When Leading is Painful, 4 Steps

On some occasions when leaders have to take point the risk can be overwhelming. In fact these times are when a leader’s mettle is truly tested, when their courage and resolve are exposed. We’re not talking about those times that a leader has to make a project or product decision that may have a small to moderate impact on the end result. No, we’re talking about those times when the lives, the jobs, the futures of others and potentially the company are at stake.

John McKinnon in Break Through Companies calls this “The Big Bet”, when success or failure is teetering on the brink. Some readers of this blog have probably witnessed these points of inflection; possibly enjoyed the rewards or suffered the risks. The events that trigger these big decisions vary. Sometimes a company might realize they need a major shift of strategy to succeed. Sometimes a game changer moves into the company’s market adversely impacting their results. Sometimes it is an outside influence like the crash of the NASDAQ in the late 90s or the impact of 9/11 on the stock market and our sense of security.

Regardless of the reason for the sudden shift these game-changing events have on a company’s business model, leaders of courage, resolve and creativity must step into the void and reset the course of the company.

So, how does a leader know what to do under these tipping point conditions? Is it about intuition, intelligence, experience or luck? Most leaders that have been able to make decisions with so much at stake use all of these but they do not move forward without asking hard questions of staff, competitors, mentors and respected peers.

1. Identify the real versus imagined threats. Leaders surround themselves with people that will tell them clearly what they need to know about the threat. There is no room for “group think” or the “yes-man/woman” in this dialogue. Hard, honest, emotionless and frank information is required.

2. Look diligently for the opportunity in the situation. This is not an exercise in optimism, this is taking inventory of what the organization does well, identifying which of these it can excel with, identifying the sacred cows and those on the team that are not up for the challenges or stresses and those that are suited for battle.

3. Determine what this new capability is and how the people, skills, experiences and funding can be assembled to create this new and improved enterprise. This is seldom an arena where best practices are found; it is an arena that requires innovation, transformation and discovering new ways to do new things.

This leadership team must now weigh the opportunities with the inherent risks of making the “Big Bet”. Honestly understanding the risk/reward proposition will decide the next steps of action – go all in or wind it down…

4. Inspire people to action and expert execution; to invest the effort, passion and commitment to succeed. This requires earned trust, realistic optimism and connection with the doers. The leader then lives the passion, the resolve, the commitment that is being asked of all. This team inspiration can only happen when the entire team understands what’s in it for me, what’s in it for the company, what’s in it for the customer and most importantly, what does the end look like and what are the milestones they need to achieve to get there. A well led team will extend themselves beyond what they felt possible if they see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Most leaders know growing, staying small, getting small, transforming a company or a business sector is all a choice. Choosing with all of the facts, threats, opportunity and risks set the stage for a higher probability of ultimate success. But, big change does not happen overnight. It takes the endurance of an ultra-marathoner, not to be swayed from the mission by pains, detours or difficulty. It takes courage to succeed even when all goes well…

About Rich Jones

Strategic consultant and Keynote Speaker, Rich brings a deep experience in the disciplines of Strategic Planning, Marketing, Business Development, Digital Transformation, Data Utilization, Leadership Development and Cultural Alignment. A husband, father, runner, cyclist, beer drinker with a passion for life.

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