Leading in Turbulent Times

by Mark Baer, IMEC

If you’re running a small manufacturing company, what’s the best way to lead in today’s turbulent times? You might start by considering the story of a CEO who was reading Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance. The CEO didn’t realize he was holding the book so that only the word “Firing” in the title was visible. Within hours, the CEO’s staff had spread the rumor that he was planning a layoff.

So what does this story have to do with leading in turbulent times? It makes a point about key factors for leadership: positive attitude and open, positive communication.

Turbulent times cause anxiety and rumors. In an employment situation, people worry about their jobs and look for information that will confirm their situation one way or the other. When employees don’t get that information, rumors are often created to fill the void, which can have a negative effect on employee morale and productivity and further a company’s woes. Unfortunately, many corporate leaders fuel the fire for rumors by not sharing information with employees or by providing a “glass-half-empty” analysis of the market and a company’s situation.

Now is the time for corporate leaders in organizations of any size to be open and positive with employees. An effective leader keeps employees informed of what’s happening in the market and of the decisions that will affect them. An effective leader provides employees with a forum to air their concerns and grievances in a constructive manner. That leader also works to involve employees in the decision-making process as partners in many business areas. Management and employees can work together to meet challenges, such as searching for ways to cut expenses, enhance productivity and improve customer service.

These types of interactions can help employees overcome the feeling of being powerless with their world shaking around them. Employee knowledge and power can also help keep the rumor mill from going into full production.

Open communication is essential for leading in these times, but equally important to management and staff is a positive attitude. It’s only natural for employees and leaders to worry about their future in turbulent times; however, a big part of being an effective leader is the ability to give people hope, to help them feel that they can meet the challenge they’re facing on some level. And that effort starts with the leader’s own hope.

Before talking with staff, leaders must deal with their personal worries and focus on the positive aspects of their situation. With that focus in mind, and with open communication, the leader can then help guide employees and the company.

This is not to suggest that a leader should sugarcoat the situation or avoid facing tough challenges to present a positive front. The goal should be to focus on what could be and not on what is to help weather the turbulent times. iBi

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