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Guest: Dr. Carol Clinton, the founder, CEO, and medical director of Timeless Skin Solutions, a leading dermatology and skin care practice in Ohio. Carol is also a member of EO and a client of CEO Coaching International.
Episode in a Tweet: Use these tips on navigating a personal crisis to stay on course for BIG growth.
Quick Background: It’s very easy for CEOs and entrepreneurs to get so wrapped up in our businesses that we feel like we ARE our businesses. Then a personal crisis snaps everything back into focus.
For me, it was when my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
For Carol Clinton, it was opening a dream skin care business with her husband – at the cost of their entire life savings – only to find herself in an operating room one week later having surgery for ovarian cancer.
On today’s show, Carol discusses how her experience affected her perspective on business and life and offers advice for how CEOs can keep a personal crisis from derailing their companies.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
Key Insights on Weathering a Personal Crisis
1. Ditch the “woe is me.”
If you’re the type of CEO who slips into “woe-is-me” mode every time your business hits a bump in the road, a serious personal crisis is going to be a major challenge. You’re going to have to develop a new mindset – a proactive, can-do attitude that’s going to be better for your life and your business in the long run.
“I think having knowledge is really power,” Carol says. “So even though I knew what my outcome might be, I also knew how to get to the best person to get the best outcome that was possible. Being able to do that allowed my brain to flip the switch, like, ‘I’m going to get the best treatment that I can. And then I’m going to keep doing in my life the things I’m able to do.’ Business and family were the two things that I knew I wanted to keep going at the best level I would be able to.”
2. Confront the brutal facts.
Maybe even worse than self-pity is the CEO who refuses to confront major problems. Jim Collins believes that ignoring the “brutal facts” can be a major company-wide demotivator. Your employees know when something is wrong. If they don’t feel like you’re addressing the problem head-on, their confidence in you as a leader, and their performance, will suffer.
Carol was very open with her employees about her cancer scare. “I wore a wig for about six hours once my hair fell out,” she remembers. “I just couldn’t stand having to think about something on my head. I think opening myself up to that vulnerability in the early part of my business really allowed my patients and my staff to engage with me. They were no longer afraid to mention if I was sick because you could see it.”
3. Be realistic.
The start-up entrepreneur who wants to develop into a CEO will struggle throughout the life of the business to let go of tasks he or she is used to doing personally. Navigating her own personal crisis was particularly difficult for Carol because the business was so new, and still so dependent on her. In order to juggle those demands with her treatment schedule and family time, Carol had to be realistic about her own physical capabilities and adjust to the ups and downs of chemotherapy.
“I worked as much as I could,” Carol says. “Some days it was three hours, and some days it was five hours. I just started that day at 9 a.m. and went as long as I could. I know three hours or five hours doesn’t sound much to entrepreneurs and CEOs out there, but sometimes I would have to sit in a chair for an hour before I could even get in my car and drive three miles home. But I love what I do, and I didn’t want to see it fail because I was at a limited point. So I just went ahead and put the energy that I could behind it.”
As she recovered and continued to grow the business, Carol also learned to be more realistic about her own strengths and talents.
“I kept hold of way too many roles that I was not an expert in for way too long,” she says. “I sat down and did a grid on what I was not just good at, but what I enjoyed. What I was good at, and maybe I didn’t enjoy. What I wasn’t good at, but I enjoyed. And what I wasn’t good at, and I didn’t enjoy. As I started to graph those things out, it became clear to me that the role I wanted to gravitate towards was the CEO role. As soon as I was able to get an expert in finance to take that over, it freed up my time to be a better practitioner and CEO. As soon as I taught other people how to be excellent practitioners, now I can be a better CEO. I’m not trying to focus in too many places at one time.”
4. Build a team that shares your purpose.
“Once you have chemotherapy, you have about a 48-hour window, and then you fall off a cliff,” Carol says. “In fact, my family would say, ‘It’s happening to you now. You need to go lay down in bed.’ With an hour, I wouldn’t feel well for about five days.”
Luckily, Carol already had a team of professionals in place who could keep her business operating while she was out of commission, and a clear sense of purpose that carried the whole company through her personal crisis.
“We’re a medical model so our core values are ‘Consider others, respond to a need, bring a solution, and assume good intent,’” Carol says. “If you know your purpose and why you’re doing this, and bring that purpose to work every day, you’re going to inspire the people who are around you. Then you’ll want to surround yourself with people who can make your purpose come to life. You’ll be looking for the best and the brightest out there and people you like to spend your day with to be your employees to help you grow. And they’ll be engaged in your purpose.”
5. Your well-being comes first.
“I take two days every year by myself just planning out the year and planning out my days first,” Carol says. “What is my day going to look like in this upcoming year? What is my free time going to look like in this upcoming year? What is the business getting from me? Because if I don’t put myself first, no way am I going be the best CEO and leader that I can be.”
Does that sound indulgent? Selfish?
“It’s very selfish if you don’t do that,” advises Carol, “because you need to be the best leader for the people who are spending their time and energy during their working day with you. And you need to have that same sort of energy for your family. If you’re not taking care of yourself, believe me, you could be laying in a bed and only have three hours of energy to give to anybody. Your health and your mental focus are the most powerful things that you have to give to this world. So please take care of yourself.”
1. Don’t lie to yourself or your team. Employees are much more likely to stick by you during a personal crisis or a business crisis if they believe you’re taking the problem seriously.
2. You can’t do everything. High-performing CEOs focus on vision, people, cash, key relationships, and learning. Your team handles the rest.
3. Follow your values to the right hires. A sterling resume is nice. Culture fit is non-negotiable.