Crisis Separates Leaders

My dad has a friend who spent many years as a veterinarian. Part of his job was neutering household pets and he used to tell a funny story about one of his nurses:

After my nurse had been with me a while he’d seen me neuter hundreds of animals. One day after we neutered a dog he said, “Doc, I’ve seen you do that procedure enough times that I believe I could do it myself.” I replied and said, “You probably could. But what would you do if something went wrong?” He stared at me for a few moments and said that he didn’t know. I reminded him, “And that’s why I’m the doctor.”

That’s a funny anecdote, but there’s a lot of truth in the moral of the story: anyone talented can perform well when conditions are perfect; it’s hardship that shows you what you’re made of.

Over the last year I’ve learned by experience that crisis is a crucible for those who would be leaders. Problems can arise from any part of your business unexpectedly (even if you’ve crossed every “t” and dotted every “i”).

For example, it’s not too hard to dig down and find ways to inspire people, but when turnover becomes a problem on your team, how do you maintain trust and cohesion? What if your business received a cease and desist order? What if a competitor sets up next door?

The best leaders I’ve seen—the ones I want to follow—have a unique ability to stay calm during a crisis and work diligently and creatively on quick solutions. In short, they’re not afraid of facing hard problems head-on. (Or, in Merlin Mann’s words, they have a stomach for running “straight into shitstorms.1“)

1. You can check out Merlin Mann’s article about choosing to face hard problems on

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Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.

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