The airplane was veering side to side while climbing, then diving crazily. Clouds and sky were replaced by visions of the ground rushing up violently from second to second. As alarm bells went off, while buzzers were ringing and lights flashing, I felt the overwhelming urge to panic and give up.
It seemed that no matter what I did the problems were only getting worse and the situation was increasingly out of control! My body was flooded with adrenaline, my heart rate and blood pressure through the roof, and my brain was absolutely overwhelmed. Finally, in desperation, I yelled “stop the sim!” To which my aircraft simulator instructor calmly answered, “fly the plane.”
Crying for Mama wasn’t going to work! I had to fix my own problems.
From the recesses of my memory I recalled my primary training instructor telling me long ago, “fix one thing at a time and make small corrections.” Carefully, I put the artificial nose of the airplane on the horizon line on my instruments and held it there. Then with great effort, and using both hands, I steadied the wings and held them level. Breathing deeply and exhaling slowly as I tried to control my physical panic, I slowly brought the plane back to altitude, switched off the flashing lights and faced the failures. Using my checklist, I carefully and methodically dealt with each problem in turn and finally landed the plane safely.
When we have serious problems arise in our business (and every business does eventually) the first tendency is often an overreaction. If one negative thing doesn’t get compounded by another automatically, it often does from those overreactions. Now we have a mess, but this isn’t simulated reality and we can’t “stop the sim.” Our choice is fixing the problems or perhaps die (lose money, opportunity, progress or even bankruptcy.)
To negotiate a crisis successfully, we first must make the commitment to running the business regardless of the problems (fly the plane!) This is often not as easy to do as it is to say, but without that firm and conscious (and communicated to others when necessary) resolve, we won’t recover.
Then, we must identify the most critical issue and fix it carefully (“fix one thing at a time and make small corrections.”) Panic only makes things worse. Calm, deliberate and consistent actions are required.
Every business owner will face crises during their career. Storms, failures, mistakes and things beyond your control guarantee it. How you react in those moments determines the outcome in advance. Knowing this, it’s worth the trouble to “simulate” problems and your reactions in advance so muscle memory can help in the moment of a real crisis. My time flying a simulator has made me a better pilot and your forethought will make you a better business owner.