Crisis Mode: When Things Go Horribly Wrong

The last time I felt it, I thought I was going to jail. My bookkeeper had hidden the fact that the IRS was after me for $60,000.00 in retail sales taxes. By the time he told me about it, the IRS was ready to padlock the doors. And I had to come up with $60,000.00.

Which I didn’t have.

Over time, everything worked itself out, but I hope you’re not reading this while you’re in “crisis mode.” Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about how to handle things when they go horribly wrong.


Close your door. Stomp around for a bit. Talk to somebody. Go to the gym (if you can go without driving). When you are angry or upset, find a safe way to release the tension you feel.

Get a tablet and “vent” by writing down every thought that comes into your head. Don’t judge them. Just write them down. Fears, concerns, angry thoughts, causes, solutions, anything that pops into your mind should go on that paper.

Realize that the fear you feel is just chemicals.

The stress you feel is brain chemicals, that’s all. Unless your circumstance is akin to having your ears fall off or fire-breathing salamanders attacking you in your sleep, the fear serves little purpose. Try to dial back the fear and realize it for what it is: chemicals. Do some slow deep breathing exercises to clear your mind.

Think in the third person.

Sit in a chair with another chair facing you. Pretend that the person in the other chair is you, and you are an impartial third party, a coach. Your job is to ask questions of the other person so you can gain clarity about what brought on the situation. The idea is to separate yourself from the problem as much as you can so you think clearly.

Write down every possible solution you can think of.

Pull out a tablet. You need to turn your intangible challenge into tangible solutions by writing possible solutions on paper. Rattle off as many as you can whether they seem possible right now or not. Write furiously and without judgment, and don’t stop until you run out of ideas. Put a big check mark beside the best ones.

Talk to someone.

If you don’t already have a mentor, get one. Find someone you know and trust — someone who is a bit more seasoned that you. Consolidate your notes from the exercises above so you can communicate your story clearly to that person when you meet. Your mentor will offer his or her own thoughts and perspectives for your benefit.

Make a decision.

Do the best you can, but make a decision and go after it with everything you have. Leaders don’t always have all the information they need to make decisions, but they make them nonetheless. You’ve survived other challenges before; you’ll survive this one, too.

You need to be clear, focused and as relaxed as possible when things go horribly wrong. This is a simple system to help you do just that. When you can approach the challenge in a calm and reasonable manner you’ll make better judgments, progress more quickly, and you’ll win the confidence of those who follow you.

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