I often ask myself, how are we, as business leaders, supposed to wake up each day, motivate, engage, energize and focus ourselves and our distracted team mates on the daily, weekly, monthly and annual task(s) at hand? How are we, as leaders, supposed to move forward, and navigate the day-to-day challenges of tough times, when everyone is busy looking behind themselves, in the rear-view mirror? What are we, as leaders, supposed to do when just “staying the course” is a challenge and seems impossible? As my January 2020 blog titled “Creating a Culture of Resilience” noted, resilient companies must plan for and respond to the unthinkable. As I consider what’s important right now, I think about the core values that were instilled in me a very long time ago. The Core of Leadership, in basic terms - recognize and acknowledge the facts, be extremely visible, find purpose, over-communicate and create new leaders.
Recognize and Acknowledging the Facts
I believe that one of the most important tasks for leaders in tough times is to take a break from the fast-moving culture we live in and the constant change we see daily and just pause for a moment. For me, this can be hard to do at times. This is almost counterintuitive for life in operations and/or in a sales-driven environment, where we are all in sales and moving at light speed. Sometimes, taking a time-out, in the present, allows us to think and recharge our “batteries” and provides our people an opportunity to catch their breath without the added stress of dealing with whatever change is happening. A lesson for today’s leaders: while driving much-needed change, sometimes it is important to shift into neutral and “coast” for a brief period to recapture energy, re-focus and shore up the processes that we have created. As a Coach, I like to remind myself that some athletes provide their bodies a day of rest. For the same reason, leaders should take a break now and then.
“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” – Michael Jordan
Being Extremely Visible Matters
A leader must be extremely visible and on the front lines, showing employees and their customers see that this is not business as usual. This is from a book I read several years ago, called “The Leadership Challenge,” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner:
“You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all.”
Being extremely visible sends the message that leaders are not in denial, and they are not waiting for the storm to pass by. In business, as in sports, it is important during normal times and in challenging times, extreme visibility can be perceived as being extremely credible and/or relevant. As leaders, we may not have all the answers as to what is happening or why, but we can let others see that we are in charge and we understand the significance of the moment. When the dust settles, our people will remember who was there, personally shaking hands, talking to the people and taking inventory with boots on the ground.
Leaders Must Find a Purpose
Leading in tough times is not for everyone, I get that. It requires the ability to pause and recognize the challenges, while at the same time tapping into new sources of strength that will revitalize the industry or the organization. As leaders, we are born with a natural tendency to want to go on and rebuild in a hurry. The task for leaders at this turning point is to reaffirm the organization’s core values, core purpose, explain why this is still important and then set the course ahead. We, as leaders, must tap into and recognize that there may be a “new normal” on the forefront. In some instances, leaders need to abandon the old mentality and tell others how contributing to the new - or the now - can make a difference.
“There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.” - Oprah Winfrey
As leaders, we must find simple ways to remind people of the organization’s core purpose, such as signage, flags, messaging, or pictures. The point of rebuilding a company’s purpose is to help others see that despite the way they feel internally, they can influence events, they can adapt, and they can overcome anything thrown their way. A leader’s role is to engage, allow openness, encourage people to do, and in some cases, move out of the way, so team members can breathe and spread their wings.
The task of rebuilding purpose involves several actions:
- Establish a vision and strategy. People must be reminded more frequently about the direction of the business; industry and the economy are taking and why that direction is best under the circumstances.
- Set realistic short-term goals. No challenge is simple, and issues get compounded through inaction, misinformation or no information. Don’t take on too little or too much and be cautious of defragmenting or being spread too thin.
- Make what matters, simple and clear. This type of leadership makes me recall a recent statement from the Vinyl Siding Industry’s President and CEO Kate Offringa when she was communicating an important message to the team:
“Go vinyl siding industry!” Kate intentionally or unintentionally, made me feel that statement, loud and clear. And as a result, I know our purpose.
State the “what’s-in-it-for-me” information at the beginning. The astute learner wants to know, “What’s in it for me?”
Making what matters clear, whether it’s gaining new customers, improving connectivity, growing through communications or lifting spirits, tells people and other stake holders in your business what you truly, deeply believe in.
Overcommunicate vs. Communicate
The word “communicate” is defined as the sharing or exchanging of information, news or ideas, whereas overcommunicate is defined as, communicating excessively.
“If you just communicate, you get by. But if you communicate skillfully, you can work miracles.” - Jim Rohn
This is very important now more than ever as we experience challenging times. As leaders, we must know and understand the difference. In my opinion, during trying times, we must overcommunicate very skillfully.
Creating New Leaders and Letting Them Lead
One of the side effects of crisis is the emergence of new leaders, individuals who may or may not have stood out during normal operations, and now suddenly rise to the occasion. These new leaders quickly become noticeable in an organization. New leaders emerge under tough, demanding circumstances because the skills required to perform in challenging times are different.
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor." - Franklin D. Roosevelt
And this difference is why, often, many companies are caught unprepared. There is no game plan, no process rehearsed every day, week, month, quarter or year to guide individuals through the process of business challenges. The primary role of senior leadership is to recognize and deploy leaders that rise to the occasion. When this happens, it usually happens very quickly in business. Allowing these new leaders to shine is key to developing the next generation of talent in an industry or an organization.
A second requirement is to demonstrate the right amount of communication with teams. In tough times, people not only look up to their leaders for direction and guidance, but they also look to them for confidence-building signals. For example, we will get through this, we believe in our industry, to name a few.
The third requirement is to find ways to let people see how they are contributing, either directly or indirectly. For instance, share news, e-mails, letters from customers or internal communications, among other ways. As leaders, we need to find creative ways to let people know that they are making a difference.
“Do what you need to do, so that you can do what you want to do. Success and convenience do not go together. You have what it takes to be successful, so you have to step up your game and make room for it.” - Les Brown
Finally, “leaders need to recognize the ordinary before they can focus on the extraordinary.” Several years ago, a former business partner of mine enlightened me with a similar statement. At the time, I thought he was a little off his rocker, but as it turns out, in my opinion he was correct. Leaders need to recognize the acts of the people, in the office and in the field, and communicate it loud and clear.
Over the past 40 years that I have been on this planet, we have overcome some serious obstacles, but nothing like what we are seeing right now. The current events are trying and testing and will continue to challenge industries, organizations and leaders worldwide. It’s clear to me that to survive in this challenging world, business leaders must practice and develop disciplines that other leaders have practiced for centuries: Prepare for rough times, and in turbulent times, respond visibly, reinforce purpose and encourage new leaders to step up.
As I have mentioned in the past, I’d like to restate it now:
- The best leaders are the first ones in and the last ones out.
- A great leader sparks fire and confidence inside each team member.
- A great leader is motivational, is inspiring, is tough, yet empathetic, and wants to be part of the process, not just the outcome, good or bad.
- Throughout the process, a great leader recognizes who is worth being part of the outcome.
- A great leader creates both leaders and followers.
It all starts and ends with being a great leader and making a positive impact on your team(s), on and off the field, the court, the job or now the virtual home office. Right now, the world needs more great leaders, can you rise to the occasion? We need to come together, stand together, and lift each other to get through this together as it truly takes a village. Trust the Process!
To our success,
“Coach” Rob Balfanz