I was giving a speech to the state’s Administrative Officers Association, a group of high level administrators in the state government. The theme of their training day was “lead where you are.” I was impressed with the question which one person asked at the end. He asked, in essence: How do you continue to stay upbeat, fire-up the troops, and suggest that things will get better, when you’re just not sure about it? It was a question that Presidents Bush or Obama could ask; General Petraeus, Governor Granholm, or William Clay Ford could ask. And it’s a question for everyday leaders, especially in these difficult times.
What would you have answered? I offered three thoughts off the cuff — two external, then one internal. I suggested that it’s critical to make a list every week. Make a list of the key priorities, because things are difficult and things are changing. The act of making the list forces you to decide what’s most important and forces you to confront change. And making a list keeps you and your team focused on the work that needs to be done.
The second piece of external advice is: Gain small wins. When a team is down by three touchdowns, a comeback takes time, but always begins with momentum — a first down, another first down, maybe even just a great punt, before the tide begins to turn. Small wins generate hope. A few high-fives loosen people up. A few small bills paid off helps you feel you can one day get out of debt entirely. One small sale reminds you there are buyers out there. Small wins strengthen faith.
That’s where the internal game comes in. Times like these test our faith. It’s fun and easy to believe that you’ll be able to retire when a bull market is driving all stocks upward. It’s fun and easy to believe the Tigers can win the pennant when they start out the season 35 and 5. It’s fun and easy to believe in your own worth when job offers are coming to you, but not so much when you’re one of a thousand people at a job fair. That’s where faith comes in. Faith unfolds in many forms. I loved the state administrator’s question to me, because he stood up in a crowd and asked a fundamentally spiritual and deeply question — a question about truth, and a question about his own faith and hope. These are times for just such honesty. These are times to look deeply. These are times to put stock in those things you believe really matter. Those things may range from well-developed strategies, to the strengths of relationships, to the power of facing the truth, or to the knowledge that you may be planting seeds which will bring forth trees under whose shade you may never personally sit. Faith is the intrinsic value of honesty, hard work, love, and for many, the hand of God in all things.
Today could be a good day to reaffirm the deep things in which you believe. Invest your energy in the work, in the truth, and in your team to:
Lead with your best self.