Why Some Companies Will Experience a Quick Recovery (and Others Won’t)
The VP of Operations still had no idea how to plan for 2009. Communication from the top was as clear as mud. The company budget was supposed to be finalized by year’s end -- yet still no word. News drifted out of the executive suite that the management team was still trying to sort things out. As a result, this usually confident, successful, motivated leader had no idea what to do. Feeling badly when members of his team stopped into his office, all he could do was shrug and tell them, “I’ll let you know when I know!”
The hangover from last year’s economic meltdown is difficult to shake. Many firms have done the hard stuff, cutting expense and revving up sales activities. That helps. But many managers in today’s organizations still seem paralyzed as everyone waits around for the economy to improve.
How can we end such paralysis and move on to position our companies for growth and prosperity in 2009? We’ve first got to remember that, no matter how uncertain the times, we need to be in constant touch with our teams, keeping them in the loop and making them feel included in the discussion. Even if we don’t have all the answers, we have to continue to engage.
And don’t be fooled when your people smile at you as you walk down the hallway. Back in their offices they’re still in a fog! Many today just aren’t sure what to do. This lack of direction is an energy drain. Many employees, at whatever the organizational level, may feel personally happy to have survived but that doesn’t mean you’ve lit a fire under them, either.
So how can you keep your people focused and moving forward on high priorities? It isn’t easy when so many things are out of your control. There’s the budget of course but also so many events in your industry, as well as a longer sales cycle, and debt restructuring, and deals that fall through. Still, the greatest asset, by far the most important factor in your success, will be you, and your ability to lead.
In my experience working with top leaders over the years in a wide range of industries, the best aren’t just smart business people, they communicate as leaders. I’m not talking about presentation skills per se but rather the skill to motivate and inspire a team. Purpose and passion are the keys. Your own purpose and passion attracts others and gets them excited about what they are doing. When people feel energized and creative, there is no telling what they can do.
Purpose is essential to the success of our companies because when people work with purpose they accomplish great things. In fact, they long for purpose – to know that what they do really matters. As a leader, when you conduct your own work with purpose and passion, you connect others to that purpose, igniting their creativity, creating optimism, and voila, causing good things to happen.
You don’t have to have all the answers. You just need to be available to discuss the questions and provide some direction. People need to hear from you more than ever in these rough times. You know this is true because you’ve worked in organizations before where there’s been a vacuum of information. “During reorganization,” one manager told me, “many members of our staff were kept in the dark about where the department was going. As a result, there was a lot of anxiety and many started looking for new jobs out of fear.” What is the result when there is too little communication? Key talent departs. Projects can go off track. Deals don’t get made. Misunderstandings arise, and misgivings, and misfires.
As we begin 2009, people are longing for leaders who they can believe in. They don’t want false hope or phony speeches. They just want the opportunity to do valuable work. If people can make a contribution, they will in turn feel valued. That means that right now your most important job may be to show them what they can do to make a difference. In today’s business world, these types of skills are a “must have.”
So if you do not see this as one of your strengths, begin to focus on it. Many talented, smart business executives have been passed over simply because they lacked this “soft” skill. You may have risen up to your present position because you can get things done but to be put into a position of true leadership, you must also be able to communicate, motivate and inspire.
How can you get connected to your own purpose and passion so that true leadership will become one of your strengths? Ask yourself these questions:
• What do I really enjoy about the work that I do?
• Why does this work matter to me?
• What are the outcomes or impact of this work on others?
• When do I feel the greatest sense of satisfaction?
• If I were talking to my best friend about what I love about my job, what would I say?
• What would our customers, clients and others say is the best thing about our company?
When you reconnect with your own purpose and passion, your energy attracts others and invites them to engage as well. In times like these, leaders with a powerful purpose and passion for what they do are able to build strong, motivated teams.
Here are a few tips to engage your team:
• Clarify you own mission and purpose
• Get in touch with your passion
• Communicate that to your team
• Connect personally – walk around, meet with people
• Make the conversation about them
• Praise, recognize and reward their efforts
• Empower people
• Talk about big ideas
• Make plans that are big and bold
Even if you believe you’ve communicated with purpose and passion – keep going. People need to see and hear it again and again. Especially in times like these, leaders who keep people focused on the prize will be the ones who get their companies on the shortest, and quickest, path to recovery.
Suzanne Bates is author of Motivate Like a CEO: Communicate your Strategic Vision and Inspire People to Act! (McGraw Hill 2009) and the best-seller Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results. President and CEO of Bates Communications, www.bates-communications.com she also writes The Power Speaker Blog www.thepowerspeakerblog.com