Leadership: Rise to the challenge

Business leaders can never cut themselves off from their surroundings. Dealing with the environment is part of daily life in the game of business, as it is in any other game. (Someone could write an interesting dissertation on the impact of inclement weather on memorable sporting events.)

We are hard-pressed to find business organizations that are not affected by the current economic downturn. There is reality and there is perception, and I think it is impossible to separate the two right now. We are pelted hourly by the media with the latest statistical report – “We are officially in recession.” (No kidding.) We have no idea what statistics to trust, which economic expert actually knows what is going on – or what will be going on next year. 

When business owners convene at CEO Roundtables or Rotary or the like, they are greeting each other with a worried expression and the question, “How’s your business doing?” It is natural to want to take everyone’s temperature during a crisis, to commiserate with each other, to feel less alone in the woods. And … I doubt if those CEOs feel better after those conversations. I doubt they learn new strategies or tactics for dealing with this crisis.

Now, as ever, your employees are watching you. Your facial expression, your words, even the way you walk around and where you focus your attention become a barometer for the mood and productivity of your employees. All of these signals get in the mix, along with conversations with each other, what they hear from the media and conversations with friends and family. All of these generate a response to the current environment.

So what response best supports the goals of your organization? That is the place to start … and you are the person to start. I’ve written before about the four elements that determine how we respond in nearly any situation: how we think, what we do, how we feel and what we believe about it. Tune in to your thinking about the present economy. You might even want to jot down recurring thoughts. It helps to figure out where they came from, as often they belong to someone else and we parrot them. Is that what you actually think? Do you want your thoughts to be transplanted into the minds of your staff?

Do the same analysis of your behavior. What do those employees see you doing? Are you in your office with a machete cutting, cutting, cutting costs? Are you looking around trying to decide who should go? Are you disappearing? Are you ending every conversation with a deep sigh?

Related to both of these, of course, will be your emotional response to the crisis. What feeling dominates your day? Is there integrity between your feeling and your actions, or are you scared silly and trying to appear calm and on top of things? (Which never works.) Think of adjectives to describe how you feel about the situation we’re in.

The deepest generator of course, is your belief system. And being deep and elusive, you may be completely unaware of your beliefs about this crisis, the economy in general or the future of your organization. These beliefs are the base of your totem pole. If your thoughts, feelings and actions all match, probably your belief system supports them. Thing is – all of those may be counterproductive. All may work to sabotage the goals you have for your business. If your base belief is something like, “I’m not up to dealing with a challenge this big,” your thoughts, feelings and actions will broadcast this one way of another.

Next, of course, is to stay close to the organizational goals, especially long-term. A lot of decisions that business owners make will save money in the short term, but kill the company long term. Reconnect with the vision and goals. Then decide what thoughts, actions, feelings and beliefs support those goals.

You have the power to help everyone around you poke through the dark clouds, lift out of the moaning and groaning and really challenge themselves to find creative responses to the crisis.  Encourage them to think and act at the top of their game. This doesn’t mean wearing blindfolds and earplugs so we’re ignorant of the environment (though that is tempting at times). You want them fully aware and wide open to innovative ways to keep on track with the organization’s goals – even in this environment.

Coaches are trained to see the greatness in each client, and to help the client “own” and develop that greatness. We support – and challenge – our clients as they become more resourceful, resilient and responsive to the environment.

Dave Buck is head of Coachville, probably the largest organization providing training and support for coaches worldwide. He believes that human greatness only arises in the face of challenge. Growth results from tension. Life teaches me to agree with Dave, and I know that within this crisis, there are many opportunities for growth, many opportunities for greatness to emerge. Seeking out those opportunities, and inspiring others to do the same – that is a choice when times are tough.

It’s a choice that makes sense to me.

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