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How You Move from Survival to Success Mode As A Leader

June 2, 2024

As a small business owner, it’s easy to find yourself in survival mode, reacting to daily challenges and putting out fires as they arise. However, transitioning from survival to success requires a shift in mindset and strategy. This blog provides insights and practical advice to help you make that transition and build a thriving business.

The First Step: Accepting and Leveraging Adversity

Adversity is an inevitable part of life and business. How you handle adversity can define your path to success. Here are some key points to consider:

Embrace Adversity: Recognize that challenges are part of the journey. Everyone handles adversity differently, but understanding and managing it is crucial.

Gain Perspective: Having a sense of context and perspective helps you navigate tough times more effectively.

Growth Opportunities: Adversity often presents opportunities for personal and professional growth. Use these moments to build character and resilience.

Work Smarter: It’s better to work smart than hard. Avoid making situations harder than they need to be.

Grit Matters: The marketplace is often unforgiving and will sometimes test how badly you want something. Put your head down and push through the obstacles, especially when they are hard.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”Randy Pausch

Characteristics of Survival Mode

When you’re in survival mode, your business operates reactively rather than proactively. Here are some common traits:

  • Reactive Leadership: You’re constantly firefighting and managing daily stresses. The urgency of now hinders planning for the future.
  • Missed Opportunities: Resource constraints lead to missed opportunities and cash flow challenges.
  • Risk Aversion: A tendency to say “no” to new ideas and opportunities. Fear of failure or making mistakes becomes a dominant emotion.
  • Disempowered Staff: Good employees may feel stunted and seek other opportunities. Their work becomes a source of frustration for them.
  • Lack of Enjoyment: Having fun at work becomes an afterthought. It starts to feel like a slog. The word “burnout” is regularly mentioned.
  • Excuses Become the Norm: People get very good at rationalizing why things can’t or don’t happen. Missed goals and KPIs become a habit.
  • Competitive Vulnerability: Your competitors begin to sense your weaknesses and start to prey on them. You spend so much time looking inside the organization that you forget to protect your flank.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”Winston Churchill

Moving To A Success Mode

A leader’s mindset, strategies, and actions set the tone for the entire organization. Here’s what a leadership success mode looks like based on the principles outlined in the guide above:

Visionary Thinking and Proactive Leadership

In success mode, leaders are visionaries who think proactively rather than reactively.

  • Set Clear Goals: Establish clear, measurable goals for your business. Communicate these goals effectively with your team, and ensure everyone understands their role in achieving them.
  • Strategic Planning: Develop and implement strategic plans that align with your business goals. Regularly review and adjust these plans based on market trends and business performance.
  • Innovation: Encourage a culture of innovation where new ideas are welcomed and explored. Provide resources and support for your team to experiment and innovate.

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow is our doubts of today.”Franklin D. Roosevelt

Effective Communication and Active Listening

Successful leaders prioritize effective communication and active listening.

  • Transparent Communication: Maintain open lines of communication with your team. Share important information on a regular basis, and be transparent about challenges and successes.
  • Active Listening: Practice active listening to understand your team’s perspectives and concerns. Use their feedback to make informed decisions and improvements.
  • Inspirational Messaging: Use positive and encouraging messages to inspire and motivate your team. Recognize their efforts and celebrate their achievements.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” — James Humes

Empowerment and Team Development

Leaders in success mode empower their teams and focus on their development.

  • Delegate Authority: Trust your team members by delegating responsibilities and giving them the autonomy to make decisions. Empowered employees are more motivated and productive.
  • Continuous Learning: Invest in your team’s professional development. Provide opportunities for training, mentorship, and skill development.
  • Recognize Contributions: Regularly recognize and reward your team’s contributions. Celebrate both individual and team successes to build a positive and inclusive work environment.

“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.” — Stephen Covey

Customer-Centric Focus

A successful leader ensures that the business remains customer-centric.

  • Understand Customer Needs: Stay attuned to your customers’ needs and preferences through regular feedback and market research. Use this information to improve your products and services.
  • Deliver Value: Ensure that your business consistently provides value to customers. Strive to exceed their expectations and build long-term relationships.
  • Proactive Service: Anticipate customer needs and address them proactively. Train your team to provide exceptional customer service at every touchpoint.

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the customer gets out of it.” — Peter Drucker

Financial Acumen and Operational Efficiency

Leaders in success mode manage finances wisely and ensure operational efficiency.

  • Financial Planning: Develop and adhere to a sound financial plan. Monitor cash flow, manage expenses, and allocate resources effectively.
  • Operational Excellence: Streamline operations to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Use technology and automation to optimize workflows and eliminate bottlenecks.
  • Performance Metrics: Regularly track and analyze key performance metrics. Use data-driven insights to make informed decisions and drive continuous improvement.

“Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.”Benjamin Franklin

Resilience and Adaptability

Successful leaders are resilient and adaptable in the face of challenges.

  • Embrace Change: Be open to change and ready to pivot when necessary. Adaptability is key to staying competitive in a dynamic market.
  • Build Resilience: Develop resilience by learning from failures and setbacks. Use these experiences to strengthen your strategies and approaches.
  • Stress Management: Practice and promote stress management techniques within your team. A resilient leader fosters a resilient organization.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”Charles Darwin

Ethical and Decisive Decision-Making

Leaders in success mode make ethical and decisive decisions.

  • Ethical Standards: Uphold high ethical standards in all business dealings. Foster a culture of integrity and accountability within your organization.
  • Decisiveness: Make decisions promptly and confidently. While it’s important to gather information and consider options, avoid analysis paralysis by making timely decisions.
  • Win-Win Solutions: Strive for win-win solutions in negotiations and partnerships. Cultivate positive relationships that benefit all parties involved.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”Theodore Roosevelt


I have always believed that people operate from either a success or failure mindset. You spend a significant portion of your life in your own thoughts. There are many times in life when we can’t control what happens to us. External factors do have a tendency to make themselves known at inopportune moments. And if business leadership was easy, then anyone could do it. The good news is that there are countless examples of other business leaders and people who’ve led in other walks of life who’ve overcome significant challenges and achieved extraordinary things (beyond what is confronting us). Moreover, if you read one of their biographies, there is always a section on how they had to lean into their challenges with grit and determination to accomplish what they did. I don’t see how this is possible without a success mindset. Where is your leadership head at these days?

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”John Wooden