In this article, Eileen McDargh gives ten tips for leading yourself and others in challenging times.
Stop re-arranging the deck chairs. The greatest problem with change is that no one wants to admit that it can happen to them. The big three automakers kept ignoring signals from both the consumer as well as the market place. Be honest about potential downturns and get ready. Don’t create the doomsday, hand-wringing scenarios but ones that are well thought out with a plan of action in your back pocket. Contingency is the name of the game. It’s more like a fire drill. If you don’t have a plan, you can burn up!
Go with what “brung ya.” My great-grandfather always said that what he knew was “shoes.” He didn’t know how to publish books, how to sell pigs feet or how to make a car. He stuck to what he knew: shoes. Since 1880, Reineberg’s Shoe Store has served the folks of York, PA. In an era where companies come and go, my family has stuck to what they know: shoes! It’s a simple testament to focus, to listening to the customers and to not speculating about acquisitions and mergers that make no sense from a resident knowledge base. Build your core and play to win from that strength.
Stop reading and listening to “the news.” A steady dose of downturns, depressing statistics, gloomy forecasts and shrill broadcasters can have anyone running for cover. Beside, it’s a waste of productive time to constantly be checking stock prices. Find one trusted source, listen or read it once and then—GET ON WITH IT! What will you choose to do now to advance today? So much of resiliency is a mental trip— a mindset that says “Yes I can” regardless of all the “No you can’t” pundits. It won an election. Positive presumption has moved football teams and armies. It can move you.
Fire up. Don’t flame out. Exhausted teams can’t carry a ball, a race, or an Olympic flag. Make sure that what you ask yourself and your team to do has clear implication for the future—and not just some exercise in futility that is done “because it’s the way we’ve always done it.” This is a great time to streamline, to examine procedures, to throw out and to straighten up. Fire people up with possibilities and stories of hope. Can you make a vision real? Meaningful? Everyone needs that picture. No one hops out of bed to give shareholders a greater return on their investment. As Seth Godin writes, “Can you imagine Apple founder Steve Job showing up for a paycheck?” Not a chance. He shows up for something he believes in.
Court and carry your valued customers. It is far too easy to lose valued customers if price and financial returns are the only basis for building a long-term relationship. Protect your customers now by asking what you can do to help them. Maybe they can’t buy your product or services now—but you might be able to offer something else. Or maybe, throw in a lagniappe—a little bit more. Apple just added an extra month on to their annual One-to-One customer-training program. It’s a gift. It matters.
Communicate without ceasing. In the absence of information, people often connect the dots in the most pathological way possible. Transparency and honesty are keys in keeping people connected and calm. How much better it is to know what we face together and what is being done than to guess and gossip about situations. A survey of employees posted in the USA TODAY indicated that the majority have had no word from senior leaders about the current business climate and its impact on their work.
Celebrate small wins. When times are tough, we need a daily dose of encouragement. What would happen if you ended each day on a positive note? What would happen if you closed each day by mentally congratulating yourself on what you did do?
Do what others are not willing to do. Look for innovation. Train employees. Yes, spend money. Wisely. That’s what your competition is not doing. If you focus on quality instead of cutting corners, you will be poised to come out on top. Let any pain be felt from the top first. Too many organizations and government agencies solve budget deficits by going after “the little guys” first. Big mistake. Remember when Chrysler CEO Lacocca took $1 in salary? Employee and customer admiration and loyalty resulted.
Upsize your way to greatness. This is definitely what few will do. But cutting into muscle and bone only makes the corporate body ill-equipped to reenter the business arena when the economy improves. While others must build back bench strength and start from scratch, you are ready because you have been training and hiring for this moment. Consider encouraging older employees to take half-time retirement so they can pass along knowledge to newer and younger employees. It might be the perfect time to upgrade your skills.
Say thank you. Nothing attracts supporters like positive energy. When times are tough, staying positive seems like a hard battle. Gratitude is the key. The work conducted at the University of Pennsylvania by Dr. Martin Seligman underscores the value of expressing gratitude on a daily basis. Studies of character strength in tens of thousands of people across the U.S. have shown that feeling and practicing gratitude is the single strongest predictor of satisfaction with life. Find three people each day and tell them why you are grateful for them. Write down three “gratitudes” each night in a journal. You’ll sleep better. In the words of philosopher Howard Zinn, “To have hope one doesn’t need certainty, only possibility.” Here’s to the possibility of a transformed and brighter tomorrow.
For more on Eileen McDargh, visit her page.