As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Coultas.
Christopher Coultas is the Vice President of Product Innovation and a Senior Leadership Consultant at Leadership Worth Following, LLC. He personifies the scientist-practitioner model in the fast-growing field of industrial-organizational psychology. He has coached hundreds of leaders and dozens of teams on how to leverage enhanced self-awareness for optimal leadership impact. His book with Leadership Worth Following, Driven Not Drained: Discover Your Path to Career Happiness, Effectiveness, and Influence, is a candid, engaging, and comprehensive look at both the science and practical application behind human behavior.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I got into the industrial-organizational (IO) psychology space because (a) I’ve always been interested in why people do what they do, and (b) I believe that leaders and organizations have the greatest opportunity to make the world a better place on a large scale.
I got started doing leadership and organizational consulting out of grad school because much of my graduate research was focused on leadership, motivation, and teamwork, among other things. Going back a little further, I’ve always wanted to help nonprofits, and specifically churches, to be more effective in their respective missions. I felt like understanding and leveraging motivation and leadership more effectively could help these organizations be more effective, too.
The more I delved into leadership and organizational consulting, the more it became clear that while we had many tools to help individuals understand themselves or how they are seen, there wasn’t a great way to help people get to the core of why it is they do what they do, what drives their behavior, and what drives their energy. In my experience, it’s so critical to understand people’s (and our own) “why” and where their energy comes from because it’s where everything begins.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One piece of feedback I received early on was that the emails I was sending were incredibly long. People would ask me an interesting question, and because it was interesting, I would essentially write them a white paper. I often never heard back anything more than a “thank you” or “that’s very interesting.” I took away one big thing from that experience. When we feel “driven” to do something — that’s when we’re more likely to over-do things. What I mean by that is, when we’re “in the zone” or feeling “driven,” when we’re doing things that are enjoyable and come naturally, it’s all too easy to forget that we all need to be able to manage our own quirks from time to time. We lose ourselves in the good feelings we get from doing what drives us and forget that there are often multiple things happening. I got caught up in the fun of answering an interesting question and never paused to consider, “Will this message actually land?” or “What do I hope they actually do with this information?”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The list is too long to be helpful or interesting, but two come to mind. My wife has been extremely supportive throughout my career — supporting me through my journey in graduate school, and as a school psychologist herself, she has offered so many great insights into human behavior through the lens of educational, developmental, and abnormal psychology.
Another is a former pastor of mine who taught me the wisdom of “margin.” At the time, I was in graduate school, working in a research lab, working at three different churches, playing in multiple bands, and exercising several hours a day. Needless to say, I was burning the candle at both ends. While I still had somewhat of a social life, everything was connected to the need to be productive, to be doing something. I was afraid that anything not directly productive was a waste of the limited time we all have here on earth. My pastor helped me realize that because I had no margin, no unused time, in my life, I had no capacity to help people when something unexpected came along. Even though it was not driven by selfishness, my drive to be productive was indirectly causing me to be selfish. I don’t think I would be where I am — mentally, emotionally, and professionally — had my pastor not helped me learn the value of margin.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
The vision and purpose of Leadership Worth Following have not changed since its inception in 2004 — to change the world through identifying and developing leadership that is worth following.
As we expanded into products (and wrote Driven Not Drained), we wanted to expand our mission down and out as well. We believe everyone — not just top-level leaders — deserve a career where they can be happy, effective, and influential.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The economic downturn in 2016 was tough. When work isn’t coming your way, it can be stressful wondering when things will change. In my experience, three things are critical for leading teams through a crisis — vision, empowerment, and transparency.
In the midst of a crisis, one of the biggest stressors is uncertainty. Sharing a vision of what things will look like at the other end of the tunnel is critical. It cuts through some of the uncertainty and starts to give people hope.
Empowerment is critical, too, because the loss of control exacerbates stress and uncertainty. It helps people see what is actually in their control and what they can do, specifically, to make things better.
Finally, transparency. It doesn’t do anyone any good to cast a false vision of hope or give people busy work to feign a sense of empowerment. Instead, being very clear with people about what is going on, the progress your team is making toward the vision, how their actions are helping, what is working (and not working), and what else may need to change — these are all essential for maintaining trust. In uncertain times, the last thing you want to do is erode the one bit of certainty your employees do have — trust in your ability to lead them well.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I think for most people, the temptation is always there to find an easier path. After all, if you can make a similar impact in an easier environment, why wouldn’t you? That’s kind of the definition of “work smarter, not harder,” isn’t it? But for me, two things sustain my drive. One, I’m just not naturally a quitter. I’m driven by persistence itself. Quitting feels like a personal defeat to me, so (for better or worse) I will stick with something long after most people have dropped it and moved on to the next thing. Two, the work we do is both important and incredibly interesting to me. I’m not going to say it’s the most important work in the world — there are people educating our children, saving lives, freeing innocent people, protecting society, and so on — but I do believe it is up there. Most people spend close to 40% of their waking adult lives at work, and leaders have a huge impact on the day-to-day work experience. And there is so much yet to be discovered in the human mind and how humans interact in their organizations. If the products I create and the consultation I provide can help us find answers to questions that will make work life just a bit better, then I’ve done my part to make the world a better place.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Providing clarity. Challenging times evoke a fight or flight response that makes it difficult for people to think clearly. They stop responding rationally and start responding emotionally and reflexively. They double down on what makes sense to them, even if that approach is inappropriate for the situation. Creatives push for more innovation. Operators push for fundamentals. Relational folks push for more collaboration. All great approaches — if the challenge calls for it. The role of the leader in challenging times is to provide a sense of calm and clarity that helps people cut through the noise and the anxiety. Clarity helps people see what the situation is really calling for. It helps people see the pros and cons of their various approaches — and it helps them appreciate the value of alternative approaches. When this happens, people can still bring their authentic selves and leverage their unique strengths in responding to the challenge, but they can do it in a thoughtful and more effective manner.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
It starts with listening. Every individual has different responses and different needs in the face of uncertainty. Every individual has different needs and things that drive them. Some need to feel that risks are not as big as they thought they were. Some need to know there is a concrete plan of action. Some need to feel a sense of safety and support from knowing their team and leaders have got their back.
On the flip side, some people are actually energized by uncertainty, because it gives them an opportunity to play bigger and take charge. Assuming they have the right intentions and skillset to help, for those folks, you don’t really need to motivate them so much as you just need to find ways to support their own intrinsic motivation. Ultimately, the point is that when you really know your people, when you really listen to what’s driving or draining their energy in the face of uncertainty, you can tailor your motivation and engagement strategy to their unique needs.
I’ve actually done extensive research on this in my development of our DRiV assessment, which looks at the motives, values, and habits that drive our energy and behavior at work. Everyone has different motivational fuel. For example, let’s say your approach as a leader is to try to inspire others is to get really amped up, enthusiastic, and try to play to your team’s emotions. Try to get them excited, optimistic, and hopeful. That might be great for some folks, but there are some people that will just roll their eyes and may even get de-motivated by this approach. Or, let’s say your approach is to build and communicate a really clear plan of attack, thinking that if your team knows there’s a path out of the woods, they’ll feel better. That may indeed be the way to go, but that tactic is going to work better for some people than others. Those are just two examples. Our research has uncovered 28 things that drive energy and behavior, and they all have an impact on how effective your attempts at motivating your team will be. That’s why it’s so critical to get awareness what is driving you and the people you work with, so you can adapt your approach and be as influential and effective as possible. That’s one of the biggest reasons we wrote our upcoming book, Driven Not Drained.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
This depends a bit on what is meant by “difficult news.” Are you/your company the cause of the difficulty, or is it a difficulty due to no fault of your own? Are the effects of the difficulty likely to affect people on a small or large scale? Are the people you’re communicating to truly going to be feeling the effects of whatever the issue is, or is it more of a logical and conceptual difficulty?
All of those variables and more can affect how difficult news should be communicated, but let’s consider the lowest common denominator. What do you want to happen when you communicate difficult news to teams, customers — anyone, really. This question applies in our personal lives too.
You want to protect trust.
The worst thing that can happen in difficult or uncertain times is the loss of trust. If your team starts to distrust you during difficult times, they’re going to give you less effort, second-guess you, and maybe leave. If your customers start to distrust you, they will leave.
There’s a handy equation I like to refer to — I didn’t develop it — called the Trust equation, and it applies here. Basically, the premise is that trust is a function of credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation. You can think of it in terms of four questions:
- Credibility — Do I believe you can fix the problem?
- Reliability — Do I believe that you will fix the problem?
- Intimacy — Do you make me feel safe enough that I want to stick with you through the difficulty?
- Self-orientation — Do you make me skeptical about your intentions?
Of course, that fourth one is flipped. You don’t want people being skeptical of your intentions — you need them to know you’ve got their needs and goals in mind. So, whether it’s team members or customers, what I try to do is make sure my communication addresses all four of those areas.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The best way to account for unpredictability is to have something that provides stability. Something you can look to when everything is crashing down around you. Something reassuring and reorienting — a port in the storm, a guiding light, a north star.
If you can identify what is most important to you, your team, your business, your customers — what is your unchanging “why” — that helps you plan through the chaos. Of course, you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel, keep tabs on the chaos. So, that would be the second thing. Having that reference point (the why), then really understanding what’s changing so that you can adapt accordingly.
Here’s a simple example. At Leadership Worth Following, we provide assessment and coaching services to leaders, and we do it in a really personal, relational, “high-touch” way. That approach is borne out of our mission to change the world by truly changing leaders’ lives for the better. Historically, we believed that that was best accomplished through an in-person experience. We could never have planned for remote work overnight becoming the only option, but our unchanging mission of changing leaders’ lives had meant that we had already been prepping our processes for remote work, because it was more efficient and better met our clients where they were (literally). And we had been doing so with the mission of still providing a truly life-changing experience — we were careful to ensure that going remote would not cheapen the experience. So when COVID hit and, in-person work was no longer an option, we were able to pivot quickly. Our mission had guided us to do work that prepared us for something we didn’t even know was coming.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
What an interesting question! So many principles are running through my head as I think of this question. Be adaptable. Put your customers first. Put your people first and they’ll take care of your customers. Never stop improving. As I think about those principles, one “meta-principle” runs across all of them — be humble.
You might not think of humility as being the principle that will help you navigate turbulent times, but consider this quote from St. Paul, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” If you reject the notion that you are priority number one, that you are the best, then those four principles I referenced earlier just happen automatically. If I don’t assume I’m the best, that my way is the right way, it’s only natural that I would adapt to changing circumstances. If I truly believe that others’ needs — my customers and my people — are more important than my own, why wouldn’t I seek to ensure their needs are met first? When things get crazy, my first thought should be, “How is this going to affect my customers and my team, and what can I do to meet their needs first?” And even with this idea of “never stop improving,” what if I had this thought of my competitors as being “better” than me? That kind of humility can paradoxically drive helpful competition. Instead of arrogantly assuming I’ve always got it figured out, as a humble leader, I need to constantly be aware of and learning from my competition. After all, turbulent times aren’t always caused by massive economic shifts or global pandemics — sometimes it’s driven by what your competitors are doing.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The biggest thing to keep in mind to avoid falling into “turbulence traps” is to realize that our own bad habits show up most prominently under times of extreme stress. We all have them — you’ve just got to know ahead of time where you’re more likely to slip up if you want to have any hope of making good decisions during difficult times.
So, that’s the one overarching mistake that businesses make — not being self-aware — that, if they addressed it ahead of time, they would be able to address the traps when the difficulties do come.
That being said, here are three traps that leaders and businesses tend to fall into.
- What is the problem? Leaders tend to make it into positions of authority because they are driven to make an impact. They move fast, they advocate for their thinking, and they are confident they can overcome risks. They are also quite prone to overconfidence and confirmation biases (i.e., only seeing information that confirms their thinking). In other words, the same confidence and quick thinking that helped leaders become leaders in “good” times can end up being a weak spot in difficult times. It’s of course important to maintain confidence and decisiveness in difficult times, but when that confidence drives leaders to make hasty decisions and overlook data that might tell them they were wrong, or were solving the wrong problem, that’s how organizations get off track really quickly. For example, I was working with an organization that was trying to manage the transition to a more omnichannel business model, with digital and online sales becoming an increasingly large part of their business. One of their change management struggles was digital and traditional employees feeling like they were pitted against each other. One idea a leader had was to redesign the offices so that traditional and digital employees would encounter each other more. The leader relied on his past experience to form a solution. But the thing is, that leader overlooked other contextual factors (e.g., cost, timelines, industry) that would have made that an ineffective solution.
- Who will solve the problem? There is a lot of psychology that goes into understanding how people perceive team dynamics, which I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say that some leaders really emphasize collaboration and inclusion as core values (even at the expense of clear roles and merit), while other leaders push for clearly delineated roles and independent decision making (even at the expense of open communication and a supportive environment). In difficult times, I’ve seen leaders and organizations over-index on whatever side of that spectrum makes the most sense for them. But in difficult times, open communication, clear roles, trust and support, and decisiveness become more important than ever. Leaders have to know where their own inclinations are so they can get out ahead of mistakes they might make, and instead drive balanced team performance.
- How will we solve the problem? One of the things I’ve seen leaders (and, by extension, organizations) do in the face of difficulties is to roll up their sleeves and start working “in” the business. This is often an even greater temptation for early-career leaders, but if you have a bias for personally driving work (versus driving work through others), this is something you’ve got to watch out for. When difficulties arise, some leaders go into “delivery mode” because it gives them a sense of control. “When all else fails, put your head down and get to work” kind of mentality. The problem is when you focus on execution, it’s really hard to also think about strategy, and if you’re not being strategic, you’re reactive. So, while you might effectively handle the immediate problem you’re facing, you’re likely going to miss the underlying problem and/or the problem that’s coming around the corner.
So again, self-awareness, especially of your own and your team’s natural reflexes, is critical in working through turbulent times. Do you tend to assume trying times are caused by factors external or internal to your company? Do you tend to assume they are a function of lack of clarity or lack of innovation? Do you default to jumping to action — even if it means roles are unclear and your decisions are not strategic? Or do you try to think strategically and clarify roles and goals — even if it means you might move too slowly or increase silos on your team? We all have reflexes and defaults — that’s not a bad thing necessarily — it’s just life. Tackling an internal problem with an innovative solution as quickly as possible might be the right call. Or not. You’ve got to know your baseline and then consider whether that baseline is appropriate for the situation or not.
And, pro tip. Be skeptical of your default, especially in turbulent times. Your default may, in fact, be the way to go, but because it is your default, you are biased toward assuming it is the way to go.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Absolutely! The same premises that go into building a strong investment portfolio are applicable here. Monitor trends. Don’t overreact. Diversify. And to quote the Oracle of Omaha, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”
Let’s take the pandemic we’re in now. For many businesses, transitioning to work-from-home was a big source of turbulence. How do we manage stress in a world with no boundaries? How do we ensure productivity? How do we protect team dynamics? As the world starts to open back up again, a new shift will be the hybrid work model. And any time there is a major shift, there’s going to be turbulence.
How will you prepare for and even take advantage of the hybrid work model? Monitor trends — watch for best practices, ask what is working for others. Prep your people for any new stresses and inconveniences that will be introduced due to this new model. You can stop overreaction before it starts simply by acknowledging, normalizing, and calmly planning for a problem.
Diversification is all about options and flexibility. Multiple revenue streams may be part of the equation, but there are more. Are your people flexible? If you have to change employment statuses, do your people have the skills and ability to pick up the slack where needed? Are your expenses flexible? How much fixed cost do you have baked into the business? Are your products and services flexible? Do you have new offerings in the pipeline that could give you additional revenue streams? Do you have processes that have become unwieldy that would benefit from streamlining?
If you monitor trends and think strategically during times of calm, turbulent times will not be as surprising or stressful, and that’s the key. Surprise and stress typically lead to unhelpful reactions — overreactions, underreactions, or misdirected reactions. But if you’re not terribly surprised and/or you have options, you can make the smart call, and that’s what will save you.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
I’d like to start with a caveat before I dive into my five. It’s a quote from an ancient Greek philosopher Archilochus, but it’s also a core principle behind many military credos.
We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.
I bring that up because these five principles I’m about to share are NOT quick fix, “break glass in case of emergency” principles. These are foundational principles that require WORK. Scrambling to do these in the midst of turbulent times will not turn things around overnight. That’s the bad news. But the good news is you can do this work now and build a strong foundation for yourself, your team, and your business. So, when the turbulent times come (or get worse), you will be stable and ready to chart a course.
Know your mission. I’m not a sailor, but I’ve seen enough movies about people at sea to know at least one thing. When you are in trouble, you need something unchanging. If you’re lost in the middle of the ocean, you look for the north star. If you’re fighting crazy waves, you look for a lighthouse.
If you’re navigating turbulence in business, you need something unchanging. Strategies, goals, and methods can (and should) change, but there has to be something unchanging to fall back on and reorient against when things get hairy.
Your mission, your core values. That has to be your north star.
We’ve gone through our fair share of turbulence in our business, and our mission has always been there to guide us. Our mission has always been Changing Leadership, Changing the World. Part of that is making the world a better place by building better leaders, but the other part of it is putting our money where our mouth is and actually investing our revenue into people that are doing the hard work of making the world a better place, outside of the business realm. (And as an aside, we don’t call it “donation,” we call it “investing,” because we are putting money into people and missions that are going to generate returns. Not financial returns for us, but intangible returns that benefit the people and communities we touch).
Ever since we were founded — and I don’t take credit for this — I joined 10 years into our firm’s existence — we have invested a sizable portion of our revenue into changing the world. Revenue, not profits. So when the economy tanked, the question had to be asked — do we keep investing? When the revenue drops to such a point that profit is essentially nil, do we keep investing? Or do we take that line item off our books and strengthen our bottom line?
We brought it to a vote, and the entire team voted to protect that investment. It’s core to who we are. Many people even voted for salary cuts over stopping our investment.
This was not something we doubled down on in the midst of crisis. When tough times hit, it really wasn’t even a question. The foundation had already been built. The commitment was already there. People stuck it out and gave it their all because the mission was clear, and we had alignment. Our eyes were fixed on something bigger than us, something unchanging.
Know yourself. I keep beating this drum because I think it’s so important. I’ve already mentioned how important it is to know your own drivers because those are the areas where you’re most likely to trip up and make mistakes for yourself or your business. But I’m going to tackle this from a more positive angle this time.
It’s not rocket science, but it is so important. Knowing yourself lets you play to your strengths, which in turn protects your energy.
I am a relentlessly curious person. I am always thinking of new ideas and ways to make things better. Of course, some ideas are good, some are terrible (or terribly impractical). But at the end of the day, it is a strength of mine. One thing I’ll be eternally grateful for of the team at Leadership Worth Following is providing me an environment where I can truly play to my strengths, passions, and drivers. It would have been very easy to slot me into a role less aligned with what drives me, but instead, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to develop creative solutions and find answers to interesting and important questions. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps my emotional gas tank full.
It sounds simple, but it’s huge. A big part of making your way through turbulence is just not giving up. So, both for yourself and the people around you, you’ve got to know what is going to keep motivation high. If you’re feeling drained just getting up every morning, thinking you’ve got a slog ahead of you, you’re not going to be in the fight for long.
Know your team. Just like self-awareness is critical in trying times, so is team awareness. Stress can bring out the best in people, but it also often brings out the worst. So, when you’re working with other people, stressful, turbulent times prime the pump for unhelpful conflict. That coworker who used to be chronically 3 minutes late for meetings is now consistently 10 minutes late. Your boss, who, on a good day, tended to be 5 or 10 percent too “in the weeds” for your taste, has now, under stress, flipped into full-on micromanager mode. Your peer who occasionally complained about not getting paid enough? Well, now it seems like that’s all he talks about.
Understanding where your team’s pain points are (or might be) — ahead of time — when things aren’t super stressful and distracting — is absolutely essential, because once you hit the turbulence, bad team dynamics will just exacerbate the stress, which worsens team dynamics, and so on. It can be a vicious cycle.
I was working with a consulting team that did this prep work years ago, and now they are rocking and rolling, even in the midst of the pandemic. It was a small team, and there were one or two members of the team who delivered good results for the team, but the fit was never great. There was always a slight undercurrent of tension in the team that they couldn’t quite put their finger on. After analyzing their team’s core drivers and values, it became clear that the biggest disconnect was that one team member had more self-focused goals than the rest. He was very driven by increasing his own commissions, his own personal wealth, which is all well and good, but it was coming out in unhelpful ways. He was unwilling to share, change, or take risks, for fear of anything affecting his personal bottom line. This is a bit of a drastic story, because ultimately, they decided to part ways. But the point is that once they really understood their team and what was causing some tension (and would continue to cause more tension in the future), they could make a more informed decision and strengthen their foundation for the future.
For a less dramatic example, I can speak to our own team dynamics here at Leadership Worth Following. Our founder, Dale Thompson, shares this story in the preface to our book, Driven Not Drained: Discover Your Path to Career Effectiveness, Happiness, and Influence, so I feel comfortable sharing it here, too. We take our own medicine here, so when we took ourselves through our own team dynamics process, we realized that he (Dale) was significantly more driven by relationships and by human connection than everyone else at our company. And even though he is the founder and head of the company, his being an outlier on that dimension was causing pain and tension for him and for the team as a whole. So, once we put a label on it and had identified that root cause, we were able to make some behavioral and process tweaks that not only better managed that tension, but also helped us more effectively leverage the diversity on our team.
Know your people. It’s often said that people are an organization’s greatest asset. In many ways, that is true, but the Pareto principle applies here. You often see that 80% of an organization’s success is due to about the top 20% of performers. And 80% of failure is probably attributable to 20% of the workforce, too. If you want to navigate turbulent times, it’s the people that will help you either get through to the other side or bring it all crashing down around you. No amount of systems, processes, resources, or technology will save you if you don’t have the right people designing, implementing, maintaining, and adapting solutions.
For example, one of our clients was preparing to make a major strategic shift in their business model, and as a result, they were needing to shift their sales structure. They came to us to help them identify who their top performers were, and what the profile of a high-performing salesperson would be for them in the future. I won’t get into all the gory statistical details, but when you’re able to identify with greater than 80% accuracy who is going to be a top performer and who isn’t, that is a big deal. And when you can do that at less than 0.5% of the cost of that salesperson’s salary, that is game-changing.
And by the way, knowing your people is more than just knowing who is going to deliver results. By understanding what drives and drains your people, you can ensure you are meeting their motivational needs at work. After all, it’s no use having someone with a ton of potential who is also completely burnt-out, demotivated, and drained. This client of ours is not only hiring and promoting high-performing individuals; they are also getting the insights needed to fully motivate and energize their people in ways that work for them. The organization wins. Their people win.
Know what’s possible. I mentioned the idea of leading with hope earlier. I’d like to revisit that. One of the biggest dangers working and leading through turbulence is exit. As the saying goes, “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” and that seems to hold true in business too. All too often, we see leaders and companies throw in the towel right before those one or two critical shifts would have happened to turn it all around. Once you’ve lost hope, it’s almost impossible to endure tough times. It’s just easier to check out and move on to the next thing.
So, as a leader, if you want to help your people navigate tough times, you’ve got to give them something to believe in. You’ve got to instill the confidence that you have the method and capability to achieve what is possible. You’ve got to show them that you’re all working toward something, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that things will be better coming out the other side.
Know your limits. Did you know that FedEx was once so hard up for cash that their founder gambled his last $5,000 so the company would have enough to pay a $24,000 fuel bill? While that’s, of course, not a sound or sustainable business model, his logic at the time was that he was out of options. They were about to go under either way. It was a risk that, under the circumstances, made sense. And ultimately, it paid off.
I was coaching another leader just the other day, who explained that mentality around risk was informed by how easily he could un-make a decision. That is really savvy.
Turbulent times require leaders to make risky decisions because turbulence itself is inherently risky. Gambling that $5,000 was risky, but doing nothing would have been even riskier.
Practice taking thoughtful risks. Build up your mental muscles for assessing risks, running cost-benefit scenarios, asking the right questions, checking your assumptions, gathering your resources, and building backup plans. Do it when things are calm so that when the storm hits, you are well-practiced in assessing the situation, identifying your limits, and charting a path. You’ll never be able to completely eliminate risk, but you train yourself for taking smart risks when the time comes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m going pull another “saintly” quote, this time from St. James. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. A more folksy way of putting that might be, “God gave you two ears but just one mouth for a reason!”
Earlier in my life, I was a bit of a smart aleck. And that’s honestly probably an understatement. But I came across that quote, which I had probably read a hundred times, and it just hit me for some reason. I always had to have a smart comment at the ready. Sarcasm was my go-to, and I used it to ensure I always had the last word.
The quote for me wasn’t so much about “anger,” as I’m naturally low-key, but it was more about being self-aware, humble, and respectful of others. Listening goes a long way toward building strong relationships.
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I’m most active on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/chriscoultas), but you can also follow me on Twitter (@DriveDrain), and you can follow our company blog at DRIVinsights.com.
And don’t forget to check out our book, Driven Not Drained: Discover Your Path to Career Happiness, Effectiveness, and Influence, which you can pick up at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold.