Last night I spoke for an audience of about 100, most of whom were unemployed, underemployed, looking to change jobs or move up in their organizations. Some were college students and some were laid off leaders. Everyone from professionals to production workers were represented. The majority didn’t remember what things were like in the mid-eighties, exactly when I made the choice to go into business for myself because there were no teaching jobs available at the time that interested me.

The early to mid-eighties were tough economic times in the State of Michigan. Every night local newspaper headlines reflected the depressed economy: Jobless Line in Michigan 480 Miles Long. Small business enterprises were dropping like flies, going-out-of-business signs were popping up everywhere, people were being laid off, and the overall business climate was gloomy – not unlike today.

An old Appalachian adage reminds us: Rough weather makes good timber. It’s true, but only if we know how to consciously contribute to the process that moves us off the pathway to peril and onto the roadway to renewal. Looking back, I have to admit that life was a bit like a roller coaster in those early days. Some days I’d feel on top of the world and other days things looked bleak.

Whether you are an unemployed leader, an employed leader fearful of what may be ahead for you, or a leader struggling with a shortage of resources as a result of a downturned economy…

…use the following to coach yourself.

#1 Look at what threatens you squarely in the eye – then call a spade a spade. Give the devil his due. Write down exactly what frightens you.

In those early days my enthusiasm for building my business could be squelched in a heartbeat whenever I allowed an empty calendar to occupy my thoughts. I knew I needed to mobilize myself if I were to ever to make progress in gaining customers. So, the first step was to identify exactly what it was that frightened me. I sat down and put pen to paper. What was I afraid of? What was causing me alarm? What was I afraid of losing? I needed to be truthful with myself. The act of putting my fears on paper allowed me to gather some understanding and objectivity, making it easier to see the kernel of truth in my fears, thereby giving me an opportunity to do something about what frightened me. This led to the second step.

#2 Identify opportunities for growth.  For me it was learning to make sales calls, experiencing the rewards of networking, gaining courage to step into the unknown, developing a deeper spiritual core, learning to put my faith to work, developing greater confidence, becoming a better speaker … the list went on. Once I could see the opportunities, I got excited by the possibilities. How about you? What opportunities do you find in your fear? How can you benefit from the prospects your kernels of truth make possible?

#3 Focus on potential action steps. Brainstorm all possibilities. This was exciting for me because mentally it put me into motion. Although I didn’t end up doing everything on the list (because not everything would have been appropriate at the time), I did do some of the things I listed. I set goals for myself and action steps that would lead to the accomplishment of those goals. And little by little, I began to move forward, all the while gaining in ways I could scarcely have dreamed possible.

This is a fun step because it allows you to generate an unbelievable list of things you can do. Knowing you have options gives you a sense of freedom and confidence that comes with being from under the control of fear. It helps you see yourself in the driver’s seat instead of a passenger in a car driving down a road you don’t want to travel.

In a netshell: Clarify your fears, focus on opportunities, take inventory and identify action steps. These are all keys to recovering from a major shift in balance created in turbulent times. But it’s only the beginning. So — stay tuned.

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