Are you ready, come hell or high water?

Shepard Brook is normally a quiet tumble of gently falling water, carrying snowmelt and rain trapped in high aquifers down to the Mad River and on to the Winooski and Lake Champlain. Running gently by our home just thirty feet from the deck, it’s a defining part of the landscape that lured us to this inspiring, happy piece of the world.

During a fluke rainstorm last week, we got three inches of rain in a couple of hours. The mountainous terrain (there’s little that’s flat along the spine of the Green Mountains) has no capacity for short-term storage, and sends what it receives immediately downhill.

In a matter of just a couple of hours, the brook rose eight feet. Throughout the night it howled like a beast declaring dominance. The immense energy that passed through the watershed sneered at the prayer flags that span the brook and symbolize the hopeful tranquility we normally feel there.

When daylight arrived, the water had already dropped three feet, but the flotsam left behind from its crest make it very clear that we’d had a close call. The streamside fallen deadwood was completely gone. The composting leaves of the maple, ash, birch and poplar that predominate on the property had been swept away. The low understory of water willow, green, flexible and deep rooted, was still in place, but they were all plastered flat against the now sandy earth, like dead soldiers pointing downstream.

The brook had not only risen. It had also spilled sideways, into the broad, flat floodplain on the bank away from the house. Seeing how cleanly scoured that broad space was, I was reminded of the value of open space and the power of resilience. That capacity to transform the energy of the torrent from fast, narrow and deep to slower, wide and shallow is what saved the house from what could have been a different fate.

Resilience is the ability to weather the storm. It’s a system’s capacity to handle the deep shit for a brief time until things return to normal. Floodplains help river systems absorb the insult of storms like the one we’d just weathered. 

What’s your floodplain? What is it about you that enables you to take a setback and still stay in the match? Resilience is a key personal requirement for business success. 

The strongest leaders and the most successful business development professionals have developed a mindset that allows them to imagine, see and create possibilities where others cannot. They can shift their consciousness, even during the heat of battle, from “win-lose” to “where’s the possibility for everyone?” After a battle they’ve lost, they are able to describe the result optimistically, able to extract value from what they’ve learned. The have what Dan Pink calls “buoyancy .”[1]

We feel like we’re worth what we earn when we’re on top of our game, things are clicking, and the opportunities we’ve created are closing. But we can’t truly know our worth until the maelstrom hits, the floodgates open, and we find ourselves facing something unwinnable. Here are some ideas to help you weather the storms that lie ahead:

Prepare with Questions

Psyching yourself up for a meeting or sales call can significantly increase your odds of success. But reciting declarations or affirmations (“I can do this! I’m gonna knock it outa the park!” etc.) is way less effective than asking ourselves whether something is possible. “Questioning self-talk” is more effective at preparing us for success because it actually helps us come up with answers. Secondly, it helps us focus on the reasons why what we’re doing matters to us. Doing something because it’s aligned with our values is way more motivating than doing something because of external pressures to produce results. Before your next meeting ask, “Why am I going to win them over?” instead of just saying “I’m going to win them over!” Asking the question will help you remember which of their needs you’re addressing and might also remind you that doing this work is, for example, helping patients recover more quickly, which is something you value. Ask and you shall receive (better results)!

Reflect with Optimism

In a landmark study in the life insurance industry, sales performance was tracked after assessing reps’ “explanatory style.” Those in the optimistic half of the group sold 37% more than those in the pessimistic half!  So, if you want to sell 37% more (!), try to see your loss as something that was due to temporary, specific and external factors.

Especially if you’ve lost a battle, consider how you explain defeat. Ask yourself:

  1. Is this permanent? Was your game off for some temporary reason, or are you just a total loser? Buoyant leaders can see reasons why something – that is fixable – wasn’t just right for this (temporary) situation.
  2. Is this pervasive ? Did things not go your way because of some perceived, unyielding "truth," like “All C-Suite people look down on people without MBAs.”? Or could you have encountered a problem specific to this situation, like “This president is just insecure because their business is down and she is just trying to pump herself up by knocking my credentials.”?
  3. Is this personal? Is there something about you, personally, that caused the problem? Or could it be that some external thing about your offer didn’t align with what your customer or boss truly needed? We’re more buoyant when we can see beyond our personal improvement opportunities and can find the external factors that might have affected the outcome.

As is so often the case, our limitations lie primarily in our own minds. These simple “mind games” give you the power to prepare with confidence and prime your brain for future successes when things temporarily don’t go your way!


[1] Pink, Daniel H. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. New York: Riverhead, 2012. Print.

[2] Buchanan, Gregory McClellan., and Martin E. P. Seligman. Explanatory Style. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum, 1995. Print.