The last two years have been grueling for business leaders. With all the uncertainty and turbulence there’s been, is it any wonder that so many of us want to find shelter for our figurative “ships” until this storm passes? But for some of us, what might seem like a place of comfort and solace might actually be a trap. While it sounds counterintuitive, we might all be safer if we steered back into the churning waters instead of hunkering down.
In preparation for a trip to Antarctica, I learned about the early explorers and ice floes. Did you know that, in the right conditions, ice can turn a secure harbor into a death trap for ships? Ships in Antarctica that allow themselves to be surrounded by ice can quickly find it impossible to ever make it back to the sea. Terrifying, but true.
I believe that, since the upheaval of 2020, too many CEOs have normalized the idea of seeking shelter and letting the ice grow. In the earliest days of the pandemic, it made sense to find the safest possible inlet. To be honest, I advised many of my friends during those days to take advantage of funds, tighten their belts and get creative. But now the ice is getting thicker. Company “ships” that haven’t moved back into clear waters are at risk of getting stuck or going under. The open water might be rough, but at least there will be other ships (and resources) out there with you.
So how should you navigate after leaving your cove? Here are some suggestions to make the most of being out on open water again:
1. Think of these tough times as a Renaissance. Any Renaissance is a time of reinvention. After major global shake-ups (such as the plague of the 14th century and World War II), Renaissances tend to flourish. Right now, we’re poised at the edge of a Renaissance moment, at least to a certain extent.
You’ve no doubt heard about all the disruption happening across many industries. Disruption predates the pandemic, as shown by McKinsey & Company’s 2019 report on disruptions intensifying forces. But, regardless of when it started, it’ll be knocking on your door soon unless you beat it to the punch. The way to do that is to get inspired and generate new business models, products, services or anything that could completely overhaul your field or niche.
I know one woman who owns a marketing agency that only handles travel and tourism clients. After the pandemic, she lost more than 75% of her revenue. She and her team found a safe harbor to catch their breath (temporarily). But they emerged from the harbor with new solutions, such as managing virtual events and pivoting their podcast content to help others. Their work improved their relevance, and now they’re more profitable than ever.
2. Ensure you have the supplies you need. You’re going to have access to a few supplies when you hit the water, from ideas and partnerships to team members with skill sets and perspectives you’ve never tapped into before. Take stock of everything you have and everything you need to own a piece of the Renaissance.
Uncertain times offer you the freedom to stop, look around, and decide to go in a different direction. For example, you might want to buy or merge with a company. PwC figures show that 2021 was a record year for worldwide mergers and acquisitions. Organizations are deliberately branching out into uncharted territory by scaling up quickly through the M&A process.
3. Let yourself feel the fire in your belly again. As a leader, you’re used to living on adrenaline. But maybe it’s been a while since you’ve felt that energy that once fueled you. That happened to me after the Great Recession—I was absolutely depleted. I was running a successful business, but I just didn’t feel the same fire anymore. That was when I did some serious soul-searching that allowed me to tap into my inner entrepreneur again.
Before deciding that you’re ready to disembark for good, sit down in your boat and watch the ice creep slowly onto the decks. Ask yourself some questions. What would you want the next chapter of this adventure to look like? What would stimulate you to feel like you did when you first launched a company or took over as CEO? What are you hungry to learn, know or do?
Burnout is very real. Nearly two-thirds of bosses felt it between 2020 and 2021, per Digiday. Resist letting it stunt your career. Get help if you need it and take time off when you can. But don’t assume that your muse is gone for good. The best might be just over the horizon if you’re willing to get there and meet it.
Will there be challenges when you unmoor your ship? Absolutely. But you’ll be in a better position to handle them, and you’ll be in good company. Even with all the risks associated with putting yourself “out there” after so much uncertainty, you’ll be positioning your company for better things. Now pull up that anchor and see what adventures await.