It’s all gone to crap.  In my disaster restoration company we always said we would never have one client represent over 10% of our business.  An insurance company from the midwest had quietly climbed to over 18% of revenues. Then one day they pulled the plug. Some new VP flew in from head office, decided he didn’t like the look of my face, or had a thing for Scottish people, who knows? Contract over. 

18% of my yearly sales gone, in an instant.  It wasn’t fair. We’re good guys. We do great work, this is awful. What the hell are we going to do? Those dollars were built into our staffing and financial projections for the year.  A sick knot lodged in my stomach, a sense that the walls were literally closing in, and everything turned to a dull color of red in my vision.

In neuroscience, it’s called an “amygdala hijack”, and it happens to all of us. Your brain locks up in response to a specific trigger. Your world suddenly gets really small and your opportunity for constructive and creative thinking and acting leaves the building.

To be in life and especially business is to be able to deal with these moments and not cave. Your level of resilience as a leader, is dependent on the quality of the questions you ask yourself when bad news strikes. 

Harness the power of questions to tap into your resilience.

Just as your brain reacts in the form of an amygdala hijack, it can also get you back on track.  In sales, high level salespeople are taught to ask open ended questions.  Why? … because your brain can’t look at a question without trying to answer it. (Stop reading this for a minute and ask yourself any question and you’ll see it’s true.)  By asking a powerful question, you give your brain the chance to work for you rather than against you.

Given this just happened, NOW what would I like to create? 

Lets unpack the question and see why it’s so useful.

Given this just happened …  Acknowledge something did happen.  I didn’t just imagine it, and railing against that it happened isn’t going to do me a damn bit of good.  Acknowledge reality.  It happened, it can’t unhappen. Stopping too long to opinionate about the unfairness of it all, or my shortcomings as a leader just leaves me more paralyzed, and out of the game. 

Now … my favorite word in the world. Because now is the only time I ever have any real power in my life to do anything. I can’t do anything about the past, even about something that happened 5 minutes ago. I can’t do anything about what might happen next week, my future self will handle that when it comes.  But now, I can do anything right now.  That’s where your power lies.

What would I like to create? … In the amygdala hijack there is no creation – only reaction, and a temporary abandonment of you being the leader in your own game.  In this case, it was a stumble, it didn’t mean we were out of the game. Far from it.  It was simply an opportunity to choose again what was really important.  With the help of my team we made some new choices about product mix and customer mix and all of a sudden our team went from being reactive and stressed to being inspired by a new future we had created. 

I’d love to tell you I responded like a ninja in this situation.  Truth is, it took me about 24 hours of feeling sorry for myself and resisting the reality before I was able to use a version of this question to get myself fully back in the game.   The minute I switched from victim to leader it was “game on” and my actions were directed by my inner wisdom and not the outside circumstance.

So, next time you get an unexpected, unwanted result use this question to get you back in your game.