Sunday, August 13, 2000

Leading a business

Commit yourself to each turn

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

        When I was first learning to ski many years ago, I remember an instructor repeatedly telling me, “Commit yourself to the turn.”

        I've never forgotten those words because I find that in business, as in skiing, whenever you want to go in a new direction, you have to follow the same advice.

        Skiing is all about making turns.

        As a beginner, you make big, wide turns across the entire width of the ski run. You don't really go downhill; you go side-to-side. If you're like me — a little cautious and timid in a new sport — you go fairly slowly as you make these turns.

        As a result, there's a moment in each turn in which you realize you're facing straight downhill. That's when you get scared.

        Now here's the interesting part: If you stay committed — if you don't let your fear get the best of you — your body should move you around, safely completing the turn. If you waver, thinking, “Oh my gosh, I don't want to go straight down,” then you might stop turning and actually end up facing downhill — just what you wanted to avoid.

        Business, too, is all about making turns.

        When you start a company, you have an idea of where you want to go, but you quickly find you have to change your plan — sometimes slightly, sometimes a great deal. As you continue in business, you discover there are times that call for you to make dramatic turns: perhaps new competition enters the market, your profit margins erode, or new technologies create vast differences in how you conduct business. You have to go in a new direction.

        You may be a little timid as you set off on a new course, or you may rush quickly into it. Whatever your confidence level at the beginning, as you get into your turn — as you start to face and deal with the consequences of the choices you've made, realizing this is going to be harder than it looked — that's when you get scared.

        And that's when you have to “commit yourself to the turn.” When you are trying to develop a new direction for your company — a new project, an expansion, new technologies — you have to follow through on your decision with enough support, resources, and especially time, to give it a reasonable chance to succeed.

        If you are working with others, especially employees, it's particularly important that you stay committed.

        Employees take their lead from you, the leader. If you waver in your resolution to your new project, employees will feel uncertain about their future and will hesitate to make the necessary changes and sacrifices to help ensure success. You have to believe. You have to stay the course.

        That doesn't mean you can't examine and readjust the details of the choices you've made. You can and should. But be careful: I've seen so many companies, especially large corporations, that either pull the plug on a project too soon, or more often, only commit halfheartedly to new undertakings.

        Both approaches lead to failure: ending a project too soon means you haven't given it enough time to prove whether or not it could succeed; halfhearted choices lead to cynicism.

        When you don't “commit yourself to the turn,” you're going to end up facing straight downhill.

        When you do commit and you give it your wholehearted determination, and then the project doesn't work, then go ahead and stop turning. Not every direction is the right direction. The issue is, “Did you try? Did you commit?”

        I don't ski anymore. The turns stopped feeling right. Who knows? One day I may start skiing again. It's just not right for me right now. The same thing applies in business — sometimes it's just not the right time to be making a certain turn. It's not failure. It's choice.

        As you make a change in your business life, indeed in any part of your life, follow through with it enough to give it a chance to succeed — give it enough energy and push to create the momentum to carry through the inevitable rough spots.

        Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies. Write her at 555 Bryant St., 180, Palo Alto, CA 94301, or visit her Web site,


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