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Running Toward The Smoke

I, like many, was horrified by the senseless violence at the Boston marathon last week. I knew seven people running it – they all returned home without any physical injuries and told amazing stories of generosity and kindness from strangers.  I’ve been at the finish line twice as a spectator; both times I was there cheering on my brother. Had he been running it this year, I would have been there again.

As I watched and re-watched the explosion, I was struck by how quickly everyone went in to ‘help’ mode – it was as though everyone at the finish line had been trained and was following a plan. Even as the second bomb went off, more people came to the aid of the injured.

In the hours after the event these individuals’ reaction to run toward the smoke made me think not only of their bravery and the immense pain the victims and their families were going through, but also how, as a business owner, I could learn something from it all. It’s true! So here goes. (My husband says my constant translation of non-work experiences to business analogies stems from being most-strongly defined by my career. As usual I have a different opinion, thinking that I experience all of my interests very passionately – be they work, family or extracurricular activities – and that they are all intertwined. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

The business analogy that jumped out at me was how important it is to have an environment where people simply know in their guts not to run from the negative. Planning in times of low stress is key. When we take time to work a scenario in a relaxed, upbeat way we increase the odds that we can implement when the stress level is high. I used to record myself making sales calls and practice ‘dealing’ with my negative reactions to rejections. After a while (and I know this sounds sick) I actually became energized when I received a rejection. I worked hard to help the person, who was not at all interested in my products and services, to feel good about the call and then I would too.

As our company sets goals and makes plans we will also walk through negative scenarios, encouraging people to come up with outrageous ones so that we benefit from walking through the low odds/high impact cases. I am going to ask for examples of dealing with an uncomfortable situation head-on and will share those stories at company meetings so that they become a part of our culture. When confronted with a negative situation at work, I go toward it and work to encourage others to do the same. In my experience, running, hiding or ignoring tough conversations, issues and failures does nothing to improve them and actually results in them becoming larger and harder to deal with.

 I am grateful not to be reporting my personal experience at the 2013 Boston Marathon – I don’t know if I would have run away or toward the smoke. Thank you, heroes of Boston.


– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO

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