When it snows a foot in Denver, school is still in session. But if it snows an inch in Florida, school is canceled. The reason is preparedness. Denver has an army of snow removal trucks ready for action; Florida doesn't. But there's more to it: Because Floridians aren’t used to winter weather, they get flustered when even just a little bit of snow accumulates.
We tend to lose perspective when confronted with the unexpected. Caught unprepared, we amplify the importance of unexpected events, allowing them to consume an exorbitant amount of our emotional energy and resources.
So how can we exercise better judgment with regard to the unanticipated events that we constantly have to confront as small business owners?
Being prepared for the unexpected is part literal and part psychological. On the literal side of things, you can make a best effort with your available resources to prepare for the unexpected. But resources are limited. There's only so much you can do. Just as it would be unwise for Florida to invest heavily in snow removal equipment, you too must focus your energy on the most likely scenario. Contingency plans are important, but they'll never be as fully baked.
On the psychological side, however, there are a few things we can do to better prepare. The first step is limiting the extra amplification that accompanies the unexpected. That is, don’t blow things out of proportion. Recognize that an inch of snow is just that by assuming the perspective of a Denver resident.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone for whom your surprise would have been a normal course of business. For example, I know many small business leaders that become very distracted by legal matters. Just the thought of a contract gone awry or a vengeful past employee is enough to keep them up at night.
When I hear this, I encourage them to consider how many looming lawsuits and open cases a large company manages at any given moment. Large businesses have in-house counsel and entire departments that handle these matters.
Your efforts to psychologically "normalize" the surprises you face will help you make more solid decisions. As any sea captain will tell you, there is no better method for orientation than the sight of land on the horizon. When you find yourself in a state of disarray, search for a benchmark—another leader or company—that manages the same sort of challenges on a regular basis. Doing so will keep you sturdy as you find your solution.
Great leadership is all about managing uncertainty. Challenge yourself to accept surprises for what they are and nothing more.