Stop. Reframe. Lead.

In my last post, I wrote about failure and how to turn it into an experience that propels you forward rather than paralyzes you. Part of that was about reframing — the ability to change how you view a situation and thus, expand your options.

Many of you may know the book The Happiness Project, a great read about a woman who spends one year testing out the tenets of happiness research on her own life. One of the author’s epiphanies is that her ability to frame a difficult situation differently — and from a position of gratitude, abundance, or positivity — greatly impacts her daily happiness and ability to cope.

So nothing terribly new here perhaps, though extremely valuable. We’ve been told to look on the bright side our whole lives. For some of us, this is easy. For others, we don’t regularly hang out there. For leaders though, there’s a compelling reason to take this reframing business very seriously. The best ones make it a regular habit.

Leaders set the tone for their organizations. The ability to confront trouble with a positive path forward is crucial in sustaining momentum. If you wallow in difficulties, and spend your energy on what the company is lacking/did wrong/will never have again, the rest of the organization will follow your lead. A self-fulfilling prophecy is made.

Conversely, if you believe that we learn from our problems and become stronger companies in the face of adversity, then the company will optimistically tackle challenges. (And feel good about elevating small hiccups before they become large issues.)

Reframing is also about viewing any issue as if through a prism, in order to see it as multifaceted. There are lots of reframes after all. The ability to question assumptions, especially your own, provides better answers. Susan Scott of Fierce Conversations talks about the “courage to interrogate reality” as part of having meaningful exchanges with others. We often have a lot of our psychic energy invested in how we view a problem, but our view is inherently limited by our own perspective. Understanding the other realities of a situation can offer dramatic insights if we have the wherewithal to go there.

Consider these examples of how companies have reframed a perceived problem and found a positive, innovative solution.

Netflix: With the rise of Internet video, Netflix could have easily seen its entire business erode and decided to hunker down and fight the tide. (Blockbuster, anyone?)  Instead, it embraced digital video content, rather than competing with it. Now subscribers can download movies for free in addition to the regular mail service, as well as view Netflix through DVRs and in-home devices. I, along with millions of other Netflix customers, love them even more for this.

Custom Ink: Online customer reviews have tremendous sway in the marketplace, and can break an upstart company. Many companies spend big budgets to manage what is said about them. Custom Ink, an online custom T-shirt company, decided to allow any customer to post any comment directly to their home page completely unfiltered. They believed their excellent customer service would produce much more good than bad reactions. They were right. The reviews are a major differentiator — and source of new customers.

Politico: The print first, Web second model of news reporting has resulted in widespread bankruptcies from venerable newspapers. Three years ago Politico launched with a different approach: Web first, print second. has quickly become a top site for political news. That credibility led it to publish a  profitable print newspaper (you read that right) which goes to the most influential desks in Washington.

Ford: When all the U.S. automakers were taking bailout money, Ford passed. It seemed to be a hugely risky endeavor, but Ford saw an opportunity. While its competitors were distracted with government restructuring, Ford worked on innovation and a show of stability. In 2010, BusinessWeek named it one of the most innovative companies of the year.

Whether you are trying to find the positive in a personal situation, or keeping an entire organization thriving in the face of adversity, you will benefit from habitual reframing. If you’re having trouble getting started, here are a few questions to ask yourself when faced with your next problem:

1) How would [trusted friend, colleague, mentor, competitor, admired leader, etc] view this issue?

2) If I had to find three positives about this, what would they be?

3) If I felt totally confident about success, what would I do?

4) What does this situation allow me that didn’t exist before?

Note: Parts of this post also appeared in the author’s column on


About kristihedges
Executive coach, leadership development consultant, blogger, contributor, author of Power of Presence (AMACOM).

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