Everyday Leaders – Leading in Tough Times – First in a series

Friends,

Gosh, we had some great calls to the Everyday Leadership Show on Saturday.*  The callers elicited wonderful thoughts and advice from my regular guests, Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley.**  The economic downturn and hovering uncertainty formed the unmistakable backdrop for the calls.  Groups and individuals act quite differently when the context changes:

* When storm clouds arise, when the barometric pressure increases quickly;
* When the team is losing, when the inning is late;
* When ticket sales or charitable contributions drop off markedly;
* When foreclosures increase or sales plummet.

Under such over-arching pressures, people can act very strangely.  In the next few RFLs I’ll offer some thoughts on those changing behaviors and the resulting demands on leaders – whether you’re leading with authority or from among the crowd.

Lesson One:  read the signs.  So often we assume that weird individual behavior is weird individual behavior.  But so often weird behavior – like the skittish reaction of the deer or bird – tells us more about external conditions than about that particular animal.  Some people are simply more sensitive, and/or are more wildly expressive.  They are like pressure-meters in their systems.  So, an adolescent on a behavioral wild streak almost always points to something going on in the family system and/or the peer system, and not just to their personal psyche.  An employee who freaks out, stomps out, quits, betrays a confidence, or suddenly withdraws, may tell us much about the system(s), if we look there.  Likewise, we would do well to at least wonder whether the unusually hostile behavior of a somewhat nutty boss has been provoked by changes or stresses in the system(s) s/he belongs to: family or peers at work or major pressures in the organization.

Perhaps this sounds obvious.  But it runs counter to thousands of years of our mental programming, our automatic responses.  We look – for good reason – at behavior as the product of individual freedom and choice.  Our legal and moral and child-rearing systems are built upon this fundamental truth.  It’s only a partial truth.  So, perhaps look this week at the people who seem to be acting nutty, acting out, acting difficult, and take a detached approach.  Wonder about the systems and stresses that may “belong” more to those conditions than to the individual’s idiosyncrasies.  Where might this take you – first, simply in insight, and then beyond that to some different leadership responses?  As always I look forward to your thoughtful blog responses.

I’ll offer some more thoughts about leading groups under pressure in the coming weeks.  Detaching and wondering and critically thinking are keys for you to

Lead with your best self,

Dan

*  You can hear the Everyday Leadership Show (experts in the first hour, and advice in the second to help you “make work work”) on Saturday mornings from 7-9 AM.  You can hear it online live at http://www.wjimam.com or subscribe to podcasts through iTunes, at the linked url

** Co-authors of the best-selling book Working With You is Killing Me.