In 1996 at the age of 33, Michael Abt was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease — a form of cancer that starts in the lymphatic system.
But cancer did not slow the businessman down.
He overcame the disease after months of chemotherapy, and chose to use the battle as a learning experience to help propel his business career.
Most recently, the Huddle House CEO has applied the lessons he learned beating cancer to leading a turnaround effort at the diner-style chain restaurant.
The man who says his career has been defined by being put in back-against-the-wall situations spoke with us about the keys to a comeback, in business and life.
Here are Abt’s five secrets:
1. Accurately assess the situation
“Whether it was the doctors accurately assessing the type of disease I had, or when I started with Huddle House and spent several weeks talking to directors of the company to fully understand what was going on here, knowing the story is so important,” Abt says.
Abt tells us that he thinks like Apollo 13 flight director, Gene Krant, in business situations, who famously said: “Gentlemen, let’s work the problem. Let’s not makes things worse by guessing.”
2. Surround yourself with a quality team
“It’s all about people in turn-around situations,” says Abt. “When building a solid team, know exactly what you need in an individual. You want people that have a track record of results and have accomplished a lot. I also look for people who aren’t afraid of conflict — people who are comfortable telling me that they disagree with me.”
3. Have a vision
“Don’t just have a vision — share it relentlessly,” the cancer survivor advises. “People want to know where they are going, so I like to think about beginning with the end in mind. Set stretch goals, and have a clear purpose, values, and mission.”
4. Plan a strategy and work it
“Take the time to develop a detailed game plan,” Abt tells us. “Don’t just jump in and start working. Conduct research and validate that you’re working on the right thing. Also, it is important to keep score. Focus on results, not activity.”
5. Be mentally tough
“Mental toughness is not just about being the tough guy and getting things done,” he says. “It’s about having a positive mindset and attitude. It means being tough on issues, but soft on people.”
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