Starting a company, for many young entrepreneurs, can feel like a wild adventure. It did and still does for me. The adventure is part of the thrill, but it can sometimes feel very out of control: Lack of client consistency, lack of customer consistency, management issues and more contribute to the struggle.
Control or lack thereof came up for me recently, in a Krav Maga class (a topic I've written about previously for Entrepreneur.com) when my instructor Mike and I were practicing knife fighting skills. He was teaching me how to disarm an attacker wielding a knife: in this case, a big 10-inch long knife. As I went through the drill, I was struggling. One part where I was supposed to put my hand over the hand of the assailant and break their wrist was particularly difficult.
"It's about establishing control," said Mike. "You need to take the knife away. This means you need to take control."
A knife fight feels to me a lot like starting a business. In your daily entrepreneurial experience, people are coming at you with a million different threats but also ideas, suggestions and directions for the future of your business. They often come out of left field and sometimes with more intensity than seems warranted. To be a successful entrepreneur, though, you need to understand how to hear the ideas, how to counterattack the ideas and then how to establish control.
As a female entrepreneur and businessperson, getting and maintaining control is something that I have rarely been taught. Yet, the steps to creating control in any situation can be similar to those steps used in responding to a knife fight. You, too, can learn to take and establish control.
Checkpoint 1: Defend and respond.
When approached in a manner that is threatening or is a clear attack, your first job is to block the immediate threat. In a knife fight, this is physical. I'll put up an arm to slow the blow. In business, it might be stepping into the conflict and addressing the topic head-on. Don't shy away and wait, address the topic as soon as it arises.
At the same time, you must respond with a counterattack. In a knife fight, this means that while I'm putting up my arm to shield myself from the knife, I'm also punching the assailant in the throat in an effort to shock, stun and stop the attack. In business, your counterattack to threat may not need to be so aggressive. It could be as simple as preparing your team to ensure you're ready for the next step legally, from a PR perspective or acquiring the right amount of support staff.
Checkpoint 2:Further diminish the threat.
In a fight, the next step is another strike to the face, followed by knees to the chest and a firm hold on the assailant's knife arm. In business, this means figuring out how to reduce the threat severity or to obliterate it completely. This is something we see often in Hollywood movies or TV shows like Billions, where business people have informants, are potentially committing criminal acts, etc. I don't mean that.
What I do mean is continuing to fight against the threat. Don't stop at your first counter-response. It may not work. Instead, commit to fighting for control of the situation. This means you continue to ask investors for money, you pitch another journalist, you try a new sales tactic. You don't wait to see if the threat is crippling, you reduce the threat consistently and aggressively. So that is does not cripple you.
Checkpoint 3: Disarm and establish control.
In the knife fight, the final checkpoint is about active control. This means I will physically take the knife from an assailant by breaking his wrist and if needed using the knife against him. In business, this means taking back your moment. A threat is only as severe as the degree to which you let it impact your business. You do not have to be a victim to the threat. You can use the threat to allow you to gain control, insights and a valuable new position.
Before the knife fight, I had no knife. Following the knife fight, I now have a knife. That is threat neutralization and tactical advantage in one calculated step.
The idea that my business and the knife fight are in my control has been a powerful accelerant to my understanding of my own authority. This is something that I have seen a number of other female entrepreneurs I work with and around struggle with. It often feels like it's someone else's world and their business is navigating that world. It's not. It's your knife fight and you have control.