Today’s organizational leaders have much working against their success. Sometimes leaders can be their own worst enemy. However, this is not cause to crawl under a rock and hunker down for the duration of these difficult times. Sure, the press almost daily is exposing yet another dishonest corporate executive, especially in the financial industries, but that’s not you. Business enjoyed a good half-decade run, following the 911 recovery, and here we are again up to our, rear-ends in alligators. Today, more than ever, is the time for action—for demonstrating to your employees that you have a plan—even if you don’t. Get out of sluggishness and into action, today!
Make Your Rain Making Visible
Similar to the Native American rain dances of old, they were never performed in isolation, but in view of the tribe; to give the members of the tribe hope—your people need to see you leading the charge in action, not just in words. To build confidence within the people of your organization, they have to visually see your efforts to turn things around, including your personal rain making efforts. This gives them the hope they need to persevere during the current cuts, challenges, and fears caused by today’s economic realities.
This lesson was learned at Mitsubishi Motor Sales of North America, in the early 1990s—the executives learned the hard way; wasting one entire year in their efforts to change the organizational culture. The lesson learned was simple: people believe what they see, not what they hear. The executives were telling everyone what they wanted to happen but were not living the vision themselves.
Similarly, a friend’s mistake has always stayed with me. He and his investors went bankrupt on a golf course project in the 1970s. Their 20/20 hindsight revealed that their mistake was that of spending their money building the golf course before they built the club house. Potential members could not see the progress from the earth moving in the distance so many decided not to act on the special pre-opening offer; money the group badly needed to finish the project. Most people have to see it to believe.
What’s Old Might be New
Robert Rickenbach, owner of a fiber optics connector fabrication company discovered that the railroad in India could use his connectors in a different application than for which they were originally designed and opened an unexpected international market for his company. What about you? What unexpected, or explored, markets could benefit from your products, services, and other offerings?
In your effort to develop new markets, new applications, and/or new products and services, how much time have you spent? It has been said by persons wiser than I, that most people spend more time planning their vacation than they spend planning their life. What about the success of your organization? How much time have you spent in REAL product/market development strategic planning sessions? For most, not much is the honest answer.
Who can help? The quick answer is: your suppliers, your employees, and your customers. Sometimes innovation is a happy accident and sometimes it is the result of intense organizational processes, individual champions, and intellectual properties—and most times, a result of tireless hard work. What are you doing to innovate?
Back in the mid-1990s I served as a trainer for the Dunn & Bradstreet Foundation, delivering full-day public seminars throughout the USA. One of the exercises I conducted when doing a seminar within a company required an unorthodox approach to problem solving. Interestingly, it was never the organization’s leader that came up with the solution but rather others generally in administrative or support positions. Proof for me that leaders need to encompass all in their organization for solutions to today’s pressing challenges.
Your Responsibility and Accountability
Let’s face it; nobody really enjoys the mirror being brought up close. However, in times like we are now facing, that is exactly what is needed. No matter how good a leader you might be, you know that you can do better. And, if you are a lousy leader, you are unlikely to be reading this article. Listed below are some of the pitfalls, conscious or unconscious, to leading in a recession:
- Not being aware of the depth of your organization’s situation.
- Not having a “rainy day” contingency plan.
- Not being open to innovation in market, product, and process.
- Not honestly looking in the mirror.
- Living off past glory.
- Expecting others to act as rain makers.
- Hunkering down expecting the current economic situation to quickly blow over like a tropical storm.
Your “to do” list should include the following:
- Honest evaluation of your organizations current situation through the traditional SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis process with your company’s stakeholders; first your employees, then with your suppliers, and last with your customers. Oh yes, and LISTEN! Generally the SWOT analysis is done only in the bubble of the executive suite, thereby missing needed additional perspectives.
- Step it up and lead the charge, even if it is only activity for activity’s sake. Activity begets enthusiasm, if positioned correctly and your employees see that you are putting in the time.
- Look to other industries for answers in as much as you can adapt ideas. It is foolish to think you can adopt, however adaptation is an important form of innovation that will serve you well.
If your organization is zipping along, perhaps you have already conducted the steps necessary to thrive? Perhaps this article is merely an affirmation that you are on the right track? However, if your company is struggling—it might mean that your leaders, or you, have been asleep at the wheel. The good news is that there might be enough time to turn things around and put your company back on the productive path. Plant this thought in your subconscious mind: your employees have been there for you, helping you to make your organization what it had been. Don’t you think you owe it to them to show up and rebuild? It’s their livelihood also!
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.