Saturday, February 6, 2010
The book of the week was 7 Lessons For Leading in a Crisis by Bill George. I have a lot of appreciation for this book. I feel that a 'crisis' is a relative term. A lot of young professionals have 'crises' early in their career and what they consider a crisis early in their career is nothing more than a hiccup later on. And the way young professionals handle crises early in their career set the stage for the rest of their life.
Since the book was broken into different lessons I will share each lesson the author uses and tell you why it's so important:
#1 Face Reality, Starting with Yourself: This is all about realizing what is going on within the organization around you. Actually seeing the crisis is step one. It is too easy to ignore a serious issue or just gloss over it. Once you recognize that there is a crisis, you then need to establish your responsibility within it. Too few leaders are capable of accepting responsibility for their actions.
#2 Don't Be Atlas, Get the World Off Your Shoulders: Great leaders surround themselves with the "right" people. Assuming that you have an amazing team of skilled leaders around you, use them. There is no reason to do everything yourself. You will bury yourself instead of solving the problem. Target's current CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, turned inward shortly after succeeding Bob Ulrich in 2008. Steinhafel was seeing increasing losses in the Target portfolio after Ulrich had multiplied the stock price 10 times, from $5.48 to $54.00 and bested Wal-mart for forty-four months straight. Steinhafel was tired of the pressures put on him by activist investor William Ackerman and turned inward for support. Ackerman started a proxy fight trying to replace the board with his own slate and because of Stienhafel's turning inward, Ackerman lost the proxy contest, with Stienhafel garnering over 70% of shareholder's votes. Since the feud, Target has been back on top.
#3 Dig Deep for the Root Cause: When someone is handling a crisis it's easy to find a temporary fix. A leaky boat's patch will only hold for so long and the leak will be back and worse than before. People have to make hard choices in crisis, but upon making them you can take the reigns of the organization and come back stronger than ever.
#4 Get Ready for the Long Haul: Often leaders will be short-sighted and think the problem is smaller than it is. Analyze the situation and determine the length you will be dealing with. A perfect example of this done wrong is when President George W. Bush declared victory with the war in Iraq in 2003 on the aircraft carrier Lincoln with a giant sign that read "Mission Accomplished." When a leader declares victory too soon in a crisis, it destroys credibility and makes it very difficult to foster good relations and rally support to solve the problem effectively.
#5 Never Waste a Good Crisis: A crisis is your opportunity to change an organization, top to bottom. Use the opportunity to get transformative affect. This can be seen in the current economic climate. When the nation is in a time of progress, it will grows rapidly, spending and staffing expand very rapidly within organizations. Then when a down-turn hits, the organization moves into a time of slow growth or decline. This is seen as a crisis to most organizations and gives time to reflect tightening spending policies and lay-off the least-performing individuals. If companies waste a crisis,and doesn't do a complete spending and staffing over-haul they will sink their organization or worst yet, fail.
#6 You're in the Spotlight: Follow True North: As a leader in a crisis, everyone will be looking at you for direction. Integrity counts for a lot in these crises. People will be watching everything you do and emulate it because, after all, you are their leader. Be cautious of what you do and what you say because regardless of whether you think someone is watching or listening, they are. Being truthful and honest in every approach will trickle down the organization.
#7 Go on the Offense, Focus on Winning Now: A crisis is a wonderful time to gain a competitive edge. Again with the example of the current recession, while most companies are in hibernation, there are a select few that saved for this day and have expanded. Everything is at a discount. You can acquire your competition for pennies on the dollar. Reshaping of markets always happens in economic downturn and you can either hunker down and hope for the best or maintain a laser-like focus to lead the reshaping according to your terms. I prefer the latter.
A crisis has a silver lining, as I hope I have shown you. I want to bring very close attention to this subject for all the young professionals out there. When you are establishing yourself within an organization you will encounter many "crises" early in you career. You have choices with each one of these crises. I prefer you choose to use the choice that encompasses your integrity. If you truly want to get ahead within an organization you will need to be ethical in everything you do. It is very easy to cut corners in a crisis, but doing this will only create a short-term fix and you will not do what is right for the organization or for your professional career. You will be evaluated in everything you do early in your career, by your team and by your leaders, if you want to stand out do it with integrity.
This book is interesting, it uses several cases from top organizations and leaders. I picked it up randomly and I am very glad I did. It gave me a lot to reflect on that I plan to use in my personal life. I don't doubt that it would be beneficial to you too. If you have any questions on the book don't hesitate to ask. I would be more than happy to help anyone that wants it.