One day a few weeks ago, Amanda Gorecki, CEO of Pure MD and Healing Waters, walked into her office and found a monster there waiting for her. An employee had started posting on social media in a way that could put her entire company brand at risk. Scary, right? Every CEO on planet earth knows exactly what this feels like—having to confront a big, vicious, slavering problem that could devour everything you’ve worked for.
What do you do? Well, here’s what Amanda says, “We’ve really looked at how can we embrace this [issue] and approach it from a positive standpoint—where it can help translate to sales for us and not be afraid of it.”
This response to a really scary issue, where the CEO runs towards the challenge and “embraces” it, is a theme we’ve seen often on CEO Exclusive. Hugging the monster, a phrase first coined by David Smith in his 1996 book Hug the Monster: How to Embrace Your Fears and Live Your Dreams means moving through your fears and obstacles, then turning them to your advantage. This is huge for business leaders. In fact, it’s such a critical skill that we discuss it this week with Amanda and her Finance Manager, Scout Olton.
Channel Energy without Stifling It
When confronted with a difficult situation, the natural human response is fight or flight, as dictated by the amygdala or reptilian brain. These responses are often sub-optimal, or worse, counterproductive. CEOs have to learn to control this default reaction in order to lead their organizations to the best outcome. Daniel Goleman, who wrote the seminal book Emotional Intelligence, puts forward five types of emotional intelligence, including self-regulation.
Self-regulation, from an emotional perspective, is defined by Psychology Today as the ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset and cheer yourself up when you’re down. And, most importantly, it allows CEOs to exercise the restraint necessary to interrupt the amygdala’s response to stress or shock. It allows leaders to take a deep breath and pause. In this space, magic happens where a leader can see the opportunity instead of threat and generate the courage needed to move towards fear.
In Pure MD’s case, the magic pause allowed them to channel their employees’ energy rather than stifling it. Upon reflection, Amanda saw that her “rogue” marketer was also an influencer who represented, “300 people we weren’t capturing. So, [we said] how can we embrace this with these individuals and still market our brand. It’s less work on us, as long as we can navigate and do it correctly.” Thus, she turned this situation to her company’s advantage.
Laugh Even When it Hurts
Running a business is stressful—yes, I know that’s the understatement of the year. According to a survey of business owners sited in The Guardian, “Almost half of the 2,000 individuals surveyed cancel social plans at least once a week, a quarter take less than 10 days’ annual leave and 25% have fallen ill due to stress and overwork.” The stress of this job is so severe that it often makes people sick.
Amanda’s recommendation: Laughter. She says, “People want to have fun, they want to laugh. Laughing feels good– Because you’re going to have the difficult days. It makes the difficult days light and not as hard.”
Even the very august Harvard Business Review says that we need to laugh more at work. In Leading with Humor by Alison Beard, she writes, “Every chuckle or guffaw brings with it a host of business benefits. Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.” So, when things get tough, try some graveyard humor. It works.
One of the easiest ways to allow laughter to bubble up in your office is to let people be themselves. When your people experience the freedom to be, emotional safety and non-judgement—good vibes will naturally follow. Let people be a little quirky within the bounds of your culture. If you force people to conform, you might make them feel as though they are wearing tight shoes. Not an environment that encourages levity.
At Pure MD, they have a “pets allowed” policy which often means that their daily UPS delivery may be interrupted by having to fetch a Yorkie from underneath the truck. Is this productive? Probably not. Does this allow for a funny, social moment in the midst of an otherwise potentially grueling and difficult workday? Heck, yeah!
Because most adults spend at least two-thirds of their waking hours at work, we crave memorable experiences with our colleagues. And, all too often, most workplaces don’t recognize this need, and certainly, don’t deliver.
In order to be memorable, a company has to allow for unstructured time and variation from what’s average. There is no “good” or “bad”’; there’s just what works for you and your team. In research on top company cultures, Entrepreneur magazine found that these companies consistently followed this tenet, “Do what is authentic to your company. We don’t pay a lot of attention to what other businesses do, because we have to do what is authentic to us. We don’t believe there is any right or wrong culture as long as you’re being authentic.”
There’s no business that is without its share of difficult surprises–an internet security breach with painful consequences, an employee starts posting on social media putting your brand at risk, a key employee dies. You fill in the blank.
Amanda asks, “You’re going to have curve balls that come in your direction. How can you go ‘Here was the crazy that happened today and embrace it, laugh about it, instead of it becoming this huge monster?’” So, yes, how can you “hug the monster”, whatever that might be for you today? How one answers this question is a learning process that defines leadership. Leaders grow and get better over time.