Reversing the Death Spiral: The Power of Thinking Patterns

Leadership, Management, Spiritual Growth

A famous study conducted by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and researcher Martin Seligman examined two groups of sales agents: those that aced an aptitude test and those that failed. One group outperformed the other by more than 50%. Interestingly, it was the “low-aptitude” group who achieved the greater results. What was the only other key differentiating attribute? They were optimists! Despite their test scores, the “can-do” mindset of the low-aptitude group proved more effective than the high-scoring “can’t-do” pessimists .1

We all operate at our best when we are in control and able to cause a desired effect. Our perceived security gets challenged when we face problems beyond our control: markets collapse, a team member becomes ill, or a supplier is late on a delivery. This loss of control gives negative thinking an opportunity to dominate our responses, a condition called learned helplessness.

Adversity comes in many forms—acute, cyclical, long-term, and systemic—and it’s sure to come to any business. Positive thinking is a strong weapon, particularly the capacity to have a positive-rebound mentality when faced with challenges. Beyond increased sales, as in the case of Metropolitan, what we think drives all that we do and, thus, dictates our outcomes. The same is true for a team or organization—its prevailing thinking will shape what it does or doesn’t do. Neuroscience researchers have observed that a positive, optimistic brain is more productive and energized and is inclined to explore new ideas and confront difficult situations. Have we instilled positive thinking in our organizations to combat adversity when it strikes? Or have we let negative thinking fester—in ourselves or others?

In the absence of effectively dealing with negativity, our thinking can become dangerously personal, pervasive, and permanent.2 Even the best performers can begin to spiral. We can take preventive measures to correct this losing mentality and equip our teams with coping skills to use in both their personal and professional environments. Although there are many ways to reverse unproductive psychology, Dr. Henry Cloud suggests the following steps.

  1. Create Connection – Relational support can powerfully address learned helplessness and change mental chemistry as a threat subsides. When people know they are not alone in facing obstacles, they feel less defensive and more capable of problem-solving.
  2. Regain Control – To break the sense of powerlessness in the face of crisis, build two lists: what you cannot control and what you can. Each day, prioritize and execute the activities within your control. This exercise speaks directly to the brain’s desire to have control and inhibits thoughts that interfere with productive activities.
  3. Take Control of the Three Ps – Become aware of negative thinking patterns through self-observation, and write thoughts down in a journal. Review each thought, identify false logic and themes, and refute them with specific counterarguments and the word of God. Sharing logs among team members increases value. People engage in problem-solving and see opportunities rather than dwell on what might happen.
  4. Add Structure and Accountability – Set aside specific times to talk through controllables and to address negative thinking. Hold one another accountable to execute the activities agreed upon and within one’s control. Teams that overcome adversity come together, talk about the battle, and solve problems—together!
  5. Take the Right Kind of Actions – Focus on the actions that specifically drive results and on accountability metrics that encourage high performance.

We spend a lot of time in C12 talking about strategic planning and applying disciplines for achieving superior results in business. Regardless, no amount of planning exempts us from adversity. When adversity does arise, we must remember—and embody in our leadership—that faith is anchored in the truth that the Kingdom of God is never at risk (even if our “kingdom” appears to be!)3

Reflection Questions: 

How would you describe the prevailing thinking in your organization when it comes to handling crises? 

How are you refuting negative thoughts in and around the company with God’s promises? 

How can you leverage a negative situation as an opportunity to embody the gospel to your organization?



1. Dr. Henry Cloud, Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge
2. Dr. Henry Cloud, “Reversing the Death Spiral of a Leader,” Global Leadership Network
3. Heb. 11:1, 6:18-20, and 12:28

  • Kevin Miller Bio

    With over a decade of experience in marketing leadership, brand management, and business development, Kevin has helped numerous companies refine and implement plans to create exponential growth.

    Prior to joining C12, Kevin led a successful Florida-based brand strategy consulting business focused on growing small and medium-sized businesses. Entrepreneurial in spirit, Kevin also has a diverse background in launching start-ups as well as helping struggling or stagnant businesses develop a new course of action. His experience incorporates knowledge from multiple industries including textile manufacturing and design, medicine, real estate, technology, web development, and the creative arts.

    After attending the University of Central Florida where he studied Music Performance, Kevin became involved in worship arts and youth ministries, serving for several years in various leadership roles. He and his wife Beth, an elementary school administrator, have been married since 2000. Together with two sons Kyle and Kamden, they enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities including hiking, hunting, fishing, and backpacking.

  • Troy Blackmon Bio

    Troy came to The C12 Group in 2008, with a diverse background in executive leadership, sales development, team building, and operations. Through his role as VP of Field Operations, he is committed to serve, equip and encourage CEOs and business owners to lead thriving companies that honor the Lord and serve people.

    During his tenure at Chick-fil-A, Inc. Troy learned that business excellence and glorifying God in the marketplace go hand in hand. Troy managed a P&L of $35+ million in revenue and coached business owners in operational excellence and improving financial results.

    In addition, Troy has been involved in leading small group ministry, including planting a church in Seattle, WA. Troy was formerly Partner at OneAccord, a management-consulting firm focused on accelerating revenue for mid-market companies. While at OneAccord, Troy was privileged to work with numerous technology companies in senior leadership positions, managing sales, marketing, and business development activities. Troy most recently served as the President of a technology private equity group, where he led the management teams of 4 portfolio businesses.

    Troy is married to his high school sweetheart, Shanna, and has been blessed with 4 children. He enjoys golf, cycling, and mountain biking with his family.

  • Mike Sharrow Bio

    Mike joined C12 as a member in 2010 while serving as an executive pastor for a large church in Texas and owner of a healthcare strategy consulting group.  Prior to that, he had served in a variety of leadership roles in both operations and sales corporately for the Walgreen Company, financial services as well as strategic development work with Health by Design.  In 2011 he exited his commitments to join the local C12 practice in San Antonio as an associate chair serving CEOs across that market.  In 2013 he and a partner acquired the greater Central Texas region and stewarded it as it grew to a team of 8 full-time chairmen serving nearly 150 leaders.  Mike is passionate about collaboration, strategic planning, Gospel initiatives and BHAG endeavors.

    With a background spanning Fortune 50 corporate settings, startups, non-profit and local church, Mike has been discipled into an integrated life perspective around the calling all believers share to be disciple-making disciples and ambassadors of Christ across all vocations and contexts.  It was in 2005 when God revealed to Mike the perils of a “sacred versus secular” duality in life and since then he’s been on the adventure of living one life in Christ, with work as worship, business as ministry and life as mission.

    Mike grew up in Alaska, graduated from Trinity International University and the Loyola Graduate School of Business.  He married his bijou of an Iowa farmers daughter, Jacqui, in 2002 and they have 2 girls, Elayna and Sophia.