Surviving the Holidays – Advice to the Small Business Manager

The best-kept secret of our times is that the Christmas holidays are filled with extreme stress. There is a veneer of good cheer, anticipation and good will towards all. The children are told this is the happiest time of the year and of course in some ways it truly is a happy time. Of late the veneer is wearing perilously thin.In addition to some of the largest and most destructive winter storms on record (this seems to happen every winter anyway) the economy hangs in the balance, people hate Congress, the presidential candidates are squeezing out Santa because of the early primaries and crazed gunmen seem to be bent on killing worshipers who come out of church. The nation is bickering over war, health care and national policies while a very large number of families slide deeper and deeper into poverty and the whole world threatens to go up in flames.As the novelist put it long ago, these are the best of times and the worst of times. It has been thus at Christmas time for many years, or so it seems.Behind the merry happy scenes are worries, many of which run to economics. Families find Christmas financially dangerous. Spending goes up and work hours often go down. Businesses struggle with broken schedules, uncertain deliveries and unpredictable shopping patterns. Retailers watch a huge percentage of their annual sales hanging in the balance during November and December. Managers brace for the worst when it comes to employee dependability, overtime issues, ice days, competition and consumer attitudes.Here is advice to the small business manager, whether you are running a business at home, managing a family business, running somebody else’s business or managing some part of a much larger business.First: resist any temptation to think about the world situation, the national situation or problems going on in other states. Insulate yourself from politics and from stories about national tragedies. The golden rule for surviving stressful situations is only worry about those problems you can solve!Second: compartmentalize your mind to mesh with your schedule. When you are not working do not think about work. When you must close down early close down your mind, too. If family and social obligations interfere with business go and be an enthused family member and socially involved participant. Fretting and stewing about all those lost business hours won’t change anything except to make you grouchy and irritable.Third: detach. Your business responsibilities, no matter how great, are not the most important thing on earth and you are not God. Getting stressed will simply make you even less efficient than the situations you can’t control are already making you.Fourth: give some leadership. Managers at every level can and should lead. Talk to your employees and all other associates openly about the problems you are having and listen to their replies. Leadership starts with listening and with being honest. Give your employees, colleagues, customers, clients, vendors and family members the chance to explain themselves and to hear your concerns. Search for the best solutions together: leaders work with those they lead. Pretend that the holiday season is like a flood: the best chance of surviving is to work together.Fifth: if you must travel this season, make sure to rest, concentrate and enjoy the trip as much as possible. Do not use alcohol to relax. Traveling away from home when you know you should be at work is a very dangerous frame of mind. It’s your mind, only you can change that frame of mind. So change it: cancel the trip or get on board with the trip and put the business responsibilities out of mind until you are back and can do something about them.Sixth: figure out a way to get some exercise every day and to vent out your pent-up frustration. Otherwise you’ll be tempted to take it out on loved ones or to fly into a tantrum at some driver who shouldn’t be on the road.Finally: Christmas comes only once each year. We can all say a prayer of thanks for that! But because it comes only once there is only one chance to do it well and the chance is right now. There is no going back to do Christmas over. For everything there is a time, whether we want it to be so or not. This is the time for Christmas, no matter how tough that might be for business. (Of course it’s not tough for business if you are in the Christmas tree business. Your time for patience comes next!).Look at the bargains that lie before you, Mr. or Ms. Business Leader. Listening is free. Patience does not cost anything. Kindness brings back a hundredfold return in gratitude. Giving and sharing are priceless. Love is a treasure, no down payment required. Say what you will, if there were no Christmas we would invent it! In the end, no matter how large the headaches and how much the hassle, the holidays when done properly are good business and good for business!Take a page from Santa. He’s making his list and checking it twice. As the manager-leader make your holiday plan and be sure to check it twice!