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Leadership Lessons For Uncertain Times – Lessons For Leaders From We Are Marshall
Movie We are Marshall tells the story of rebuilding the Marshall University football program after a tragic plane crash in 1970 that killed nearly the entire team and coaching staff. The university’s president came close to suspending the program when students and the community urged him to reinstate it. Matthew McConaughey plays a coach brought in to rebuild the program.
In one scene in the film, McConaughey throws out an old book and devises a new offensive plan. He understands that the playbook was designed for a different time and a different team with different skills. His current team needs a different approach to achieve success because they are clearly failing to use the old playbook. As a coach, he makes quick decisions and quickly implements a new playbook that immediately builds trust in the team. While it will take a few games for that team to catch up, they will eventually win again. While Marshall’s story is about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of tragedy, the scene also holds a great lesson for leaders in today’s uncertain environment. If the environment changes and we are successful, it means that the old behavior is no longer working. If you are a leader, you need to fulfill more than one vision or rally the troops with a motivational speech. You need to identify what new behaviors are needed and help your team learn those new behaviors as quickly as possible. In the past few months, I have heard CEOs of several different companies make the bold statement that “failure is not an option.” After hearing this message, do you feel your mood, confidence, and optimism improve? Do you feel better about your company’s prospects? I don’t have either. Here are four reasons why this approach is a big mistake:
- First, it is intellectually dishonest, so no one will believe it. In fact, failure is a possible outcome. The purpose of this statement is to reassure employees that the business will survive and the employees will be fine, but this may not be true. Failure may not be a likely outcome, and it is certainly not a desired outcome, but it is within the realm of possibility.
- Second, it insults the minds of your employees. Why go to great lengths to recruit knowledgeable employees who are supposedly very smart, but then treat them like idiots? Smart people know that there is uncertainty. To pretend otherwise is an insult.
- Third, because this statement is often delivered with great confidence and anger, it shuts down meaningful dialogue. This approach shows that we will win with the will of the leader. By saying “failure is not an option”, the leader is really trying to have the last word on the subject. The leader is frankly tired of dealing with this question and prefers that people really go back to work.
- Fourth, this statement exempts employees from liability. By taking the weight of the option off the table, it puts it all on the leader. This approach is the exact opposite of empowerment and actually increases stress among employees. Stress does not work in situations of high demands, low control, and increased demands on people without giving them a reason to be in control.
So how can leaders learn from the lessons We are Marshall to deal more effectively with economic uncertainty and anxiety?
- Acknowledge the pain, frustration, and fear of the situation.While a business failure or job loss isn’t as life-or-death as the Marshall tragedy, it’s incredibly painful. Recognize that employees are wondering about their future, but sitting idle in the face of fear is not the answer.
- Recognize that we face significant uncertainty and that it will likely continue for some time.There are several contingencies that depend on the general economy, customers, competition, regulatory changes and potential mergers or acquisitions. There may be several scenarios that we can imagine, some good, some not so good. It is up to us to make decisions and act to make the best of the opportunities available.
- Be honest about your current situation and tell the truth.Your current financial position and how well you can operate within your current structure. Do you have weeks, months or years of cash on hand? Show that you have enough resources to avoid being paralyzed by fear. This approach helps everyone in the organization understand reality and move forward.
- Like a coach Marshallmake sure you have the right book and the right team for that environment. Identify your best market and customer opportunities to focus on during this period. Based on your current product and service capabilities, where do you focus? For example, if you have a customer base, evaluate how you can retain or expand your business with them. If you’re after new clients, make sure your value proposition and lead generation activities are focused on the best opportunities. Make sure you have the right team in the right roles and make quick decisions if changes are needed.
- Speed up your operational planning process so that everyone in your organization knows their roles, responsibilities and goals for the foreseeable future.Instead of long-term plans, these should be ninety-day plans that are revised quarterly. It is important that everyone has a clear direction about their contribution. Hold your direct reports accountable for ensuring that each person they supervise has an individualized action plan.
- Figure out what you don’t do. Determine what markets, customers and opportunities you will have no pay attention to it during this period. It is important to focus all your time, energy and resources on only the best customer opportunities in this environment. Identify specific ways of operating that may have served you in the past but will not work in this environment. “Doing what you’ve been doing” is a recipe for disaster.
So how do you answer the question “will we survive?” Let me suggest a plan you might say. My recommendation is to identify very specific actions you need to take to be successful. Now is not the time for a grand vision statement. Try something like this: “I understand that you are all concerned about the current environment, how it affects our business and what it means for you. You might expect me to say that bankruptcy is not an option. We are currently generating (or burning cash), so our risk level is high/medium/low, and we are confident that we can operate for at least a year. Technically, failure is always an option if we don’t execute our plan – that’s the nature of business. So let’s focus on the specifics of our plan: We will focus on specific customers and offers. Be sure to list them here. This means that our sales and marketing organization must immediately focus our lead generation, prospecting and sales activities on this set of customers. We will not be interested in other opportunities in the near future.
Our product development organization will focus on these specific projects for future development, name them. Our operational teams ensure that we carry out all our responsibilities effectively and efficiently. We are all responsible for effective cash management. All these characteristics require each person to play a specific role in the organization. Over the next thirty days, we will ensure that these specifications are translated into individual action plans for everyone – and each of you will be asked to share ideas about how we can innovate, execute and grow in this environment. let’s do My direct reports are responsible for implementing this planning process. I welcome any follow-up questions on any aspect of the business and commit to communicating weekly as events unfold. I appreciate each of you’s commitment to the company.“Coach Marshall urges players to ‘put it on the line until the final whistle, and if you do that, we can’t lose.'” As a manager, you can’t demand that commitment until you have a specific game plan in place. .who can win Do you have a concrete game plan?If not, it’s time to act.
Copyright © 2009 Aligned Action, Inc. All rights reserved.
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