CEO Community to Support One Another Through Unexpected Tragedy

10 Tactical Steps for CEOs to Navigate Unexpected Tragedy

Whether you own your own business or are the CEO of a successful corporation, you understand the weight of your position and leadership within the company. However, no one (not even you) is exempt from life’s hardships. Unexpected tragedy comes in all forms… death, lawsuits, abuse, miscarriage, abandonment, sickness, divorce, stock market crashes, gun violence, natural catastrophes, etc. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of handbooks out there for how to navigate such situations. 

The steps listed below come from years of coaching members through very daunting circumstances and from my own personal, unexpected tragedies. These suggestions are especially for the entrepreneur, business owner, and/or CEO who feels “stuck” and unable to move in the midst of life’s circumstances. 

It only takes one.

I’ll never forget the moment when one of our event attendees provided a “mic drop moment” and completely shifted the conversation in the room. This was at our very first Make that Money, Honey business mastermind event in Nashville, Tennessee. The attendees were collectively discussing how to perfect their sales funnels. They were beginning to get a little carried away figuring out how to make millions of dollars. One particular attendee tearfully admitted that she was in a season of burn out and had even considered closing her business—no matter how great the sales funnel ended up being. She was living in misery every single day and just wanted to give up on all her dreams.

It only takes one vulnerable person to launch an intimate conversation and that’s exactly what happened. Another attendee immediately responded with, “When my husband suddenly died from cancer a few years ago… I decided that if something stresses me out to the point of stealing my joy, then it isn’t worth my investment. Life is too short to live in misery.” BOOM. Mic drop. 

There was a heavy silence for about 45 seconds. It changed the entire dynamic of the conversation. 

CEO Community to Support One Another Through Unexpected Tragedy

No one is exempt from unexpected tragedy.

Then, another attendee spoke up and admitted that the stress from her business had taken her to the point of contemplating suicide. The sound guy in the back of the room raised his hand and looked at me with wide, teary eyes. He was the only man in the room and just there to run sound for the event. I looked at him intently with a, “Yes…?” He began telling the story of how his wife had recently almost died from a brain hemorrhage — it was a miracle that she survived. With every story shared that afternoon, the attendees began to weep. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. 

The most beautiful part of that story wasn’t that everyone cried… it was that everyone ’s perspective and focus shifted. Everyone suddenly became hyper aware that unexpected tragedy could strike at any moment for anyone and, though owning a business is a gift, it has to be the tool that supports our life. Not the reverse. 

Just because we understand that “life is short” and that “we are not promised tomorrow,” it doesn’t mean that we are exempt from unexpected tragedy, difficult situations or impossible circumstances. Tragedy happens every single day. It happens to employees and employers. My suggestion is to bookmark this article for when tragedy hits close to home. It will help you navigate forward. 

10 Steps to Help You Manage When Unexpected Tragedy Hits: 

When an unexpected tragedy hits, what can you do? Here are 10 key things that will help you respond and flourish in both life and business.

1. Shift

Goals, plans, and investments have to change. Our attitude, focus, & attention has to adjust. You must recognize that all three areas of your life as a CEO are equally as important to your success. There will be seasons where one is more important than the other two. This is key.

2. Release the firm grip on your plans

Allow them to breathe and adjust with the sudden changes happening. Don’t get an attitude about it; instead, just go with the flow and allow the adjustment to happen. In business, plans are always fluid, always shifting, and, if you’ve not grasped that yet, well, here’s your opportunity. The person on your team who was being a little lazy may have to stay on board for a couple of months until you have the capacity/time to invest in a new hire (done is better than perfect). The investment you were planning to make in that continuing education program may have to wait until next semester. The 7-figure revenue mark and aggressive sales plan may have to be pushed to next year. It’s okay.

3. Avoid denial

Do not deny that the season will be hard or pretend that you can keep moving at a crazy hustling pace. Honestly, this is a sign of avoidance and/or pride. We often avoid what we don’t feel prepared to do, and no one is ever prepared for an unexpected tragedy to strike. It is also common to believe that we are disqualified from having the opportunity to process due to our “busyness.”  Your busy schedule is ultimately dictated by YOU, and you’re not fooling anyone other than yourself in this scenario. 

4. Create space to process

It is okay to run the business at “bare minimum” for a short-season. Decide what the bare minimum needs to be and make arrangements to operate at that level. Use the remaining time to focus on mental processing and emotional needs. Delegate what you can and say, “no” to anything new. This is only for a season—not for forever. The beauty of running at bare minimum is that you get an opportunity to see how your “machine” works for you. You’ll eventually be able to identify which areas of your business are solid and which areas need more foundational processes in place. Creating space for yourself in this season is a win-win for both you and your business’s health. 

5. Keep working

Our brains need rest from overwhelming subject matters in order to rejuvenate. So, use your work to take small mental breaks. It is natural for our minds to obsess over hardships while we’re in it. It’s like an internal alarm going off saying, “This is an issue! Pay attention to this!” However, if we do not allow our brains to rest, then the matter becomes all consuming and we become unable to produce results (such as solutions and clarity).

This looks a lot like constant worry or extreme anxiety attacks. Utilize your business as a distraction mechanism to shift your brain into a different mode for a short while. Try things that do not require deep thought such as data entry, Instagram hashtag research, social media caption writing, organizing your file folders, or even editing a video/podcast. And, avoid any future planning scenarios or self-help books as these can trigger you back into a worried state. You will most likely find that after a couple of hours of working, you are less anxious and maybe even able to relax. 

6. Find what energizes you

Then, make it the first thing you do every single day. The reality is that in hard seasons or in facing unexpected tragedy, our energy levels are low. Depression, anxiety, and extreme emotions can take a toll on our mental health. It can be really hard to get motivated. It is difficult to show up for team members and clients when energy is depleted. Rather than not showing up at all, find what motivates you and produces positive energy. Then make it the first thing you do each day. With a trimmed down workload (because you made space in the previous point) and small boosts of energy… you can get through this season! 

7. Make a mental “startup routine”

This allows your brain to slowly transition into work mode. If it’s a day focused on marketing, then I suggest listening to a business podcast while going on a walk. Read through positive testimonials from previous clients on the days you’re working with or for clients. Watch a motivational YouTube video on the days where you need to speak to a crowd/group of people. Have an early morning meeting with someone administrative on the days you need to focus on administrative tasks. Sometimes we need outside help to shift our focus back to the tasks that need to be done. Have you ever noticed that once you get on a roll with something in your mind… you can’t stop? That’s what we want to do here. Get your mind going in the direction of the day. 

8. Find the good within the bad

Just like failure, unexpected tragedy can equip us for what has yet to come. Look for the positives in the situation. I’m not saying that you should find a reason to celebrate the matter, but I am recognizing that the tragedy will build your experience, wisdom, character, strength, and perseverance. You were created to be resilient and you will come out on the other side better than when you entered it. 

9. Take short sabbaticals that are focused on your healing

Whether you take one full day off or an entire week, designate time on your calendar to fully unplug from responsibilities. This means, turn on your auto-responder, put your phone in DND mode, get off social media, shut your computer down, and completely step away from anything that could distract you from… YOU. This is designated time for you to focus on what you need. This could even be attending a healing retreat, riding roller coasters at a theme park to scream at the top of your lungs, soaking up sun rays on a beach while you read someone’s memoir, or going to a party with friends so that you can laugh! The business will not collapse while you’re gone. Your people will figure it out without you. The investment in yourself is critical.

SOWBO Small Business Community Supporting One Another Through Unexpected Life Hardships and Business Journey

10. Remain in community & invest in outside perspective

One of our members recently told me, “I am just too overwhelmed with life to show up to our group sessions or even for my business right now.” Had the member attended yesterday’s group session, then she would have been able to listen in on a hot seat coaching session where a fellow member poured out her heart, shared her hardship, and expressed how overwhelmed she’s been.

Our group session was spent going over very easy steps to navigate overwhelming times. We shared advice that I wish the first member would have heard because every business owner goes through hard seasons. The community of members rallied behind the woman in the hot seat and flooded her with encouragement. A group of members even sent her a care package in the mail! 

Another member ended our time by sharing her own very similar story, which brought a lot of practical, outside perspective. An authentic community takes the journey of life together and the support from such is life-giving, especially when navigating unexpected tragedy. Support can also be found in counseling, life coaches, business and leadership coaches, mentorship, church and wellness support groups.

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