Back in 2010 I wrote about the sky falling. Some days, even now, I still believe it.
Back then our economy was in awful shape. Many businesses failed, and others struggle even today with the impact of what happened to our banking, housing, and economic systems. “The economy is at its worst” some even said. We were asking “What will save us? How will we recapture the good ol’ days? Who will be our hero?” Back then I said, “May I propose a part of the answer? The hero is not me, or the government, or Chicken Little. The hero is you, the industry leader.”
Some part of the sky is always falling. Just as we were getting back on our feet from 2008’s problems, we started finding out that the efficiencies we built into the oil productions process caused unexpected consequences and oil prices dropped. So, now, in 2015, the oil industry is struggling, but only in some areas. In my three decades plus as a business woman, I have seen a new crisis every few years. This is called life.
Leaders must continually adapt, adjust, reflect, and plan–sometimes more than others–and now maybe more than ever. The one constant we have is that there will always be a crisis to manage. The very nature of leadership must involve continual crisis management. We are the ones who must remain standing after hurricanes or economic downturns or the loss of a key employee or fires or political scandals that affect business. Each of us has a part in the solution.
Some of the very steps we take to ensure our survival after these types of crises will ensure our survival through stock market crashes, dot com fiascos, and economic meltdowns. Part of what we do is in preparation, if we were paying attention during our boom times. Much of our job involves risk management, careful planning for all possible eventualities and sharing that information with anyone who will listen. We have our back-up drives, our flashlights, our phone trees.
And, when the going gets really rough, as leaders, we make extremely difficult decisions. We cut where we must, and as good leaders, we hate it. This should be done only in the rarest of circumstances, because the tide will turn (it always does), and we will need those employees or vendors or that equipment back. Many folks in my circles say that the hard decisions should have been made before the crisis hit, but, we were generous. We hung in with an employee or vendor hoping for better performance or higher productivity. And, why not? Times were good, and generosity is valuable.
Be comforted by this: there is one thing that doesn’t change. Humans don’t change that much in a single lifetime. Processes change and laws are passed and IT systems flux but the human psyche is just the same as it was 1000 years ago. You can look it up. Studies are done all the time on human reactions, brain activity and the like. One of my favorites is a book called NeuroMarketing, in which they explain the primitive brain as it applies to business. Our skill at relationship management, as leaders, is never more valuable than in tough times.
Conversely, any lack of skill at relationship management will never glare back at us more harshly than during a downturn. Relationship building is critical for dealing with any difficult situation. While we often feel the need to act sharply, as the adrenaline sets in and survival mode overtakes us, we mustn’t forget that we are dealing with human beings. The same set of skills we used in good times will work in bad ones. Remember this when it gets tough. You may need to change a lot of things, but maintain those relationships.
Whatever decisions you must make, bear in mind that major changes effect both those up and down the ladder. Anticipate the unintended consequences. Even the simple distraction from the change can be managed! So, stay close to your various circles. You need the “juice” from other brains, that connectedness that happens when we work together to solve a problem. There is nothing else on Earth that can duplicate it.
Some studies have shown increased neural activity in social settings versus in isolation. There seems to be a physical reaction in our brain matter when we are physically in a room with another human (versus communication in isolated forms). As we apply this to managing and leadership, consider seriously the simple value of working through problems together, as a group, to find better solutions. Talk to your employees. Ask them about possible solutions. Seek out your partners, vendors and peers, and just brainstorm. Visit with new friends about old ideas, and vice versa. Listen more, and talk less. We know how to do this. Our collective wisdom over centuries is not for nothing!
Consider, too, the value of making adjustments based on the audience. We know there are distinctions between generations, for example. That valuable observation helps the leader’s understanding of the contributions and abilities of those groups. Generally, the actual needs are the same–we are all still human. It’s just the style, not the substance, in how you address those needs that may change. Maslow’s pyramid still applies!
Can we bring down a few walls, too? Competition, thank goodness, is alive and well. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are at war with each other. The enemy may be the economy, at the moment, or perhaps with political programs that hinder competition, or with Mother Nature sometimes. Healthy competition is good. We can even share information and help each other, and build respect for our peers without sacrificing food on our own tables.
Before we get lost in philosophy, let’s be practical. What can we do to fix the economy on our own? You start with your own little section. Don’t be overwhelmed. Just focus on the areas where you have control. Change is change.
That’s all. It’s not a monster, or a villain. It’s just life on Earth. And usually, it’s good, and keeps us from stagnating and dying. Manage it well, and it can be your friend and ally.
Lisa Harrington is the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of International Risk Management Institute (IRMI), and is responsible for all aspects of marketing, conference management, client services, and sales. Previous engagements include COO and acting CEO of the Network of Vertafore Users (NetVU), and over 10 years as vice president of education for the Florida Association of Insurance Agents. She has more than 30 years of experience in the American Agency System as a leader, author, and trainer. Ms. Harrington resides in Southlake, Texas with her husband and many four-legged loved ones.
For more information about Lisa’s book, Taking In Strays: Leadership Lessons from Unexpected Places, please visit www.TakingInStrays.com.