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4 letters every leader needs now

A simple way to gain clarity and act boldly in uncertain times

Michael Sipe
(Courtesy Michael Sipe)

As we move into the COVID-19 pandemic, everywhere you turn someone is declaring something like: “We’re in uncharted water.” “This is unprecedented.” “We’ve never seen anything like this before.” “The world as we knew it is gone forever.”

Although we may well be moving into the most serious and pervasive challenge of our lives, none of us are strangers to trouble and difficulties. We have all experienced and survived them. Pontificating for long about how unprecedented and confusing our new realities are is counterproductive. At some point, a leader simply has to say, “Yeah, it’s tough. It is what it is. Now what are we going to DO about it?” That’s when the following guide to clarity and decisive action becomes invaluable. It’s a simple four step way to navigate ANY challenge, whether it’s one you’ve never seen before, or one that seems to regularly recur.

The approach we’ll review is one that I’ve found tremendously useful over the last 45 years. I was first introduced to this way of thinking as a student, salesman, and sales manager with Southwestern Company back in the 1970’s. The same methodology showed up again in my Army Ranger training and while serving as a combat arms officer. As an entrepreneur and executive coach to top producing CEOs, the method we’ll summarize here has also proven invaluable for gaining clarity, getting “unstuck” and establishing ways to move with power.

Recently, I was privileged to interview Mr. Dustin Hillis, CEO of the Southwestern Family of Companies, on the podcast I produce called "10 Talent LeaderTalk," at As the CEO of 30 companies, Mr. Hillis know how to get results. He uses the acrostic “RAFT.” So with thanks to Southwestern Company, Mr. Hillis, my Ranger instructors and a few decades of entrepreneurial scar tissue, let’s take a look at how the RAFT methodology can help you gain the clarity, confidence and courage to move forward and transform the current challenges you face into positive outcomes.

1. Recognize There’s an Obstacle or a Problem. Although this opening step might seem like it could go without saying, often we are impeded by our own blind spots. As a leader, I’m sure you’ve had plenty of opportunities to see the blind spots of those you lead. But no one is exempt. You and I also have blind spots, and those cause us not to see our own stumbling blocks.

Here’s an easy way to determine you have a problem: Ask youself, “Am I achieving my goals?” If the answer is no, then an impediment, a problem or a negative event has arisen. In the normal course of events, leaders must constantly guard against blind spots. One great tool to help with this is an advisory board of peers who can provide an objective view of your situation and offer a sounding board. Here in the midst of the current pervasive COVID-19 challenge, however, everyone in the world has recognized that we face a very big problem. Now that we’ve recognized that we have a problem, it’s time to figure out what to do about it in our lives.

2. Acknowledge and Accept the Problem. It’s at this stage that denial often appears. Denial sounds like: “This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening to me! I don’t believe it. Say it isn’t so. I wish we could go back to the good old days.“ You get the idea. However, denying the facts doesn’t make them go away. We can’t crawl under the covers and hope to wake up with the problem magically gone. Wishing things were different doesn’t change the spot we’re in. The quicker we can accept the reality of our situation, the quicker we can work to develop strategies for effective action. The longer we wait, the worse the problem will get. We might as well admit, acknowledge and accept it.

Once we accept the problem, we have a choice: live with it or fix it. You might ask, why would someone just “live with it?” But many people do live, often for years, in a state of resignation and despair as victims of a negative event or a problem. That’s not for you. Instead, let’s address the problem. No more playing defense. Let’s go on the offensive. Here’s how.

3. Focus on What You Can Control. You may recall from Steven R. Covey’s writing that there are three circles in life: the Circle of Control, the Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern. Focusing on the controllable means putting your attention on the things you can control and the things you can influence, and stop fretting about things that while they might concern you are fundamentally out of your control.

So what can you control? There are three main things. First, your mindset and your attitude. You have control over your thoughts and feelings. Much has been written about this throughout the ages. For a couple of classics, check out Earl Nightingale’s book The Strangest Secret, or read the Apostle Paul in the Bible about being transformed by the renewing of your mind. However you get there, you must control your attitude.

Second, you can control your schedule. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. You can control how you invest your time. What if your time was like a bank account? Everyone knows if you squander your money, you go broke. Most people don’t consider that if they squander their time, they’ll live a bankrupt life. Take control over your time.

Third, control your actions. You don’t get the results you want by simply hoping, wishing, praying or declaring. You have to take appropriate action. Ask yourself, “What actions must I take right now that will lead me to the results I desire?” Do those things. Ignore the rest.

4. Transform the Problem into Progress. It’s been said that in every adversity lies the seed of an equal or greater benefit. Your job as a leader is to dig into the adversity and find the seed. In every challenge we have the opportunity to tell a story about what it means. Too often the story people make up is one of doom and gloom. Instead, ask yourself, “What else could this mean? How can this be turned into a positive outcome, perhaps one that’s even better than anything I could even imagine?” It’s an essential function of leadership: to articulate a compelling new story and gather people on your RAFT to go get it. Let’s do that.

Michael Sipe is a serial entrepreneur, mergers and acquisitions advisor, and executive coach to CEOs and business owners, many of whom are in the top 1% of income earners in the country. He is the founder of 10x Catalyst Groups (, which helps entrepreneurs grow profitable and thriving businesses organized on a foundation of Biblical principles. 

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