After twenty-six years of consulting on the global scale, I have had the good fortune to work with some incredibly smart business owners. I have learned a great deal from our strategic discussions and recently have been asked to share some of these success stories in various leadership forums around the country.

In order to “sharpen my saw” during these challenging times, I have also connected into several other forums with other business owners and leaders I do not know personally. For some meetings, I have been invited to contribute as a resource for the discussion. During these conversations, I have been listening intently to see how folks are tackling the challenges and advancing their businesses, noting their perspectives, communication strategies, and initial reactions.

In talking with literally hundreds of business owners, I have come to understand, for the most part, that there have been three kinds of responses to the challenges they are currently facing (I was going to say three kinds of leadership responses, but there really is only one leadership response and two others): the Whiners, the Wannabes, and the Winners. The Winners are showing leadership; the others, not so much.

In participating in these panel discussions with business leaders far and wide, I’m amazed at how some folks have lost a great deal of time, wasted a tremendous amount of energy, and have failed to take the leadership reins. In crisis situations, there are no do-overs. I am surprised – and to be frank, saddened – at the number of folks who are “wishing it away.”

Let’s take a look at the three styles I have witnessed. 

Let’s start with the Whiners. These folks are wasting far too much time lamenting “what could have been.” I have heard things like: “We were going to have a record year until this came along,” “My folks aren’t getting it and I don’t know what to do,” “Our clients just aren’t responding to our emails,” “Never in one million years could I have planned on this,” etc. 

While all of these statements may be true, the Whiners are spending far too much time wallowing and falling victim to self-pity rather than accepting the situation and developing a response. I have even heard far worse than the examples above. Those Whiners tended to talk about what they have lost, how they have been inconvenienced, how their futures are impacted, etc.

Then I have heard the Wannabes. These folks know at all. They are experts on every single thing and have every single answer. They have bought into their own bluster and believe their own press clippings. They think if they just go back to “normal” and tell everyone what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, order everyone around, and exert their authoritarian control, life will be just fine.

These folks have taken a “just get over it” mentality and believe they have all of the answers before there’s even been a question. In these group discussions, I firmly believe these individuals only connect in these webinars/forums to hear themselves speak. They do not ask for any advice from the panelists, look for any input from their peers, search for new options, or explore any innovative ideas. What they do is try to monopolize the conversation and hear themselves talk. Wannabes just wanna be the expert on everything.

The third group is the Winners. I am proud to say I would lump most, if not all, of our client owners into this category. These individuals are displaying a great deal of emotional intelligence and are looking to learn new things to do versus believing they have all the answers or wasting time moping and complaining.

Years ago, I attended Case Western Reserve University to learn more about the appreciative inquiry approach. During that time, one of the professors said something I will never forget – I also am guessing our employees at Solutions 21 are tired of hearing it since I repeat it constantly – “the genius is in the question.”

Winners realize the genius is in the question. These folks are not wasting energy lamenting, pretending they have all the answers, blustering, or crying over spilled milk. They have taken the appropriate time to mourn, center themselves, communicate often and effectively, and realize they have employees who have been thrown a once-in-a-century curveball.

In talking with these folks individually, I have realized four similarities across the board:

Winners have reached out for additional input and guidance

Winners are joining forums, attending webinars, and seeking other sources of information outside of any of their “traditional” advisory opportunities. These folks have realized their “traditional” advisory forums are still available, but most likely do not have any of the innovative ideas they may need.

These are the folks who are asking panelists open-ended strategic questions. They want to listen – not talk. They are leading with questions – not answers. They realize there is an answer out there somewhere, if they can ask the right questions for their own individual situations.

I have also found these folks want to be asked tough questions. They are not afraid to be challenged and look at things differently, open their eyes to previous flaws, admit weaknesses, and address challenges head-on. They seem to grow frustrated very quickly with a lack of courageous conversation.

Winners recognize they have lost ground

Even if their business was deemed essential and things went on nearly normally, Winners realize there are other businesses out there who are hurting. These folks realize there will be some unseen ripple effects and they want to challenge themselves to be proactive problem solvers versus waiting for the problem to hit their doorstep.

If they were not essential and took a major hit, they are wasting no time crying over spilled milk and are actively looking to reframe their vision, re-center themselves and their employees, deploy their leadership across new strategies and tactics, and find the opportunity in the problem.

I am not saying these people have not been affected personally, professionally, and emotionally. I am saying they are showing high emotional intelligence and managing their response. They are leading with questions, they are seeking resources to ask them tough questions, and are guiding their other leaders to step up and seize the opportunity.

Winners realize they will get results through others

Winners are leveraging their emotional intelligence, compassionately responding to their employees’ uncertainties, fears, and challenges, while simultaneously moving the team forward. They are not wasting time only being a compassionate force but are driving their understanding of human nature in parallel with their need for regaining lost ground. 

Leaders leveraging their emotional intelligence is not an either/or equation; it is an and equation. One does not have to be understanding and compassionate or direct and result oriented. These Winners are doing both. They are understanding the uncertainty of a returning workforce while also reframing what success looks like and how the strategy should be implemented to make up lost ground.

Winners understand crisis does not create weaknesses – it uncovers them

Winners have the courage to address their own and their organizations’ weaknesses. In good times, certain weaknesses can be compensated for by various successes. During a crisis, weaknesses can be exposed for all to see.

Winners are not wasting a moment’s time being defensive about what the crisis has exposed. They are showing managerial courage to act in the best interest of the entire organization and not rationalizing away vulnerabilities that could put the business and other employees at risk. Business processes, technology, customer service cultures, business development practices, people issues, and subpar supervision are just a few of the vulnerabilities that have been exposed. Winners are not wishing for a fix – they are fixing it.

In a crisis, there is no time to lose. There are no do-overs. As business leaders, we are faced with a once-in-a-century challenge. Take a few moments to mourn what has been lost, but quickly center yourself. 

Do not whine. Do not pretend that you have all of the answers. Don’t be a Wannabe. No one has all of the answers. If you do, my guess is your name will be on the next Nobel prize.

Focus on the habits of Winners. Be compassionate and strategic. Ask tough questions and find people to ask you tough questions. Do not be defensive about any weaknesses the crisis has uncovered. Reframe your vision and strategy and rally the troops to gain lost ground.

I once heard a quote by Roger Crawford that rings true for winners at the moment: “Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.”