Talking Yourself Down Off the Ledge

Big Red Car here.  Going to be a bit cloudy and gloomy in the ATX today.  Hmmm, it is getting close to Memorial Day, the day of historic Austin, Texas flooding.

You are way too young, Grasshopper, to remember the 1981 Memorial Day floods when Shoal Creek was filled to overflowing with wrecked cars.  Oh, that was a day.

The Ledge

So, in that spirit, The Boss fielded a call from one of his young CEO buddies.  Brilliant guy, truly brilliant.  World beater startup and living the life.

Well, until a bit of rain began to fall into his life and he managed to get himself out on the ledge.  Oh, you know what I am talking about, Old Sport.  THE LEDGE.

The place where your otherwise calm reason abandons you and you begin to contemplate stuff — that, frankly Old Sport, is NOT really going to happen — that is troubling and alarming.

The Boss gets these kind of calls pretty frequently.  It is part of being an entrepreneur and it is normal.  It is freakin’ normal, sayeth the Big Red Car.

So, once out on THE LEDGE how does one get back?  Get off the freakin’ ledge.

Getting a bit of perspective

CEO:  “Boss, the whole world is turning to shit.  My whole world is turning to shit.”

Boss:  “Sorry to interrupt, Old Sport, but before we starting dealing with all things scatological, is anybody dead?

CEO:  “Well, no, nobody’s dead.”

Boss:  “Anybody injured?  Hurt?  Get a diagnosis of terminal cancer?  Any big illnesses with just letters or funny names?”

CEO:  “Well no.  Everybody’s doing fine.”

Boss:  “Wife got you sleeping on the couch?”

CEO:  “No, never been better.  Just celebrated our fifth anniversary in Huatulco.  That little place you told me about.  Wonderful time.”

Boss:  “Parental units doing OK?  Dad?  Mom?  How about that brother of yours —  he OK?”

CEO:  “Hey, Boss, I get where you are going with all of this but believe me, my whole world is turning to shit and you have to help me.”

Boss:  “OK, tell me about it and I will help you help yourself.  Cause it does not sound to me that your entire life is turning to shit, Old Sport.”

Define the problem

Boss:  “So, what the Hell is the problem, brilliant young entrepreneur and CEO?  What has got you out on THE LEDGE?”

CEO:  “We failed to hit our numbers and I had a troubling conversation with a Boardmember.  Remember the guy who went to [Big Red Car says: insert your favorite big MBA business school that deserves a bit of thumping, your choice, enjoy].  He reamed me out pretty damn good.  It was a very bad conversation.”

Boss:  “Did you, in fact, fail to hit your numbers?”

CEO:  “Yes, big time.  But there are a lot of reasons for it.  I could go on forever.”

Boss:  “When did you know you were going to miss and to whom did you communicate it?”

And so the story goes.

The Checklist

You can see where this conversation is headed.  It is not difficult to divine, is it?

So here’s the bottom line — every CEO is going to have to deal with disappointment.  The first casualty in contact with the marketplace is the plan.  Plans are guesses and not very many guesses are good.  That is normal.

When you see a problem developing — confess, communicate, correct.  It is really just that simple.  Do not allow lizards to become dragons.

Develop a bit of an internal checklist — you know that the Big Red Car adores The Checklist Manifesto.  Please read it.  Please adopt it.  Please use it.  It will make YOUR life easier and it will improve the results.

DO NOT MAKE A BIG RED CAR BEG.  It is unbecoming for a Muscle Car to beg.  Believe me, I know.  I’m a Big Red Car.

Develop the skill to talk yourself down off THE LEDGE and get back to work

Bit of drama today, Big Red Car?  Yes, indeed.  Hate it really.  So energy consuming and time consuming and, well, you get it.

Make a checklist and learn how to talk yourself down off THE LEDGE by cataloging the environment in which you are operating.  Any bodies littering the hallway?  No, OK, acknowledge and move on to the next data point.

Confess, communicate, correct.

Pro tip:  Get a damn good night’s sleep and don’t let fatigue multiply the size of the problem.  Charge those batteries, Old Sport.  Trust me, a Big Red Car knows the wisdom of having a fully charged battery before embarking on a long trip.

You are smart, hardworking and will never get those [insert MBA school of your choice] jerks to behave.  It is what they do and even that’s OK.   When you get to the pay window, even those jerks will love you.

Focus, Grasshopper.  You can do it and wandering out on THE LEDGE from time to time is perfectly normal.

But, hey, what the Hell do I know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.

If you get stuck, call The Boss and he will talk you down off THE LEDGE — he’s spent a lot of time out there himself in 33+years of CEO-ing.  Plus, he was a paratrooper and he knows how to jump, if jump you must.  Haha, Big Red Car, you crack yourself up.







5 thoughts on “Talking Yourself Down Off the Ledge

  1. BRC,

    The Ledge struck a chord. Not at you, just the topic in general. I happen to be one of those ‘favorite big name MBA types’ (at least I think). In my opinion there are generally 2 categories of these people who populate the company Board meetings. Type #1 MBA is someone who knows what it is like to sit on the management side and doesn’t mind wandering around the company and talking and listening to all the real people. Type # 2 (probably the Type your Ledge friend has to deal with) is generally very smart, but clueless about operations, people, culture, etc. I hope I am in Type 1. Even being a Type 1, I have sometimes been lumped into #2. Consider the conversation I once had with a self made founder of a struggling, PE backed mfg business located in the South…he told me that he had no intention of ‘listening to a f**#k^^g, Ivy League MBA from New England’ (heavy emphasis southern accent on Ivy League and NE). Well now, what to do here!. I asked this gentleman if I was supposed to jump on the next plane north or were we going to settle in and fix the company he and his team had totally messed up? We fixed the place. Here is how: With respect to owners like this guy and maybe your Ledge person, I say ‘be careful what you wish for’. You want the $$ from the PE and VC folks, be prepared for the full range of consequences, i.e. do your homework and understand what that firm is like to deal with. I could go on about many other examples, but better over a skype call again. And your point about communication…could not agree more. Over communicate with these investor folks – I learned the hard way that ‘surprise’ is not something that goes over well.

    • .
      Jim, great comment and the voice of wisdom and experience — Boston accent or otherwise. Hey, everyone loves folks from Boston. I think.

      Boards have an awesome responsibility. They are the fiduciaries of all shareholders. When one explores the duties of a Board, it is difficult to see how anyone with even a modicum of wisdom or judgement would ever agree to sit on a Board.

      A Board’s responsibilities are never really examined until something goes wrong — as it will almost always eventually. When the sun is shining, the Board could be in Aruba and nobody would ever really know whether they are doing their jobs.

      A seasoned executive knows that the instant he takes OPM, he has set the watch to ticking until he will eventually be replaced or exit under his own power. Rarely, rarely does taking OPM result in a peaceful and long term relationship without substantial and meaningful change.

      Why should it? The new money is intended to fuel change by its very nature.

      Executives, even when owners, need to know that they have lit the fuse when the check clears. There is no reasoning or equivocating with money.

      I always say — “never get mad at the money, it will change its mind.”

      Like any organized team sport, business requires a clear game plan and a damn good score card to track progress. When the plan is not working, the plan has to be changed.


      • I’m now on 3 mfg company Boards (have been on 10 Boards total – some PE/VC portfolio companies). They all are/have been different but as you said, we directors “are the fiduciaries of all shareholders”. I went to a 2 day conference in DC last week called “Private Company Governance Summit 2013” organized by the 2 magazines Family Business and Directors & Boards. Great conference – good talks by both PE types and well known family company execs.

        Your comment “”never get mad at the money, it will change its mind.”

        Good one – I think I’ll steal it and use it.

  2. BRC, the Boss will be able to relate to this. Early on in my flying lessons I finally got up enough nerve to ask my instructor why we didn’t have parachutes on the plane….in the event we ever wanted to bail. His answer was simple: “You fly your plane.” All that that answer encompassed is a lesson I’ve applied to many situations.

    • .
      When in trouble — always remember first to continue flying the airplane.

      Aviate, navigate, communicate, confess the problem.


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