How Do You Handle the Rough Times?

Life doesn’t always go as planned.  In business, we need to be ready for the unexpected, the rough times, and the disasters.

I am talking about anything from a short-term power failure that lasts a few hours to a market crash or a pandemic.  I am talking about a short-term glitch in your computer system to the long-term effect of a bad decision by your company. 

Short or long term, big or small, rough times in our business, within our team, or in our own jobs, are a reality that most of us cannot avoid.   The true test is how we handle the rough times.

For leaders, these are the times that call for the carefully worded response, the very public reaction, the special approach to employees, the new crisis management strategy and more.

Whatever happened is history and that cannot be changed.  What happens going forward is all in your hands.  As leaders, you can be sure that everyone is watching.  Your response to the situation will set the tone across the whole organization or department or team.  It is vital that you approach this phase carefully, strategically and sensitively.

Doug Boebinger wrote a chapter in our book, The Key to Our Success – Lessons Learned from 25 of our Best Project Managers, called the ‘Black Swan Theory’.  Black Swans are very low probability events that have a very high impact: war, disease outbreak, terrorist attacks, a financial meltdown. 

We need to expect the unexpected.  But often we don’t.  We are never really prepared for the unexpected.

For some of us, the first reaction is to find the cause and lay blame.  This is a natural reaction.  If you have control, you need to stop the flood. But if you have no control, then you need to move on immediately.  Laying blame needs to wait or put aside, never to be revisited. The last thing a leader should do now is to look for someone to blame. 

From this moment your reactions are on centre stage.    

For me, five words come to mind: calm, fast, sensitive, open and visible. 

  1. Calm.  Anything else sends the wrong message and affects everyone else’s state.
  • Fast.  Your reaction and actions must be decisive and quick.  Time is typically not in long supply and every minute or hour counts.
  • Sensitive.  To the state of mind of your employees or team. To the fear that many feel about the near, and long term, future of their jobs or even their health
  • Open.  To collaborative participation by your team, advisors and others.  Now is the time to listen carefully, take in all advice and accept help from many. 
  • Visible.  To everyone around you and beyond.  No hiding.  Talking to your team, communicating with everyone regularly to show your concern and involvement. 

The hardest part about reacting to the rough times, or a disaster, is that it requires an approach that may not be normal for you.  This is what will define you as a great leader. You will be able to dial up the parts of your leadership style that we need now and dial down the parts that are not going to fit at this moment.  You will be able to drop the regular, day-to-day approach to your business and do what is needed now.

The rough times or disaster could be just around the corner. How prepared are you?  How will you react to these times?


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