The following is adapted from F*ck the Glass Ceiling: Start at the Top (and Stay There) as a Feminine Entrepreneur.
It was the week of Christmas, and my lodging logistics business was on the brink of collapsing.
We were struggling to pay our vendors, and I’d already been to three banks, business plan in hand, and been turned down three times for a line of credit. I had taken on all of the personal debt (including the mortgage on a huge house) in my recent divorce, while the bank split my income level in half due to the partnership breakup, so I wasn’t an attractive borrower.
On top of that, after seven years in business, an employee I had fired was now working for a competitor and was calling my company’s clients while pretending to still be employed by us. In the process, she managed to poach a major account, just as another large project ended. Ironically, I also needed capital to fund a huge new one.
That week, my team and I had to go to battle for our business, and we won.
How we accomplished this whole miracle is something I think is essential to share, because you will be faced with at least a handful of these types of battles as an entrepreneur, and whether you win or lose will largely come down to you and your leadership.
Setting the Tone
The fog of war is what your team will experience when you (or your mission) are being attacked. Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general from the early nineteenth century said, “War is the realm of uncertainty; three-quarters of the factors on which action is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.”
With this uncertainty, your team is going to look to you for guidance. It is up to you to set the tone that will carry you through the fog to victory.
Faced with a perfect storm of challenges, I sat my team down, and we made a very difficult but clear-cut decision. We chose to decree that “this will be our finest hour,” which, of course, was borrowed from Winston Churchill. That tone would drive all our subsequent actions.
When you are placed in a situation that feels like life or death for your company, remember these simple instructions: don’t have an emotional response, and don’t say anything that will make your opponent out to be a perpetrator while you appear as a victim. Remove any hints of it being personal.
No matter how it looks, it’s not personal.
Just sit before your team, take a few deep breaths, and relax. At this moment, because of what is happening and the fear they might be feeling, they will hear your every word, and they’ll remember it for years to come. Tell your team that you will secure the ground that’s been lost or threatened, but you will need their help.
Once you and your leadership team have absorbed the events of the day, and not before, respond with a strategy. Give the plan to your frontline employees in single steps, not all at once. They are not the visionaries, and they don’t have to know the entire plan, because sometimes the fewer minds in the strategic process, the better.
Put it All on the Line
Once the tone is set, you can begin battle. Bring your strongest players to the front, and either move the weakest players to the background or remove them entirely until the company returns to wholeness. All liabilities must be mitigated, and all strengths must be leveraged. You have to put it all on the line.
Several key players on my team stepped up and did their part to save our company. Our controller, for instance, took charge of persuading the electric company not to shut off our services for not being able to pay our balance. At the same time, in the next room, our global account executive was having a very similar conversation with our cleaners, trying to convince them to continue taking care of our rentals for thirty more days, even though we couldn’t pay them.
“We understand that you really need to get paid,” she told the cleaner, “but we’re having a slight issue with a large amount of money owed to us, and we’ll need until next month to pay you. In the meantime, can you go ahead and clean the apartments so we don’t have to find another company to work with?”
We had absolutely no way of knowing whether we’d be able to pay them the following month, but battle is not the time to hold back.
After a deafening silence, the cleaning company put us on hold, then called us back, then magically said yes, as did the furniture vendors, utility companies, and other cleaning companies across the country—all at the request of my team members, who humbly called and poured their authentic pleas for patience into the phone.
Finally, the fourth bank with whom I spoke loaned us $300,000, saving the company by allowing us to pay off vendors and fund the new project. (That was seventeen years ago, and my company is now that bank’s largest customer.)
Though the challenges were huge, we didn’t give up, and we emerged out of the fog of war, victorious.
Win the Battle, Win the War
As an entrepreneur, in the rare case you do get surprised by betrayal, a sudden economic hit, a lawsuit, or the loss of a key employee to your competitor, who happens to take your proprietary data, you need to be able to lead at your highest capacity from the eye of the storm.
By remaining rational and setting the right tone, you can lead your company through whatever battles come your way. Put it all on the line, refuse to give up, and you can win the battle, and the war, of business.
For more advice on going to battle for your business, you can find F*ck the Glass Ceiling on Amazon.
Mandy Cavanaugh’s passion for leadership, entrepreneurship, and helping people thrive has fueled her roles as CEO, consultant, and facilitator. Her businesses have spanned global lodging logistics, land development, manufacturing, corporate leadership seminars, and turnaround consulting. Mandy succeeds in highly competitive environments by connecting each of her team members to their best future self. She holds various coaching certifications and has conducted seminars on high performance, authentic success, conscious language, imagination activation, conflict resolution, corporate soul retrieval, CEO-ship for start-ups, sales, team building, and wealth wisdom for women.