Leading in Tough Times 3 – fundamentals for leading with authority

Friends,

Are you in, or have you been in, a system under great pressure, facing overwhelming challenges?  If so, tell me if your experience has been like mine:

In systems – e.g., family, job shop, company, church – where the system’s survival is under stress . . . individuals look out for their own self interest, their own survival.  Sure a few think they better cling to the ship at all costs.  A some small number of others are exceedingly self-sacrificing.  And a tiny fraction have splendidly rose-colored glasses and don’t believe the boat will keep taking on water.  Some, yes, are noble to the point of heroics.  But many, I dare say most, when the system is under pressure, will increasingly see the world through a lens of “me” not “we.”  If you’re the parent, you won’t necessarily see how a kid in a divorcing family will retreat into a highly personal view of survival.  You won’t know in a struggling company how many people are going to Monster.com.  When you’re the mayor or manager in a city under great strain you won’t hear­ how people are talking about their own safety or their own kids’ schools.  But you know they are.  So, what do you do when you want them to think about others, about the whole, the community, family, city?

1.  Talk about the value of the whole.  “We are the Jones Family. . .”  “We are Dansville. . .”  “We are Acme. . .”   If YOU, in authority – the parent, the boss, the owner, the pastor – don’t have pride about your family, your company, your community – in these troubled times, then why should they?  Talk about why they should want to belong.

2.     Interpret the reality.  Yes, they know this is a divorce.  They know, to quote the kids, “it sucks.”  They know the company’s in trouble.  They know that you’re not as charismatic as their last pastor, and some families have left the church.  But help them understand that you know something about why.  You know something about what caused it.  You see that people are nervous.  You understand that anxiety.  And you’re not panicking.

3.     Let them know that you have some strategy to make things better.  Communicate the plan.

4.     Ask for their help.  Tell the kids they can make a difference in the divorcing family.  Ask the employees how they can cut costs or help sell.  Engage the church members in finding a new way to build community.

In short:  communicate more than ever before.  If you don’t engage them in a view of the whole and their place in it, they will retreat to their personal self interest.  If you’re not sure what it looks like, rent “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and watch George Bailey when there’s a run on the bank: Educate about the crisis, inspire a communal spirit, communicate a plan, and give them a way to help.

Be like George Bailey, the quintessential everyday leader, and

Lead with your best self!

Dan