Beware, the following entry may seem on the surface a motivational or happy piece written in the spirit of the Season. But it is not. It really underscores the reality that in the end exceptional leadership always comes down to the basics.
Last week I was leading a retreat for group of high-potential middle managers assembled with the task to improve their particular operations. It was to be an exciting and forward looking day. Their director came in at the beginning and provided good direction and a positive hope for the future. It was not as well received as she had hoped. And so began my facilitation of the group.
This group of managers was tired, frustrated, and out of synch. It was weird to see this as I new this group pretty well and knew that they are truly talented, intelligent and strong. The culprit here of course has been living through the past years of the down economy. I affectionately call it the Grind. Forecasts have been week, people have taken pay cuts, more work is being piled on them, and there seems to be very little light at the end of the tunnel. I understand this. And even though people know that this is what happens in a downturn, that many others have lost their jobs, and that the grass is not necessarily greener somewhere else (as most companies today are in this situation) they are angry and looking for someone to blame.
Ah the moment of truth for a leader right? Tough situation, temptation to blame someone else and a seemingly lack of hope, sure sounds like it.
So before we began any type of action planning we dealt with the emotional and psychological forces present. Take this as a lesson that it is feeble to try to action plan when emotions are high whether they are being expressed explicitly or beneath the surface. These particular emotions were being manifested as self-censoring, choosing the safe solution, low energy and disengagement to name a few. We processed “what was up” and acknowledge the real frustration and concern. In plain and unfanciful terms things had ‘sucked’ for a while. The group worked through it and finally got to a place to come to grip with what they had to do and laugh at the absurdity of the rest.
In time, we did all that needed to be done in terms of brainstorming, assessing and creating the project plans for the chosen initiatives. It was all in their hands and they new they had a job to do. It truly was inspiring. In the end they were cheering each other on and coming up with the greatest of ideas to impact the business for the best.
To wrap it up it was obvious what needed to be said.
“Go be great! Don’t ask for permission, don’t wait for someone to tell you to be great, and certainly don’t wait for the perfect time to be great. First, you are asked to be great just by being here, if someone has to ask you to be great you probably are way behind to race, and there will never be a better time to be great than right now. And if the company comes down on you for being great, you probably do not want to work here anyway. But guess what, they hired you to be great so go do it.”
Bring great and bold is not about being reckless but about making a significant contribution. And when you are great you give people the nudge they need to do the same. Continue to find you leadership voice and just be great.