' easy to be skeptical. It takes no imagination or hope or reaching. It just feels so satisfying to shovel gravel into someone's oatmeal, but that's not leadership.

Leadership is fully embracing the present while making decisions for the future. Top flight athletes are told to have short memories and not let a recent single failure limit what can happen next, with effort and optimism.

I don't know where your particular business is at the moment, but if it's in one of those dips:

  • Be completely honest about it.
  • Figure out how it happened.
  • Make a lot of tough choices so that any present challenges aren't fatal.
  • Revisit those very bedrock principles that have served you so well and re-commit to them.

If it's at one of those higher spots:

  • Enjoy it and quit wondering when the rug will be pulled out from under you.
  • Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back. There's probably a fair bit of "luck" in your brilliance.
  • Don't rest too long. Maybe your ceiling is higher, as well as your floor?
  • Do not abandon the basics: managing people well, spending money responsibly, keeping the new biz engine spun up, and taking enough time off.

Don't read too much into anything, either good or bad. Fully acknowledge the peaks and valleys, but watch the trend line. Here are all those years in context, and it just shows that there are going to be average years, amazing years, and years that test your leadership.

A business without some ups and downs is probably not living close enough to the edge. Clients come and go. Team members get swapped out. The only real constant is you and your leadership, and that determines your trend line.

Here's a related article on "harnessing entrepreneurial manic-depression" and the original illustration from Emily.

  • Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Covert Techniques For A Remarkable Practice

    Buy Now